Walker, Rubio, Cruz and Trump Dominate GOP Activists ‘Primary’

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

There are two separate and distinct primaries underway for the Republican nomination.

There is the superficial one, that dominates media coverage and mostly gauges name recognition and current press mentions. Then there is the mostly hidden, but far more important, contest for the hearts and minds of the Republican super-activists, those supporters who will provide the critical human infrastructure as voting nears.

The superficial primary gets headlines. The insider primary gets the attention of campaign strategists and serious political observers. A new poll of the most committed GOP activists shows a very dynamic race for the GOP nomination.

The new poll, conducted by Huffington Post and polling firm YouGov, surveyed 500 heavily engaged GOP activists around the country. The poll shows Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker with a clear lead, followed by Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Republican Establishment frontrunner Jeb Bush is a distant 6th, trailing even retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is behind Bush. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is 13th, behind every candidate except Rick Santorum, George Pataki and Lindsey Graham.

Those surveyed by HuffPo include the most informed and active Republicans. According to HuffPo, the sample includes “those who have run for or held office, served as party officials, worked on campaigns, or volunteered their time before elections. Our survey of 500 of these activists provides a look at the opinions of some of the GOP’s best-informed and most politically involved supporters.”

All of the candidates tested have very high name recognition among participants in the poll. For even the least known candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, three-quarters of those surveyed knew enough about him to form an opinion.

Because all the candidates are so well known to those in the survey, a candidate’s advantage of higher name recognition is neutralized. Interestingly, Walker, while enjoying a strong lead in this survey, is also the least known of all the major candidates. Just over 90 percent of those surveyed know enough about him to form an opinion, which is distinctly lower than the 98 percent name recognition of 6th place Jeb Bush.

While the survey shows the race for the nomination very open, even among these super activists, there are clear warning signs for Bush. His favorable/unfavorable rating is about evenly split. There is also a “higher-than-average correlation between ratings of Bush and ratings of 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney — in other words, Romney fans tend to be Bush fans.”

Some 40 percent of those in the survey who describe themselves as “very conservative” or a member of the “tea party” report that they would be “angry” if Bush were the nominee. One in four Republican activists say they could not vote for Bush if he were the nominee.

Political scientist Hans Noel, commenting on the survey said, “I think there is an increasing tension between the top of the rank-and-file and the officeholders within the Republican Party.” He added, “I think that the system may be shifting power to those top activists.”