April 30, 2016
One of Ted Cruz’s key arguments is that he can beat Hillary Clinton while Donald Trump is guaranteed to lose to her. It’s easy to see how The Donald could fall short. His overall unfavorable numbers look like George W. Bush after Katrina, Richard Nixon a few weeks before he resigned, or Jimmy Carter when it looked like the hostages would never get out of Iran.
You can speculate Latino Trump supporters might need to enter the witness protection program. He’s taken the traditional GOP gender gap and turned it into the Grand Canyon. Somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of Republicans swear they won’t vote for him in November. Clearly not the safest of nominees.
In order to accept Ted’s thesis, you need to believe two things. One, that Hillary, though flawed, is still a more popular and stronger candidate than Trump. Two, that Cruz isn’t carrying almost or just as much baggage as his favorite frenemy. You can argue (persuasively) that we’re still at least a couple months from finding general election match-up polls predictive.
However, it sure helps Cruz’s cause if said numbers back him up. The perception among many swing Republican primary voters is Trump is the stronger fall candidate. Part of this is the transitive property of politics. If Cruz can’t beat Trump, how is he more likely to beat Hillary? John Kasich suffers even more from the same logic.
If Cruz had the numbers plus an Indiana win in his back pocket, perhaps he could go on a bit of a roll, further improving his position and the willingness of voters to look at numbers instead of just listening to Trump. If.
Instead it appears the opposite is true. Trump is closing the gap with Cruz in this measure. Worst for Ted, it’s partly from Trump doing a little better, and partly from Cruz doing a little worse.
From New Year’s to the middle of March, the Real Clear Politics average showed Cruz was consistently even with or ahead of Hillary. Over the past 4 to 6 weeks, he’s fallen behind. Not by a ton, but now trailing by 3 points on average. The two most recent surveys, from USA Today/Suffolk, and IBD/TIPP are the worst of the pack.
Each have Hillary leading Ted by 7. The USA Today poll surveyed favorability. Cruz checks in at -32 (26/58.) It’s very similar to Trump’s dismal score (28/61) and worse than Clinton’s sub-optimal (37/54.) This is not the stuff dreams of electability are made of.
The same surveys showing Cruz at -7 have Trump at -7 and -11. Clearly not great, but also quite similar. On March 23, Trump hit his nadir in the Real Clear Politics average for the past several months, showing a deficit of just over 11 points. Now he’s trailing by 7. Still not great, but also not unprecedented for an eventual winner.
Instead of scoring 10 to 15 points worse against Clinton than Cruz does, as the data showed from January into March, the difference is now marginal. While you can still argue Cruz would have more success in November than Trump, or at least a higher floor, preventing huge congressional losses, he currently has a slim to nonexistent edge. At least according to the numbers.
Trump has not improved his national favorability numbers over the past several months. Women and Latinos are getting more sure of their opposition, not less. So why is he making halting progress against Hillary, while Cruz is going the wrong way?
The gain against Clinton is more from continuing doubts about her. Trump is stuck in the 40% range in the match-ups. His most recent eight results are between 38 and 41 percent, with a lone 43% outlier. But Hillary can’t move past 50% anymore. As recently as mid-March, she reached 53 and 54 percent.
Her most recent eight results are between 38 and 50. Voters aren’t flocking to Trump yet, but a few extra aren’t sure which of two perceived evils they should support. Unless conditions change, the winning presidential candidate will get their critical margin from voters who DO NOT have a favorable view of them.
Hillary has exceeded 49% against Cruz exactly once in the last 28 national surveys. She’s having a difficult time getting large numbers of voters who dislike her to say they would vote for her against Cruz. The problem for Ted is his declining favorability numbers.
Several weeks ago, voters who were neutral on him and anti-Hillary said they would vote for him. Makes sense right? Better to pick the person who might be the devil than someone you’re sure is. But his numbers are worse now. John Boehner isn’t he only one who thinks he’s Lucifer.
Voters are now either choosing the devil they know better (Hillary) or staying undecided. Where Cruz once had support in the mid-upper 40s against Clinton, he’s now in the 40-42 range, barely higher than Trump. At the moment, neither current data, nor the trend line is Ted’s friend.
NOTE: There’s a new Rasmussen Reports poll, which only covers Clinton/Trump. The result was a 38/38 tie, the best Trump has done in some time. Again, this shows voters being undecided, not flocking to him.
I’d question whether this is truly representative of the current electorate. There’s less of a gender gap than other surveys are showing. African American voters are shown as favoring Clinton 57/18. If Trump were to actually reach this number (even if all undecideds went to Hillary), it would be the best Republican result in more than a generation.
The split on Hispanic/Asian (anyone not white or black) voters was surprising too (44/28.) We need to see similar numbers elsewhere before taking this too seriously, but there’s at least one survey from a reputable pollster that indicates what Trump is saying is true.
In Rasmussen’s world, he’s very competitive with Clinton, has a full quarter of the electorate open to persuasion or wanting to ignore both candidates equally, and has a higher share of minority support than Mitt Romney did. Decide for yourself how to weigh this, but it’s not good news for Cruz.