Cruz opens up 10-point lead over Trump in Iowa ahead of first caucus
REPUBLICAN presidential candidate Ted Cruz has taken a 10-point lead over Donald Trump.
The latest poll places him in prime position to win the first Republican caucus on February 1, in Iowa.
But the Texas senator may be even stronger than the numbers suggest. A deeper look into the polls suggests that Mr Cruz is poised to draw away even more of Mr Trump's supporters.
Evidently uneasy at the popularity of his rival, Mr Trump went on the offensive, claiming Mr Cruz was "a little bit of a maniac".
Until now, Mr Trump's great source of strength has been his support from voters without a college degree. One reason he has been able to maintain an overall lead in most national polls since last summer is that, as Ron Brownstein has pointed out, blue-collar workers have flocked towards him, while white-collar workers - with at least a college degree - have split their support among several candidates. But the most recent Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register poll shows that Mr Cruz, for the first time, is winning both non-college voters (Cruz 32pc, Trump 23pc, Ben Carson 13pc) and college voters (Cruz 29pc, Trump 18pc Carson 12pc) alike.
Of course, voter preference is fluid and the Iowa caucuses are still six weeks away. But Mr Cruz's strategy of embracing, rather than attacking, Mr Trump even after Mr Trump makes controversial or offensive statements appears to have served him well, at least so far.
In the new poll, respondents who say they support Mr Trump have an extremely positive view of Mr Cruz: 73pc view him favourably, while 18pc view him unfavourably. Asked to state their second-choice preference, these Trump supporters overwhelmingly pick Cruz (49pc), with Marco Rubio (16pc) a distant second. If Mr Trump falters or alienates his current supporters, they appear quite open to supporting Mr Cruz.
But the reverse is less true: Cruz supporters aren't nearly as enthused at the prospect of backing Mr Trump, though, overall, they do view him positively. Sixty per cent have a favourable view of Mr Trump, versus 33pc who view him unfavourably. Yet asked to state their second choice of candidate, Cruz supporters are about as likely to favour Mr Carson (26pc) as they are Mr Trump (25 percent). So Mr Trump may have a hard time climbing back into the lead, especially if he goes on the attack against Mr Cruz, as he did over the weekend when he told CNN he had "far better judgment than Ted."
Mr Cruz's rise came at the expense of retired neurosurgeon Mr Carson, who dropped to third with 13pc in the poll, while US Senator Marco Rubio of Florida hovered at 10pc. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was at 6pc, a 1-percentage-point increase from October.
Mr Rubio, who has seen an uptick in his own poll standings in recent weeks, criticised his Senate colleague on defence spending, saying Mr Cruz talked about carpet-bombing Isil while voting to cut the military budget.
Mr Rubio was measured in his criticism of Trump on NBC's 'Meet the Press,' saying: "There's a lot we have a difference of opinion on, but we can't ignore that he's touched on some issues that people are concerned about."