Trump and Cruz deadlocked, with Rubio a distant third, Loras College Poll finds

With 11 days to go before the 2016 Iowa Caucuses, real estate mogul Donald Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz are deadlocked at the top of the latest Loras College Poll. The two candidates have distanced themselves from the rest of the field, with Florida Senator Marco Rubio the only other candidate receiving double-digit support among likely Republican caucus voters.  The statewide live-caller poll was conducted Jan. 13-18.  Trump and Cruz were also at the top of the December Loras Poll.

As the precinct caucuses approach on Feb. 1, the campaigning is reaching a fevered pitch.  “The Trump versus Cruz dynamic has defined the Republican race in the past couple of weeks.  We are certainly seeing that here in Iowa,” said Christopher Budzisz, Ph.D, associate professor of politics and director of the Loras College Poll.  “Iowa voters have surprised in the past, so it is always wise to watch for out for a last-minute push by someone from back in the field.  Senator Rubio is the one most within striking distance at the moment, and 10 days is something of an eternity in caucus politics.”

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad made headlines with his comment Wednesday that he “think[s] it would be a big mistake for Iowa to support him.” The governor focused on Cruz’s opposition to ethanol as a key reason for concern. 

“Governor Branstad’s comments were noteworthy as a high profile intervention into the race, and that isn’t something you usually see.  It will be interesting find out how voters respond to this last minute pitch by the state’s influential and popular GOP governor,” Budzisz said.
Candidate Preference

Candidate Candidate Support
(as first choice)
Candidate Support
(as first or second choice)
Donald Trump 26 percent 39 percent
Ted Cruz 25 percent 48 percent
Marco Rubio 13 percent 30 percent
Ben Carson 8 percent 18 percent
Jeb Bush 6 percent 10 percent
John Kasich 4 percent 6 percent
Chris Christie 3 percent 6 percent
Mike Huckabee 3 percent 7 percent
Rand Paul 3 percent 5 percent
Carly Fiorina 2 percent 6 percent
Rick Santorum 1 percent 2 percent
Undecided 7 percent

With campaigns running short on time to connect with voters, nearly half of likely Republican caucus voters (49 percent) indicated they are absolutely committed to voting for their indicated first choice, while 43 percent report being only somewhat committed. 

“Time is running out for campaigns to persuade voters, especially the undecideds and those with less-than-fully-firm commitments to their first choice,” Budzisz said. “The scramble is on.”
Differences from Last Loras College Poll
Looking back to the results of the previous Loras College Poll conducted in December, the trend of Cruz and Trump separating themselves from the pack was in evidence.  From the poll in December, Cruz has experienced a small decline.

Candidate Candidate Support as First Choice
(Dec. 7-10 poll)
Candidate Support as First Choice
(Jan. 13-18 poll)
Ted Cruz 30 percent 25 percent -5
Donald Trump 23 percent 26 percent +3
Ben Carson 11 percent 8 percent -3
Marco Rubio 11 percent 13 percent +2
Jeb Bush 6 percent 6 percent 0
UNDECIDED 9 percent 7 percent -2

Voter Expectations
In addition to the standard question of which candidate they personally intend to vote for, likely caucus voters were asked who theyexpected would actually win the caucus and who they expected would eventually win the nomination.  Comparing results from the December Loras poll to the present reveals that Cruz has surged forward in terms of expected success in the caucuses. 

“Voters see the race in Iowa as coming down to Cruz or Trump, and I think the increasing tit-for-tat between these two candidates in the past weeks bears out that dynamic,” Budzisz said. 

In terms of their expectations regarding who the eventual nominee will be, a majority of voters see a Cruz or Trump as the likely standard bearer for the Republican Party.  The expectations for Trump continue to grow as more voters come to see him as a real possibility for the nomination.

Expected Caucus Winner  Dec. 7-10 Poll Jan. 13-18 poll Change
Donald Trump 31 percent 29 percent -2
Ted Cruz 24 percent 38 percent +14
Ben Carson 6 percent 1 percent -5
Marco Rubio 5 percent 2 percent -3
Jeb Bush 4 percent 6 percent +2
UNDECIDED 28 percent 20 percent -8


Expected Eventual Nominee  Dec. 7-10 Poll Jan. 13-18 Poll Change
Donald Trump 29 percent 36 percent +7
Ted Cruz 21 percent 21 percent 0
Marco Rubio 11 percent 9 percent -2
Jeb Bush 5 percent 3 percent -2
Ben Carson 4 percent 1 percent -3
UNDECIDED 29 percent 26 percent -3

Net Favorability
The Loras Poll also asked likely voters whether they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the various candidates.  The results below indicate the net favorability of the candidates (percentage favorable opinion minus percentage unfavorable opinion).  Positive numbers indicate a net favorable view, whereas negative numbers indicate a net unfavorable opinion.

Candidate Net Favorability
Donald Trump +14
Ted Cruz +53
Marco Rubio +42
Ben Carson +57
Jeb Bush -1
John Kasich -3
Chris Christie +11
Mike Huckabee +39
Rand Paul -14
Carly Fiorina +34
Rick Santorum +22

“On the measure of net favorability, Senator Cruz does hold an advantage over Donald Trump.  Trump’s recent criticisms of Cruz may be Trump’s way of trying to blunt this advantage,” Budzisz said.

Likely caucus participants were also asked whether or not there was a candidate they absolutely would not vote for.  As has been the case in prior polling, Donald Trump and Jeb Bush elicit the most opposition.  31 percent of respondents indicated they would absolutely not vote for Trump in the caucuses, whereas 29 percent indicated they would absolutely not vote for Bush.  Senator Rand Paul, Ohio Governor John Kasich and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie round out the top five (18 percent, 17 percent, and 16 percent respectively indicated that they would absolutely not vote for these candidates).
A Closer Look at the Electorate
Given the traditional influence of evangelical voters in the Iowa caucuses (making up roughly 60 percent of caucus participants on the Republican side in the past two caucuses), and very conservative voters (making up nearly half of all Republican caucus voters in both of the past two caucuses), it is important to look at these two vital subgroups within the electorate.  Recent examples of successful candidates building on evangelicals as a base of support in the caucuses point to the importance of these groups. 

“Just ask Governor Huckabee or Senator Santorum about the importance of evangelical support in winning the caucuses.  While the caucuses tend to be low-turnout affairs in general, evangelical and strong conservative voters historically participate in numbers,” Budzisz said. 

Of those likely voters identifying as evangelical or born-again Christians (59 percent of the likely Republican caucus voters in the current poll), Cruz and Trump fare best, with Cruz capturing 29 percent of this bloc, with Trump at 25 percent.  Ben Carson and Marco Rubio both received 11 percent support of these voters.  Looking more closely at evangelical voters as a portion of the vote support for individual candidates, 69 percent of Cruz supporters identify as a born-again or evangelical Christians, while 56 percent of Trump supporters identify as such.

Senator Cruz is the favorite of those who consider themselves “very conservative.”  Cruz captured 41 percent of this group, while Trump was the choice of 26 percent of this group, and Ben Carson was the only other candidate in double-digits at 10 percent.
In addition to questions of voter preference for candidates, the newest Loras College Poll asked likely voters to respond to questions on a number of important issues.  Clear majorities of likely Republican caucus voters oppose President Obama’s recently announced executive action on gun control, support the use of ground troops against ISIS, believe that current U.S. border policies are inadequate to protect the country, and believe that it is extremely or very critical to begin to lower the national debt.  Exactly half of the respondents believe that their community would be unwelcoming to Syrian refugees.

Support for Recently Announced Presidential Actions on Gun Control

Likely Republican Voters
Total Support 19 percent
Total Oppose 68 percent
Unsure 14 percent

Use of U.S. ground troops to fight ISIS in Syria

Likely Republican Voters
Total Support 66 percent
Total Oppose 21 percent
Unsure 12 percent

Would Your Community be Welcoming to Syrian Refugees?

Likely Republican Voters
Total Welcoming 35 percent
Total Unwelcoming 50 percent
Unsure 15 percent

Current U.S. border security measures adequately protect the country

Likely Republican Voters
Total Agree 9 percent
Total Disagree 87 percent
Unsure 3 percent

How Critical is it to Begin to Lower the National Debt?

Likely Republican Voters
Extremely or Very Critical 88 percent
Moderately or Slightly Critical 11 percent
Not Critical at All < 1 percent
Unsure 1 percent

Other noteworthy results from the poll of Republican likely caucus voters include:

  • Voters were asked who they trusted most to address the threat of terrorism.  Trump was the choice of 32 percent, Cruz 26 percent, and 10 percent said Rubio.  No other candidates were in double-digits.
  • 25 percent of likely Republican voters indicated Ted Cruz was best prepared to handle foreign policy, 19 percent said Trump, 18 percent said Rubio, and Jeb Bush was the choice of 10 percent of voters.  No other candidates were in double-digits.
  • Republican disapproval of President Obama is overwhelming, with 90 percent of likely Republican caucus voters disapproving of the job performance of President Obama.  Only 9 percent indicate their approval of the president’s job performance.
  • Likely Republican caucus voters are certainly pessimistic about the direction of the country.  91 percent indicated the country is heading in the wrong direction, while only 6 percent indicated the country was on the right track.

For toplines and crosstabs related to today’s release, see:  
Note on Methodology: The Loras College Poll surveyed 1,000 likely 2016 caucus voters (500 likely Republican voters, 500 likely Democratic voters).  The survey was conducted January 13-18, 2016.  Sample includes no-party registrants who passed likely voter screen (see below).  Margin of error for full sample results is +/- 3.1%, while for the party subsamples the margin of error is +/- 4.4%. All results calculated at a 95% confidence interval.   

  • Survey conducted with a random sample of registered voters (phone numbers drawn from official Iowa Secretary of State voter files of those who voted in either the 2012 or 2014 general election or who had registered since—last file update December 2015).
  • Likely caucus voter was defined as those indicating they were “definitely or very likely” to vote in the 2016 Iowa Caucus.  Those indicating they were “somewhat likely” were subjected to further screen question regarding their general interest in politics.  Only those indicating they were “very interested” in politics were then accepted within the sample as a likely caucus voter.
  • The sample was balanced for gender and age to approximate past caucus entrance polling, and divided across Iowa’s four congressional districts with reference to registration.
  • Survey included both landlines and cell phones (with an approximate 70-30 split).
  • The survey was conducted using live operator interviews through a contracted professional call center.
  • Script development and methodology used for the survey received input from Republican campaign consultant Brian Dumas and Democratic campaign consultant Dave Heller.

The Loras College Poll is conducted several times each year.  Loras College faculty and student researchers work as part of the survey research team to develop poll questions, analyze and interpret data, and assist with sharing the final results with local, regional and national media.  

Capitalizing on its location in the politically vital and vibrant state of Iowa, the Iowa Presidential Caucuses serves as a cornerstone of the Loras College Poll, with additional surveys focused on current events, social issues, economic issues, politics and more.

The Loras College Poll website is:
Follow on Twitter: @LorasPoll or @ChrisBudzisz

Loras Poll