Field Poll: Cruz surges in California, ties Trump

GOP voter support for Ted Cruz has surged in California over the past three months and the Texas Senator has now moved into a statistical tie with businessman Donald Trump for the lead in this state’s Republican presidential primary.  Cruz is the first choice of 25% of likely GOP voters in the latest statewide Field Poll, while Trump is backed by 23%. Florida Senator Marco Rubio is now in third at 13%, while support for retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson has fallen to 9%. Each of the other Republicans vying for their party’s presidential nomination poll in single digits.

Despite the closeness of the standings between Cruz and Trump, other results from the poll indicate that Trump is in a weaker position than Cruz, and in some respects Rubio, among all GOP voters, as well as the broader statewide electorate. For example, just 11% of likely GOP voters name Trump as their second choice preference for president, while twice as many (22%) say this in regard to Cruz. Another 14% choose Rubio as their second choice.

Many more California Republican primary voters also have an unfavorable opinion of Trump (45%) than say this about Cruz (20%) or Rubio (26%). Similarly, greater than four in ten Republican voters (43%) say they would be dissatisfied or upset were Trump to become their party’s nominee, while only about half as many say this about Cruz (21%) or Rubio (24%). This means that Trump is in a weaker position to broaden his support among the state’s GOP electorate should voters now supporting other candidates change their minds and migrate to one of other Republicans as the June California primary draws nearer.

Finally, when the state’s overall registered voter population, not just likely Republican primary voters, are asked their opinions of the three leading GOP candidates, many more Californians (73%) say they hold an unfavorable opinion of Trump than say this about Cruz (51%) or Rubio (46%).

Cruz and Trump sit atop of the crowded GOP presidential field in California
The latest Field Poll finds that Cruz and Trump are leading in first choice preferences among Californians likely to vote in the state’s June 7 Republican presidential primary over a large field of GOP candidates. Currently 25% of likely GOP primary voters are supporting Cruz, while 23% back Trump. Rubio is in third at 13%. Each of the other Republicans presidential hopefuls poll in single digits.

Support for Cruz has surged in California over the past three months. His current 25% level of support was just 4% – 6% in each of three previous statewide Field Poll surveys conducted during 2015. The Texas Senator appears to be the chief beneficiary of the declining fortunes of two other Republicans, Carson and businesswoman Carly Fiorina, both of whom have lost considerable support in California over the past three months.

Both Cruz and Rubio receive more second choice votes than Trump
Despite the closeness in first choice preferences, Cruz receives twice as many second choice preference votes (22%) than does Trump (11%). Rubio also receives another 14% of Republicans’ second choice votes.

When the first and second choice preferences of likely GOP primary voters are combined, 47% choose Cruz, compared to 34% for Trump and 27% for Rubio.

Support for the Republican candidates varies across subgroups of the state’s likely GOP voters
Support for Cruz is greatest among California Republicans identifying themselves as strongly conservative in politics and among born-again Christians. He also now leads among Republicans under age 50. Trump leads among GOP voters age 50-64 and among Republicans who are not evangelical Christians.

Nearly half of this state’s GOP voters hold an unfavorable opinion of Trump
Likely voters in the state’s Republican primary were also asked to offer their overall impressions of each of the leading GOP presidential candidates. The results show that nearly as many likely GOP primary voters hold an unfavorable opinion of Trump (45%) as view him positively (51%).

Cruz holds the most positive image profile of any of the candidates, with 69% of this state’s likely GOP electorate viewing him favorably and 20% unfavorably. About twice as many Republicans view Rubio and Carson favorably as hold an unfavorable opinion.

Of the other GOP candidates, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie also receives more positive than negative appraisals from California Republicans. On the other hand, many more GOP voters here view former Florida Governor Jeb Bush negatively as view him positively.

Many California Republicans voice anxiety about Trump should he become their party’s standard-bearer
When GOP voters are asked what their reactions would be should each of six Republican candidates become their party’s standard-bearer, there is greater anxiety about Trump than any of the other leading GOP candidates. While 55% of Republicans say they would be enthusiastic or satisfied if Trump were to win the Republican presidential nomination, greater than four in ten (43%) would be dissatisfied or upset.

By comparison, 74% would be enthusiastic or satisfied should Cruz win the nomination, while just 21% of the state’s Republican electorate would be dissatisfied or upset. In addition, 67% of Republicans would be enthusiastic or satisfied with Rubio as their nominee, while just 24% would be dissatisfied or upset.

The state’s overall electorate holds a highly negative opinion of Trump
The survey also asked all registered voters statewide, not just likely voters in the GOP primary, their opinions about the three leading Republican candidates. The results show that while pluralities of California voters hold unfavorable opinions of each Republican, many more (73%) say this about Trump than any of the other GOP candidates.

Negative opinions of Trump are broad-based and span most major voter segments. He is viewed most negatively among the state’s Democrats, liberals, Latinos and African American voters. Among Latinos, for example, 85% hold an unfavorable opinion of Trump, while just 10% have a favorable view.

By comparison, only about half of the state’s overall electorate currently holds negative opinions of Cruz or Rubio.

California possesses 14% of the delegates needed to win the GOP Presidential nomination If the Republican presidential nomination has not been decided by the time California holds its presidential primary on June 7, the state’s large trove of delegates to the GOP national convention could prove pivotal in deciding the winner. Four states will be holding presidential primary elections on June 7 in addition to California – New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana and New Mexico. However, because California’s 172 GOP delegates constitute more delegates than are at stake in these four other states combined, it will have by far the greatest potential impact on June 7. In fact, the state’s 172 delegates represent 14% of the 1,236 total needed to win the GOP nomination.

The rules governing how the California Republican Party will be choosing its delegates to the GOP national convention also has the potential to increase its clout. That’s because 159 of the delegates will be selected on a winner-take-all basis within each of the state’s 52 congressional districts, while most of the rest will be awarded to the candidate winning statewide. This means that should one of GOP presidential contenders generate broad-based appeal across California, it would be possible for that candidate to be awarded most, if not all, of the state’s delegates.

Ed’s Note: The survey was conducted December 16, 2015-January 3, 2016 among 1,003 registered voters in California, including 325 Republicans considered likely to vote in the state’s June Republican presidential primary election. Interviews were administered by telephone using live interviewers in English and Spanish. The complete poll and its methodology can be viewed here.

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