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Voters Don’t Fit Neatly Into Presidential Primary Lanes

Even picking up Trump supporters that listed Cruz as their second choice, that probably would not be enough for him to win the nomination. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The common narrative of the Republican presidential primary has two groups of candidates jockeying for position in establishment and anti-establishment lanes.  

Under these parameters, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz would stand to be the primary, if not sole, beneficiary from Donald Trump’s departure, whether it be from losses or boredom. But that analysis is complicated by some data buried deep in the crosstabs of a pre-New Hampshire poll.  

Trump led the field in last week’s Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll with 29 percent, followed by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (19 percent), Ohio Gov. John Kasich (13 percent), Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (10 percent), Cruz (7 percent), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (5 percent), and Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina at 4 percent each.  

The poll also asked respondents who their second choice would be, which could have greater implications.  

Slightly more than a quarter of Trump supporters (28 percent) selected Cruz as their second choice, while 18 percent chose Rubio and 10 percent chose Christie. It also appears that 20 percent of Trump supporters don’t have a second choice. In addition, 36 percent of Carson supporters selected Rubio as their second choice, while 14 percent chose Cruz.  

Even with a large margin of error because of a small sample size, those are hardly the margins among the most conservative and anti-establishment voters that Cruz would likely need to win, if Rubio is able to consolidate the pragmatic, establishment primary voters. These polling numbers suggest Cruz would struggle to rack up significant delegate victories in the southern states on March 1, when he was thought to be able to build an initial pad.  

Of course the fundamental dynamic of the race may have shifted during the Feb. 6 debate, when Rubio was roundly criticized by the media and his foes for a miserable debate performance. If Kasich, Christie, and/or Bush finish ahead of the senator in the Granite State, they would likely continue their campaigns and make the electoral math complicated for themselves and Rubio against Cruz.  

But if the debate was not the game-changing event that most have made it out to be, Rubio is in strong position for the nomination, trying to transcend the lanes .  

While the rest of the candidates might see themselves in a particular lane, it appears that voters aren’t looking at the field in the same terms.  

Gonzales can be reached at nathangonzales@rollcall.com or follow him on Twitter @nathanlgonzales.

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