Three new polls from NBC/WSJ suggest a drama-filled election night on Super Tuesday, with the three top candidates in contention for at least some bragging rights.
The polls, conducted before the Republican debate on Thursday, show Sen. Ted Cruz with a 13-point lead in Texas and Donald Trump with an 18-point lead in Tennessee.
In Georgia, the second richest prize of Super Tuesday delegates, Trump holds a 7-point lead over Cruz and Marco Rubio who are tied for second. The Georgia poll, especially, shows a steady erosion in support for Trump in the Peach State.
Trump has 30 percent support in Georgia, followed by Rubio and Cruz, who are tied for second with 23 percent each. Ben Carson and John Kasich are tied for a distant fourth, with just 9 percent each. It is the first NBC poll of Georgia, but other public polls released last week showed Trump leading the state by 12 to 26 points.
Just under 60 percent of likely Republican primary voters in Georgia say they strongly support their candidate. Around 45 percent say they somewhat support their candidate or may change their mind before Tuesday.
The Georgia poll interviewed 543 likely Republican voters and has a margin of error of +/- 4.6 percent.
In Texas, Cruz leads Trump by 13 points, or 39 to 26 percent. Marco Rubio is a distant third with 16 percent of the vote. Ben Carson and John Kasich both have just single-digit support. Carson has 8 percent, while Kasich has 6 percent.
The NBC poll is consistent with other public polling in the Lone Star State, which has shown Cruz with a lead of up to 15 points. There are two polls which show a nearly tied race in Texas, but one of those, Survey USA, has a questionable poll sample. Its sample suggests that the number of moderate and very conservative voters will be roughly equal on Super Tuesday. That is unlikely.
The NBC poll, while overall not suprising, contains some very worrying news for Marco Rubio. In Texas, candidates have to finish above 20 percent to secure any delegates in the proportional allocation. If Rubio finishes below 20 percent, he will be out of the count for delegates, which would likely give Cruz a large advantage in the final delegate allocation.
Delegates in Texas are awarded proportionally based on results in individual Congressional districts, in addition to at-large delegates awarded based on overall state results. Each Congressional district has 3 delegates awarded. Candidates must receive at least 20 percent in each Congressional district to be awarded delegates tied to that district.
If a candidate receives 50 percent of the vote, that candidate receives all of the delegates, either at-large statewide or in each Congressional district. So, if a candidate wins a particular Congressional district with 50 percent of the vote, that candidate receives all three of the district’s delegates, regardless of the statewide vote.
The Texas poll interviewed 537 likely Republican voters and has a margin of error of 4.2 percent.
Trump has a large lead in Tennessee, according to the NBC poll. Trump has 40 percent support, 18 points higher than second-place Cruz with 22 percent. Rubio is a very close third with 19 percent. Carson and Kasich are far behind, polling in the single digits.
Cruz and Rubio are tied as voters’ second choice in Tennessee, with about a quarter of likely Republican voters listing them as their second choice. Trump is the second choice for only 13 percent of likely Republican voters. This isn’t surprising given his strong lead in the state.
The NBC poll is the only public poll of Tennessee published this year. All three campaigns are devoting considerable time and resources to the Volunteer State ahead of Super Tuesday.
The poll interviewed 665 likely Republican voters and has a margin of error of +/- 3.8 percent.
The major caveat to all three polls is that they were conducted before the Republican debate held in Houston on Thursday. In that debate, both Rubio and Cruz aimed a flurry of attacks on frontrunner Trump. Some may consider the attacks effective, while others may conclude that Trump was able to fend off the attacks. It is likely, though, that the results of the poll have shifted, at least slightly, since the debate.
Considering the three polls, though, it seems that Cruz and Trump are each safely leading one major Super Tuesday state. Trump has the edge in Georgia, but the race there is tightening. The three states, Texas, Georgia and Tennessee, offer the three largest basket of delegates available on Super Tuesday.
All should share in some delegates from each of these states. Rubio, however, is on the cusp of being swept out of delegates in Texas. With around 155 delegates at stake there, that could be a considerable blow to his campaign.