A new survey from Gallup shows the Republican campaign for President is grinding down favorable ratings for Sen. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. Cruz’s image among Republican voters has fallen the most of the three major remaining candidates. Trump’s image, after hitting a high point last Summer, is back near its campaign lows.
At the end of 2015, Ted Cruz had his highest net-favorables and one of the highest for any of the Republican candidate for President. Net-favorables are the difference between positive and negative opinions of a candidate. Cruz’s rating among Republicans nationwide was +43. Today, his net-favorable rating is +14, about the same as Trump’s.
Even though Cruz won the Iowa caucus less than a month ago, he has withstood a stream of attacks and accusations from Trump, in addition to Sen. Marco Rubio and neurosurgeon Ben Carson. The dramatic drop in his favorable ratings is a clear sign that his campaign has been hurt by these attacks.
His ratings, however, have not suffered across the board. Both very conservative voters and religious voters still view Cruz as positively as they did at the beginning of the year. The positive point for Cruz is that these are his base voters. That said, he needs to reclaim Republican voters who have developed a more negative view of him if he is going to seriously challenge for the nomination.
Trump’s numbers have also dropped nationwide, even as he has gone on a streak of winning three primaries or caucuses in a row. His net-favorable rating peaked in late August as +33. Today, his rating is down to +15. This, however, is an improvement over the last week. In the seven days leading up to February 24th, Trump’s net favorable rating among Republicans was down to +9.
Gallup notes that Trump “has long been relatively unpopular among national Republicans.” Throughout the entire campaign, Trump’s average net-favorable rating has been +22, lower than Cruz or Rubio’s. Gallup notes, however, that “Trump’s appeal is not based on his being likable or personable, but rather on his rough, critical and reaction-generating persona.”
Trump has his best ratings among men, voters older than 55, and voters with some college but no college degree.
Marco Rubio currently has the highest net-favorable rating, at +34. This rating is unchanged since the beginning of the year. It is, however, down considerably from the +50 rating he held briefly in mid-November.
It should be noted, however, that all these favorable numbers come from before this weekend, when Rubio began more aggressive, and highly personal, attacks against Trump. As Gallup notes, “Rubio has made the decision to emulate that more negative, baiting style associated with Trump. Undoubtedly, this is a risk for Rubio. He could hurt his own image more than Trump’s by engaging in this type of dialogue.”
Favorable ratings, especially among Republicans nationally, are not predictive of results in individual states. Trump’s lowest positive rating in the Gallup survey, after all, coincided with his lowest net-favorable ratings. As Gallup notes, though, Trump’s appeal as a candidate is not based on him being likable.
The drop in Cruz’s favorable rating has certainly coincided with a time that he has underperformed expectations. Up until the middle of February, Cruz had a net-favorable rating of around +30. It has only been in the past two weeks that his numbers have dropped dramatically. This coincides with his 3rd place finishes in South Carolina and Nevada and the greatest intensity of the other campaigns’ attacks on him.
It is probable that Rubio is also susceptible to the same political laws that govern Cruz’s positive ratings. As Rubio gets into an extended rhetorical fight with Trump, it is likely that his net-favorable ratings will also fall.
Cruz and Rubio have a handicap from which Trump doesn’t suffer. Their candidacies depend on the voters actually liking them.