The Republican field winnowed to three when Marco Rubio dropped out on Tuesday. But based on the first major national poll taken since his exit, the smaller field won’t change the status quo. Rasmussen pollsters found Donald Trump leading the way with 43 percent support, followed by Ted Cruz at 28 percent and John Kasich at 21 percent. Trump’s 15-point cushion is the same as it was the last time the same pollsters asked the question shortly after Trump’s South Carolina victory forced Jeb Bush out of the race.
It’s a single national poll—usual disclaimers apply—but it lines up with what we’ve seen before, which is that Republican voters can’t be so neatly divided along the establishment/anti-establishment axis often used to sort the candidates. Trump’s rivals dream of consolidating the non-Trump vote, but it’s now pretty obvious that not every Republican who backs someone other than Trump is an anybody-but-Trump voter. (We’ve even seen a similar dynamic among Republican members of Congress, senators, and governors.)
The last time Rasmussen conducted a national survey, for instance, it found Trump at 36 percent, Rubio at 21 percent, Cruz at 17 percent, Kasich at 12 percent, and Ben Carson at 8 percent, roughly in line with the national average at the time. Rubio and Carson’s departures freed up nearly a third of the electorate (29 percent), but instead of moving en masse to one single candidate, those voters appear to have splintered among their three remaining options: Cruz gained 11 points, Kasich 9 points, and Trump 7 points.
Still, while the new numbers are clearly good news for Trump—the status quo favors him—there is one important caveat to consider: Since both Carson and Rubio dropped out in between the first Rasmussen poll and the second, it’s possible—and perhaps likely—that most of Carson’s supporters funneled to Trump, while most of Rubio’s split between Cruz and Kasich. That would be important because it would suggest that if either Cruz or Kasich were to drop out, the other might be able to cobble together a majority of support. We’ll have to wait for more post-Rubio polling before we can draw any solid conclusions on that front.
In the meantime, there’s little reason to expect that Marco’s exit will fundamentally change the race when the departure of the 13 other GOP hopefuls who came and went before him did not. The Donald sat atop the polls when the field was crowded, and he sits atop it now that it’s not. And even if Trump does soon bump up against a polling ceiling below 50 percent, it might not matter. Thanks to the many quirks of state primaries, the GOP front-runner may still be able to turn a plurality of votes in a three-man race into a majority of delegates, and the nomination.