U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) at the Presidential Family Forum in Des Moines, IA.Photo credit: Dave Davidson (Prezography.com)
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) at the Presidential Family Forum in Des Moines, IA.
Photo credit: Dave Davidson (Prezography.com)

There is no question that U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is surging, but not so fast on calling him the front runner in Iowa. The ink was barely dry on headlines that declared Cruz the Iowa Caucus front runner when another poll was released that disputed that.

The Monmouth University poll released shows that Cruz passed up Trump.  The one thing that is for certain is that it is bad news for Dr. Ben Carson.

Cruz jumped to 24% which is 14 points since the poll was last taken in October.  Carson drops 19 points from that last poll taken.  Carson having 32 points in that poll may have been questionable at that time, but Loras College around the same time polled him at 31%, KBUR at 28%.

Donald Trump, who is currently polling 2nd according to the latest Monmouth poll, actually gained a point since October and sits at 19%.  U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) has gained seven points from October, but the two candidates who have gained the most from Carson’s decline are Cruz and Rubio.

So the field, according to Monmouth, looks like this.

1. Ted Cruz – 24% 2. Donald Trump – 19% 3. Marco Rubio – 17% 4. Ben Carson – 13% 5. Jeb Bush – 6% 6. Rand Paul – 4% 7. (Tie) Carly Fiorina and John Kasich – 3% 9. (Tie) Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee – 2% 11. Rick Santorum – 1% 12. (Tie) Lindsey Graham and George Pataki – 0%

Evangelical voters, who Monmouth University says make up about half of the Iowa GOP caucus electorate, back Cruz (30%) over Trump (18%), Rubio (16%), and Carson (15%). In October, Carson held the advantage with this group – garnering 36% support to 18% for Trump, 12% for Cruz, and 9% for Rubio.

Cruz also has an edge among voters who call themselves tea party supporters. He commands 36% support among this group, compared to 20% for Trump, 17% for Carson, and 11% for Rubio. In October, this group gave their vote to Carson (30%) over Trump (22%), Cruz (17%), and Rubio (8%).

There is a notable gender difference among caucus goers’ preferences. Men prefer Cruz (29%) and Trump (24%) over Rubio (12%) and Carson (12%). Women support Rubio (23%) and Cruz (19%) over Carson (15%) and Trump (14%).

The CNN/ORC poll has Trump up by 13% with 33%.  This represents an eight point gain since they last took the poll between 10/29 -11/4.  Cruz, in 2nd position, gained 9 points. Carson dropped 7 points. Rubio has dropped 2 points.

Here is how the field pans about according to CNN/ORC: 1. Trump – 33% 2. Cruz – 20% 3. Carson – 16% 4. Rubio – 11% 5. Bush – 4% 6. (Tie) Fiorina and Paul – 3% 8. (Tie) Christie and Huckabee – 2% 10. (Tie) Kasich and Santorum – 1% 12. (Tie) Jim Gilmore, Graham and Pataki – 0%

26% of likely Iowa Caucus goers say they have decided. 26% say they are leaning toward a candidate. Almost half – 48% say they have not yet decided.

Donald Trump leads among men (36%) and women (29%). Trump (29%) has a two point lead over Cruz among self-identified conservatives (27%).  Cruz leads among evangelicals (26%) followed by Trump (24%) and then Carson (20%).  Among Tea Party supporters Trump and Cruz are tied at 33%.

The CNN/ORC poll which has Trump still on top was taken over a longer period of time – 11/28 through 12/6.  The Monmouth University poll was only 12/3 through 12/6, so that could be a factor.

Monmouth also had a smaller sample size – 425 compared to 552 with the CNN poll.  The margin of error with Monmouth is +/- 4.8% with CNN/ORC it is +/-4%.  That isn’t very significant.

I believe the chief difference between the two polls is how they were weighted.

The Monmouth poll is weighted for 50% evangelical and 50% non-evangelical.  That’s based on previous exit polling. In 2012 both CNN and the New York Times exit polling showed that 57% of Iowa Caucus goers were born again Christian/evangelical.  Whether that holds true shall remain to be seen.  This poll was also weighted by age and gender according to state voter registration data.

The CNN/ORC poll was weighted based on the recent census figures for gender, race, age, education and region of the state.  It was also part of a larger pool as they polled the Democrat race as well.

So it comes down to who is right about the evangelical turnout to the caucus. Also weighting by census data can be problematic when comparing Republicans and Democrats.

While I think it’s early to declare Cruz a front-runner, I believe that the Monmouth University poll methodology is better suited for determining the outcome of the Iowa Republican Caucuses than the CNN/ORC poll methodology is.

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