GOP frontrunner Donald Trump tops the GOP field with 39 percent in a new CNN/ORC poll released today, with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) a distant second at 18 percent.
More people now believe Trump is the Republican candidate with the best chance to win the general election in 2016.
Cruz increased his standing two points since the last CNN/ORC poll taken late last month, while Dr. Ben Carson and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) both slipped a few points and are now tied with 10 percent.
Since his presidential announcement, Trump has remained a constant leader at the top of the polls, but this new poll is the first time Cruz has separated himself from the other GOP candidates.
The poll was conducted after the December GOP primary debate in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 15.
CNN reports, “Among those Republicans who say they watched, 33% say Trump did the best job in the debate, 28% Cruz, 13% Rubio. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie follows with 6%. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, widely seen as needing a strong debate performance to boost his standing in the polls, was rated best by just 1% of debate watchers.”
Six in 10 Republican voters in the poll now say there are one or two candidates they’d prefer to see win over the rest of the field, up from 48% who had identified favorites in July. That consolidation is reflected in voters’ overall preferences. This marks the second CNN/ORC poll in a row in which more than three-quarters of Republicans now support one of the top four candidates (77% choose one of Trump, Cruz, Carson or Rubio), and 57% now support one of the top two candidates. That latter figure marks the highest share for any two candidates combined this cycle.
According to CNN, the poll reveals Trump’s lead stems from the opinion that he can best handle the economy, illegal immigration and ISIS.
Trump holds massive advantages over the rest of the field as the candidate best able to handle the economy (57% Trump, his next closest competitors are Cruz at 8%, Rubio at 7%, Carson at 6% and Bush at 5%), illegal immigration (55% trust Trump, followed by Cruz at 15%, Rubio at 10%), and ISIS (47% prefer Trump, 21% Cruz, 7% Bush and 6% Christie).
In August, only 38 percent of Republicans thought Trump would be the best candidate to win in the 2016 general election, but that is now up to 46% of GOP voters who believe Trump is the candidate with a better chance of winning in 2016.
Among those who say the party has a better shot with someone other than Trump, Cruz is the preferred candidate, 25% would like to see him win the nomination, 16% Rubio, 13% Carson, 9% are Trump backers, 8% Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, 7% Christie and 4% each Bush and Kasich.
CNN suggests that Cruz’s performance in the December debate has helped move him into second place.
Though he remains well behind Trump, Cruz gained ground on the front-runner on handling illegal immigration and ISIS, both a central focus of the debate’s questions, while Rubio and Carson faded on both issues. Cruz’s favorability rating has jumped 22 points among Republican voters since September, and he now holds the highest favorability rating among Republican voters of any of the seven candidates tested. He’s also posted the largest increase in favorability rating among all adults since September, climbing from 27% favorable in September to 45% now, an 18-point gain. Trump (+8) and Rubio (+14) posted smaller increases.
More voters, 62 percent, believe Cruz has the right type of experience to be president, while 57 percent believe Trump has the right experience. Fifty-three percent of voters said Rubio has the experience. However, “two-thirds say Cruz shares their values and is someone they would be proud to have as president.”
The CNN poll also reveals that Trump has gained ground with college graduates.
In the new poll, 27% of GOP voters with degrees back Trump, up from 18% in the late-November poll. Among those without degrees, 46% back Trump, the same share as in November. Non-college voters could prove to be an Achilles heel for Rubio, who holds just 6% support among that group compared with 19% among those who hold degrees.
The poll was conducted by telephone from December 17 to 21 with a sample of 1,018 voters across the nation. The results had a plus or minus margin of error of three points. For the results regarding the 438 GOP and Independent voters, who are leaning Republican, the margin of error was plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.