Voters: Trump ‘Bold,’ Cruz ‘True Conservative,’ Rubio ‘Typical Politician’

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump points to the audience as he speaks during a campaign rally at the Pensacola Bay Center in Pensacola, Fla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016.
AP Photo/Michael Snyder

A new poll from YouGov confirms Donald Trump’s position as the clear frontrunner in the Republican nomination contest.

With less than three weeks until Iowa begins the voting season, Trump leads the national poll with 36 percent. Cruz is second with 20 percent followed by Marco Rubio in third with 11 percent.

Perhaps more interesting than the horserace numbers is a survey of attributes that voters assign to the three candidates.

Asked which candidate best fit a particular characteristic, voters answered in a way that largely define the overall nomination contest.

Trump led for being “bold” (75 percent), “strong” (62 percent) and “Washington outsider” (64 percent).

Cruz scored better than Trump or Rubio on “true conservative” (54 percent), “honest” (42 percent) and “experienced” (35 percent).

Rubio led the other two only on “establishment candidate” (32 percent) and “typical politician” (35 percent).

That, in a nutshell, is the nomination contest that will play out over the next few weeks.

Voter assessments of these attributes are very sticky, meaning they can’t be quickly changed even by massive barrages of TV-advertising. The campaign will largely settle on which of these is most important for voters.

According to YouGov data, the race of the nomination over the past two months has been fairly static. Trump has held his position at the top, with very little change in his support in that time. Since the end of November, Cruz has steadily gained ground, while Rubio and Carson have both lost support.

Cruz is up 8 points since November, Rubio is down 6 and Carson is down 4 points. Jeb Bush and the other candidates poll only at 5 percent or below.

With all the other candidates out of the race and the nomination fight narrowed to just Trump, Cruz and Rubio, the relative standings don’t change. All three candidates pick up an equal amount of support. Trump still leads with 45 percent, Cruz is in second with 30 percent and Rubio is in third with 21 percent.

This undercuts a key bit of conventional wisdom. Most pundits expect that Rubio will consolidate the support from mainstream Republicans with Bush, Christie and Kasich out of the race. It is mistaken to assume that support for these other candidates will go automatically to Rubio.

If Rubio is going to seriously contest for the nomination, he will have to win over support from voters currently backing Trump or Cruz. That may be a very tall order. Especially because both Trump and Cruz now have higher net-favorable ratings than Rubio. Net-favorable rating is the difference between voters with a positive view or negative view of a candidate.

Cruz’s net-favorable rating is +51 and is the highest in the Republican field.

Trump’s net favorable rating is +42.

Rubio’s net-favorablity rating, surprisingly, is only +35 points.

Rubio is nearing the position of an also-ran in this race. His favorable ratings are fading as he assumes more of the “establishment” label. But Cruz is seen as a conservative with experience, who will stand up to Washington. In any other election cycle, that might be enough to tip him for the nomination.

Trump, however, is widely seen by Republican voters as being both “strong” and “bold,” in a year that may place a premium on these qualities. Perhaps more importantly, 89 percent of Republicans agree with the statement that Donald Trump “says things other politicians are afraid to say.”

After 8 years of obfuscation from the White House and much of the Republican leadership in Congress, that may be the most successful attribute of all this election.