Over the past six months, FairVote has analyzed a number of Republican presidential nomination polls and collaborated with the College of William and Mary on our own national poll, with an eye toward understanding who would likely win with a ranked choice voting rule. Notably, that winner rarely was Donald Trump, including in our poll and in most contests won by Trump– and indeed, Trump has still not won a primary or caucus with a majority of the vote. However, as the field has been reduced to Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, Trump’s frontrunner status is seemingly being accepted by more grassroots Republican voters, and he is poised to be a majority nominee.
Not only did Trump win Arizona yesterday by a commanding 47% to 25% over Cruz, but five national polls this past week show him with large leads, as reported by RealClearPolitics:
Quinnipiac (March 16-21): Trump 43%, Cruz 29% and Kasich 16%
Monmouth (March 16-21): Trump 41%, Cruz 29% and Kasich 18%
CBS/New York Times (March 17-20): Trump 46%, Cruz 26%, Kasich 20%
CNN/ORC (March 17-20): Trump 47%, Cruz 31%, Kasich 17%
Rasmussen Reports (March 16-17): Trump 43%, Cruz 28%, Kasich 21%
The results consistently show Trump with a strong plurality lead. While most pollsters continue to fail to ask the helpful “head-to-head” comparison question of how Trump would fare one-on-one with Cruz and Kasich, it looks like Trump would win nationally even if one of them drops out of the race. Most directly, the Quinnipiac poll asked voters to provide their second choices and used that to provide head-to-head results in what is effectively an instant runoff:
Trump 46% to Cruz 37%: Trump picked up 3% and Cruz 8% from the Kasich pool of 16% of voters. Notably, Trump does best with older voters – taking a 51% to 32% lead among voters 65 and over, who are disproportionately likely to vote.
Trump 56% to Kasich 25%: Some polls suggest that John Kasich might be the strongest Republican nominee in the general election, but he is not well-positioned to defeat Trump head-to-head nationally among Republicans. Of Cruz’s 29%, 13% goes to Trump and only 9% to Kasich.
The CBS/ New York Times poll has Trump with 46% and reports second choice ranking (although not helpfully according to which second choice goes with which first choice). Still, Trump picks up 17% from Cruz and Kasich, giving him a total of 63% - almost certainly meaning he would be well over 50% when matched head-to-head with Cruz or Kasich.
In the CNN/ORC poll, Trump again is close to a majority (47%) and has a clear led in “enthusiastic” support (40%). He picks up 26% more from respondents who said they were “satisfied” with him. Only 15% think that a brokered convention should consider anyone other than Trump, Cruz or Kasich – and fully 70% would like Kasich to drop out.
The Monmouth poll does not report second choice or head-to-head information but does ask what respondents would like to see happen if Trump wins a plurality of delegates before the national convention. Over half (54%) would still like to see Republicans get behind Trump, and only 34% would definitely like to see someone else nominated.
If one were to rewrite electoral history with ranked choice voting used from the start, I suspect that the nominee would have been Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio, both of whom showed greater strength than Trump in head-to-head matchups against Trump early on. But as of today, in the wake of months of plurality voting polls showing Trump almost always in the lead and now weeks of actual contests usually won by Trump with a plurality, it seems that a majority of Republican voter are ready to accept his status as a “winner” and jump on the Trump train.
The role of a plurality voting rule isn’t finished with this presidential cycle, of course, with third-party challengers and with more Republican insiders talking about running an independent candidate. Stay tuned.
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