Only three days after the Iowa Caucuses, the results of that contest are already reshaping the Republican primary field. Despite the fact that Ted Cruz technically won the Caucus (as much as any candidate can really “win” a caucus with proportional allocation of delegates), second-choice polling reveals a different candidate picking up momentum. The latest national poll from Public Policy Polling has Marco Rubio rocketing to the top of most head-to-head contests, and easily oustriping his closest rival from the Iowa Caucus, Donald Trump, in our simulated ranked choice voting (RCV) election.
PPP’s results are customarily thorough, comprised not only of a fully reported break down of second-choices, but several head-to-head contests that allow us to conduct our simulated RCV contest. These head-to-head questions, which ask respondents to consider only two or three candidates in isolation foreshadow the choices voters will face as the field narrows.
Rubio’s growing strength following Iowa is clear even in the first round of our simulation, which reports voter’s first-choice preferences. Rubio earns a solid 21% of first choices, tying Ted Cruz for second place, and only four points behind Donald Trump. After eliminating all candidates outside the top three, Rubio appears to finally consolidate the establishment support that has eluded him thus far. With the choice of only Trump, Rubio or Cruz, an overwhelming 37% of respondents choose Rubio. Rubio’s lead in this round is robust, especially compared to Ted Cruz, who trails him by 10 percentage points at 27.2%. Despite his victory in Iowa, Cruz earns the lowest support among these three candidates, and is eliminated before the final round.
In the final round, a head-to-head contest between Rubio and Trump, Rubio emerges as a clear victor. Earning 56.5% of respondent’s support, he easily surpases Trump by a margin of 13%. This is the most significant lead any candidate has held over Trump since we began simulating RCV contests in December. The strength of Rubio’s appeal in a narrowing field bodes well for his success as the field narrows. Although Cruz was eliminated before the final round of our simulation, it is worth noting that he too would win a majority of support in a head-to-head race with Donald Trump though by a margin smaller than Rubio’s.