Will Ted Cruz pick up Trump’s supporters if the mogul starts to fade? Many, if not most, reporters seem to think so. Cruz himself may think so. The data, however, strongly suggest this a fool’s errand.
As I’ve written elsewhere (here, most recently), Trump supporters come from all factions of the GOP. Indeed, most polls show that Trump runs better among self-described moderates than among very conservative voters.
Cruz, however, has always been a candidate of the Tea Party/very conservative base. Virtually every poll shows that he is best thought of by very conservative voters, who number about a third of the party nationwide. Moreover, so far he draws almost all of his support from self-described Tea Party voters who are an even smaller number. Despite what the media tell you, the polls are clear that Tea Partiers and very conservative voters are a minority within the GOP by a large margin.
Cruz’s troubles can best be seen in the PPP national poll of GOP primary voters released this morning. While this is only one poll, it shows what every other poll to date has shown regarding the huge differences between Cruz’s and Trump’s support.
Cruz is favored by 7 percent of PPP poll respondents. That number jumps to 15 percent among Tea Partiers, good enough to put him in third place. But that’s only 18 percent of the sample. Sixty-eight percent say they are not Tea Party supporters, and Cruz’s support slumps to a mere five percent among them.
This distinction is seen even more starkly in a question only PPP asks. PPP asks GOP voters which they prefer in a nominee, a candidate who is the most conservative on the issues or one with the best chance of beating the Democrat. Thirty-six percent say they want the most conservative candidate, and Cruz polls a respectable 14 percent among them. Fifty-one percent choose electability, however, and only an anemic two percent of these voters choose Cruz.
This pattern – Cruz only appeals to the very conservative voter – holds no matter how you slice the electorate. He gets 15 percent among very conservative voters, again good enough for third. But that’s only thirty percent of the national GOP electorate. His support drops to 5 percent among the largest ideological faction, somewhat conservatives, and plummets to a mere three percent among moderates and liberals. NRO readers might sneer at this last group, but moderates and liberals still comprise about thirty percent of the national electorate, dominating GOP primaries in New England and the Northeast and outnumber very conservatives in Florida, most states in the Midwest, and California.
Cruz’s support also differs sharply by religion. He gets 13 percent of evangelicals, who are 45 percent of the GOP electorate. He gets only 3 percent among the 55 percent who are not evangelicals.
Trump on the other hand draws well among all these groups. He received the same 29 percent among those who want the most conservative candidate and those who care most about winning. He got 35 percent among Tea Partiers and 27 percent among non-Tea Partiers. He gets 26 percent among very conservatives, 27 percent among somewhat conservatives, and 28 percent among moderates and liberals. He gets 25 percent among evangelicals and 29 percent among non-evangelicals. He simply has a much broader base of appeal than does Cruz.
Cruz backers may actually get excited about these data. They might point to the large number of non-conservatives and non-evangelicals who could fall to Cruz if Trump exits. Combine Trump moderates with Cruz conservatives, they might reason, and we have makings of an anti-establishment coalition.
The problem with this theory is, again, Cruz himself. Cruz’s favorable to unfavorable ratio is similar to Trump’s at 50 percent favorable and 30 percent unfavorable. But it is much more heavily titled to the right than The Donald’s.
Cruz is wildly popular among Tea Partiers (73-12) and very conservative voters (78-10). He is not popular with voters not part of the Tea Party (42-39). Most importantly, he is loathed by moderates. Only 18 percent of moderates have a favorable opinion of Ted Cruz; 62 percent have an unfavorable opinion of him.
The pattern holds, if not quite as sharply, among the religious divide. Evangelicals like Cruz by a 58-22 percent margin, while non-evangelicals are split on him at 43-37.
These patterns both suggest Cruz would do quite well if Trump drops out in the South where evangelicals and very conservative voters are strongest. But he would do very poorly in California, Florida, the Northeast, and New England. This is even worse for him than it looks because of how delegates will be selected. Southern states will vote early and under RNC rules must award their delegates proportionally. New England states, Florida, and California vote later, and many have adopted some form of winner-take-all. This simple fact, something he cannot change, means he will get a smaller delegate lead from his base than an establishment opponent will get from theirs even if he does break through.
It’s quite clear that should Cruz surge and Trump fade, Cruz could very well gain voters from the most conservative part of Trump’s support. But against a more establishment-favored candidate like Marco Rubio, Cruz would get crushed among moderates and fail to win large margins – if he won any margin at all – among somewhat conservatives. That is no accident.
Cruz has based his entire career on the premise that very conservative voters are the ignored majority among Republicans. That may be true in the Republican South, but it is not true nationally. The very image that draws many Republicans to him repels or annoys a larger number. To put it in terms he might understand, a majority of Republican voters have more in common with Mitch McConnell than with him. Until he realizes that and does something to make those voters like him, Cruz will remain a polarizing figure who has no chance to become the nominee, let alone President.