Character Attacks Hurting Cruz’s Image

Cruz has benefited from Rubio's exit. (Rob Kunzig/Morning Consult)

Weeks of harsh attacks on his integrity and character have hurt Texas Sen. Ted Cruz among self-identified Republicans, conservatives and Christian voters, a new survey shows, providing an opening to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio on the day of the last Republican debate before next week’s all-important Super Tuesday contests.

The new Morning Consult survey shows Cruz’s favorable ratings among Republican voters at 56 percent, down five points in just the last two weeks. Cruz’s favorable ratings have fallen by six points among the most conservative voters, to 53 percent, and by eight points among Christian voters, to 38 percent.

The drop in Cruz’s popularity comes as he surrenders his second-place standing in the GOP field to Rubio. The poll shows real estate tycoon Donald Trump continuing to lead the Republican field, with 42 percent of the vote, while Rubio places second, at 19 percent, and Cruz finishes third, at 14 percent.

Two weeks ago, Cruz led Rubio by seven points, 17 percent to 10 percent. In both polls, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Ohio Gov. John Kasich failed to reach double digits.

 February 24-25, 2016February 15-16, 2016February 10-11, 2016
Donald Trump42%41%44%
Marco Rubio19%14%10%
Ted Cruz14%12%17%
Ben Carson9%11%10%
Jeb Bushn/a7%8%
John Kasich5%3%4%
Someone Else2%3%1%
Don't Know/No Opinion9%9%6%

The reversal of fortunes comes after Trump and Rubio have targeted Cruz over campaign tactics they said were unseemly. Earlier this week, Rubio criticized his fellow senator for what he called a “pattern” of deceptive tactics. Trump has called Cruz’s integrity into question, too, taking aim at the Texan’s close relationship with evangelical voters.

“When you hold up a Bible, and nobody loves the Bible more than I do, when you hold up a Bible, you don’t then put it down and go around lying and doing a lot of things that are wrong,” Trump said at a rally Tuesday in Nevada.

Ahead of next week’s Super Tuesday contests, in which about a quarter of all Republican delegates will be allocated, Rubio and Cruz are fighting a pitched battle over second place. Both campaigns have concluded their most likely path to the Republican nomination comes in a head-to-head matchup with Trump, though they each need the other candidate to drop out.

Cruz is the only candidate other than Trump to have won a nominating contest, but his path becomes murkier without a strong showing in Tuesday’s contests in 13 states, including his home state of Texas. Polls out of Texas show a wide range of outcomes, from a significant Cruz lead to a tie with Trump.

Rubio has not explicitly targeted Super Tuesday states; his campaign says it is aiming for a win in Florida, on March 15, though polls have consistently shown Trump leading in Rubio’s home state.

Rubio’s favorable rating among Republicans, conservatives and Christians remains unchanged. Sixty-two percent of GOP voters say they have a favorable impression of the Florida senator, the same percentage who see Trump favorably.

Among all voters, all three Republican front-runners suffer from high negatives. Trump is seen unfavorably by 56 percent of all registered voters, including 57 percent of self-described moderates, 64 percent of Hispanics and 66 percent of African Americans.

More voters say they see Rubio unfavorably, 42 percent, than favorably, 37 percent. And 52 percent see Cruz unfavorably, compared with the 31 percent who view him favorably.

Though both Rubio and Cruz are Cuban, Hispanic voters see them very differently. Hispanics have an equally favorable and unfavorable view of Rubio, with 41 percent holding each view. Just 36 percent of Hispanics see Cruz favorably, while 49 percent say they see him unfavorably.

The Morning Consult survey polled 3,897 registered voters on Feb. 24 and Feb. 25, for a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points. A subsample of 1,430 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents carries a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points. See the toplines and crosstabs.