Cruz Zigged While the GOP Electorate Zagged
By Patrick Murray
The Cruz campaign’s attempt to coalesce the #NeverTrump movement around their candidate #NeverHappened. In hindsight, the attempt to position him as the establishment alternative may not have been the wisest move.
Ted Cruz entered the 2016 presidential race with a reputation as the Senate Republican conference’s enfant terrible. He ended his campaign as the establishment’s last hope to deny Donald Trump the party’s nomination. The problem is that GOP voters’ desire for a political outsider intensified just as he was making this pivot.
Exit polls conducted by the national media’s National Election Pool asked voters in 24 different contests this year whether the next president should have experience in politics or be from outside the political establishment.
In the first four contests held in February, Republican voters were divided – 49 percent wanted an outsider while 45 percent favored someone with political experience. The preference for an insider fell off in early March’s Super Tuesday primaries – with 49 percent still wanting an outsider but only 41 percent looking for political experience.
By the mid-March primaries, a 52 percent majority of GOP voters preferred a political outsider compared to 41 percent who still wanted an experienced politician. The gap widened in the April contests, with nearly 6-in-10 Republicans (59 percent) wanting an outsider and just 37 percent favoring an insider. In yesterday’s Indiana primary, the results for this question stood at 59 percent outsider and 35 percent insider.
The Cruz recasting gambit worked to the extent that he was ultimately seen as the establishment candidate – 68 percent of Indiana Republicans who want an insider voted for him. In the very first contest of 2016 – the Iowa caucuses – Marco Rubio was actually the preferred candidate of voters wanting someone with political experience, even though Cruz was the overall winner on the night.
However, Donald Trump has been the favored choice of GOP voters looking for a true outsider since the very beginning of the primary season. He won 46 percent of this group’s vote in Iowa, culminating with a 78 percent showing in Indiana three months later.
In retrospect, Cruz’s pivot to being the face of the establishment was a mistake. Cruz ceded the outsider mantle to Trump at the very same time the Republican base’s desire for an outsider grew.
Patrick Murray is the Director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute