The latest Quinnipiac poll shows Donald Trump surging to his largest lead of the Republican nomination battle.
Trump leads the field with 39 percent, more than double his nearest rival, Sen. Marco Rubio with 19 percent. Ted Cruz is a close third, at 18 percent support nationally.
The survey, conducted February 10-15, finds Trump more than doubling his lead from Quinnipiac’s last poll, released the first week of February. Since that poll, Trump has gained 8 points, Cruz has dropped 4 points, while Rubio has stayed flat.
The increasingly acrimonious fight between Trump and Cruz seems to be helping Trump at Cruz’s expense.
The other candidates in the race barely register in the poll. John Kasich is a distant fourth with 6 percent, followed by Jeb Bush and Ben Carson tied with 4 percent each. The polls margin of error is 4 percent, suggesting these three candidates aren’t factors in the race nationally.
Without strong showings in South Carolina and Nevada, these three candidates will face tremendous pressure to suspend their campaigns.
Despite his wide lead in the latest Quinnipiac poll, Trump is still struggling with some important blocks of the Republican electorate. Cruz leads Trump by 10 points among Tea Party Republicans, 44-34. Cruz also leads among “very conservative” voters by 11 points, 38-27.
Trump has solid backing from evangelical voters, however. Trump leads Cruz among this important block by 5 points, 30-25.
Trump’s strongest voting blocks are among “somewhat conservative” and “moderate” voters, men, voters without a college degree and seniors.
Almost half of Republican voters, 45 percent, say they may still change their mind on a candidate before voting. Voters for both Trump and Cruz, however, seem more certain of their choice. At least 60 percent of voters backing Trump or Cruz say they are firm in their choice.
By comparison, only 33 percent of Rubio’s supporters say they are definitely supporting the Florida Senator. More than two-thirds, 67 percent, say they may still change their mind to another candidate.
Rubio is also the least ready to be President according to likely Republican voters. Just 54 percent of Republicans say Rubio has the right experience to be President, the lowest of any of the candidates tested. Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz lead the field on this question.
Rubio, however, does have the highest favorable rating of the candidates and is seen as the most honest and trustworthy of the Republicans running for President.
Trump’s clear edge over the field is that 80 percent of Republicans say he has strong leadership qualities. This is 11 points higher than his nearest rival on this question, Ted Cruz, who is seen by 69 percent of Republicans as having strong leadership qualities. The rest of the field is hovering around just 60 percent on this question.
A slim plurality of Republicans list strong leadership qualities as their top criteria in selecting a nominee. The other two qualities of at least some importance to voters is honesty and caring about their needs. Trump doesn’t lead in either of these traits, but polls well enough in each that his dominance on the leadership question puts him in a strong position.
There is one unknown factor in this poll, however. Most of the poll was conducted prior to the Republican debate on Saturday where Trump aggressively criticized George W. Bush and his policies related to Iraq and 9/11.
George W. Bush is very popular with Republicans nationwide. The poll found that 77 percent of Republican voters nationally have a favorable opinion of the former President. This is roughly the same number of Democrats who have a favorable opinion of Bill Clinton.
We probably won’t know if Trump bears any cost for his attack on the former President Bush until South Carolina votes on Saturday. That contest will probably tell us more about the state of the primary race than even this national poll anyway.
National polls in many ways are lagging indicators of the state of the race on the ground anyway. Trump’s current massive lead is a reflection of his landslide win in New Hampshire. If he scores another lopsided win in South Carolina, his national lead may grow even more.