Just hours before the second-to-last Republican primary debate before voting begins in Iowa, the Wall Street Journal and NBC News released a national survey on Thursday that showed Donald Trump appearing to tighten his grip of the nominating fight.
Trump’s national lead over second-place Sen. Ted Cruz grew to 13 points—at 33 percent to 20 percent—from a 5-point margin in last month’s Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey. Sen. Marco Rubio was third in the national poll—which was conducted from Jan. 9-13 and had a 4.9-point margin of error—with 13 percent, and Ben Carson was fourth with 12 percent. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush had the next best numbers with 5 percent each.
The national survey is in line with recent others: The RealClearPolitics national polling average has Trump with a more than 15-point lead over Cruz, who has consistently been his nearest rival.
Perhaps more disconcerting for a Republican establishment hoping that Trump might level off once the field shrinks is that he continues to maintain a national lead if the field is winnowed down to just him, Cruz, and Rubio. Trump’s lead does shrink in a three-way race, though, which may offer some ray of hope for anti-Trump forces. In that circumstance, the former reality show star and lodestar of bigotry garners 40 percent, to 31 percent for Cruz, and 26 percent for Rubio.
If the race gets down to one-on-one, Cruz takes the lead from Trump 51 percent to 43 percent. But Rubio is actually losing to Trump in a hypothetical one-on-one race, 52 percent to 45 percent, perhaps an indication of how much his previous support of immigration reform is weighing him down among Republican voters, especially against the staunchly anti-immigrant Trump.
Who knows how national polling might shift—and to what degree it will even matter—once the actual voting starts, but Trump's national support has mirrored his standing in many state polls in recent months. Ahead of Thursday’s debate, Cruz was clinging to a 3-point lead over Trump in the first-in-the-nation caucus of Iowa, according to the recent Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll. Trump, meanwhile, held a 17-point lead over Rubio in the latest polling average out of New Hampshire from RealClearPolitics.