NBC Poll: Ted Cruz Takes National Lead, Donald Trump Slumps

Republican presidential candidates (L-R) Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Carly Fiorina, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) are introduced during the CNN presidential debate at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 …
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The latest poll from NBC News/Wall Street Journal shows Texas Sen. Ted Cruz jumping to a national lead over the rest of the Republican field.

The survey, which was conducted entirely after the GOP debate last Saturday, shows Cruz with 28 percent support, followed closely by Donald Trump with 26 percent.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is in third with 17 percent, followed by John Kasich with 11 and Ben Carson with 10 percent. Jeb Bush is a distant sixth, with just 4 percent support nationally.

The poll represents a big change from the last NBC survey, released in the middle of January. That poll had Trump leading Cruz by 13 points. Since then, Cruz has gained 8 points, while Trump has dropped 7 points.

The poll also stands in stark contrast, with recently released public polls showing Trump with a sizable lead nationally. Those polls, however, conducted most of their interviews before the GOP debate in Charleston. In that debate, Donald Trump aggressively criticized George W. Bush over the Iraq War as well as Bush’s handling of the 9/11 terrorist attack.

In its poll of South Carolina released on Tuesday, CNN noted that they had seen a drop in support for Trump in interviews conducted after the debate. CNN reported that prior to the debate, Trump’s support was at 40 percent, but fell to 31 percent in interviews conducted post-debate. Trump still showed a strong lead in the CNN poll, though, because 80 percent of its interviews were conducted before the debate.

Fallout from the GOP debate seems to be the prime factor here. In NBC’s poll in January, 65 percent of Republicans said they could imagine support for Donald Trump as the party’s nominee. In this latest poll, that number has dropped to 56 percent. More importantly, 42 percent of Republicans now say they could not support Trump as the nominee.

In a hypothetical two-man race between Cruz and Trump, Cruz now leads by 16 points, 56-40. In January, Cruz’s lead over Trump in a head-to-head match-up was half that, 51-43.

Trump also now loses a head-to-head match-up against Marco Rubio. Trump still defeats Bush and Kasich in a hypothetical two-man contest.

It is possible this poll is an outlier. Even accurate polling occasionally produces a result that doesn’t fully reflect the actual state of the race. This is the most recent poll, however, that was conducted entirely after the GOP debate, so it warrants careful consideration.

With South Carolina set to vote in its primary on Saturday, national poll numbers are less important that earlier in the campaign. If Trump wins South Carolina by the margin suggested in recent polling, that victory will reverberate into national polling.