Has Ted Cruz Already Peaked In Iowa?

There are signs that Ted Cruz's rise in the Hawkeye State will be short-lived.

Ted Cruz Flag Background

Heading into the holidays last month, the big news in the Republican race appeared to be the fact that Texas Senator Ted Cruz was proving to be a serious challenger to Donald Trump in the race for the Republican nomination. At that point, he had pulled into second place in the national polling thanks in no small part to the fact that Ben Carson’s poll numbers began a dive in early November from which that campaign has not yet recovered, and which seems unlikely to reverse itself. Cruz had also began a slow up-tick in South Carolina which can still be seen in the RealClearPolitics chart of the race since there has yet to be any new polling in the Palmetto State since the start of the year. Cruz’s rise also wasn’t quite so obvious in New Hampshire, where he was fighting for space with Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, and others as 2015 drew to a close. In Iowa, though, it seemed as though, the Texas Senator had established something of a beachhead that, if it held through January, would guarantee that he’d be a factor in the race going forward. By mid-December shortly before essentially shut down for the holidays, for example, Cruz was leading in Hawkeye State polls by the  Des Moines RegisterFox News, and CBS News and running a close second to Trump in a Quinnipiac poll. A Gravis poll at the end of the year, meanwhile, showed Trump and Cruz tied in the state, while a PPP poll had Trump with a modest lead. All of this meant that, by the end of the year, Cruz effectively had a modest four point lead in the RealClearPolitics polling average in Iowa and a slightly smaller average lead according the Pollster.

Just twelve days into the new year, there are signs that Cruz may have peaked in Iowa, or at least that the recent attacks on him from several corners are having an impact that may or may not last through to the caucuses on February 1st. Consider the polls that have been released since the start of the year as recognized by RealClearPolitics:

  • The first new poll of 2016 in Iowa, from NBC News and Marist was consistent with the pre-holiday polling in that it showed Cruz (28%) with a four point lead over Trump (24%), followed by Marco Rubio at 13% and Ben Carson at 11%. This poll was taken from January 4th through January 7th;
  • A Fox News poll taken over the same time period showed Cruz (27%) with the same four point lead over Trump (23%), followed by Rubio (15%) and Carson (9%);
  • An ARG poll taken between January 6th and January 10th, though, showed Trump (29%) taking a four point lead over Cruz (25%) followed by Rubio at 10% and Ben Carson at 8%;
  • A Quinnipiac Poll taken between January 5th and January 10th showed Trump (31%) with a two point lead over Cruz (29%) followed by Rubio by Rubio at 15% and Carson at 7%; and,
  • Finally, a Public Policy Polling poll taken between January 6th and January 10th showed Trump (28%) with a two-point lead, followed by Marco Rubio at 13% and Ben Carson at 8%.

All of this has changed the race in the Hawkeye State significantly in the short period of time, with Trump and Cruz tied in the poll average, and creating this rather notable trend line for Cruz, whose numbers are represented by the black line:

RCP Iowa Chart 011216

To be fair, it may be premature to call what we’re seeing here a trend. Five polls that show results that are still largely within the margin of error don’t necessarily indicate much of anything. At the same time, though, it seems clear that the resumption of campaigning in the wake of the holidays has had an impact on Cruz’s campaign in the Hawkeye State at least in the short time. The most notable news item over the past week regarding Cruz, of course, has been all of the speculation about his birth in Canada and the question of whether or not that impacts his legal eligibility to serve as President of the United States. As I’ve made clear in the past, it seems clear to me that that the law on this issue, though untested in Court, is clear enough that Cruz’s eligibility should not be a real question. Nonetheless, led by Donald Trump, and encouraged by the likes of John McCain, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina, and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, all of whom have said in one sense or another that Cruz’s status is a question that they don’t know they answer to, the question has been one that has distracted Cruz’s until-now well-disciplined campaign, which arguably was Trump’s strategy all along. Additionally, Cruz continues his back and forth battle with Florida Senator Marco Rubio over issues of immigration reform and national security, a fight that has resulted in Cruz being caught in several seemingly contradictory statements that he made several years ago and positions he is taking today. By way of comparison to the well-honed operation that had been the hallmark of Cruz’s Iowa campaign until now, the past week has been a bumpy ride for Cruz in the state that will host the first contest of 2016 and, if this trend continues, it could pose problems for him going forward.

There’s still time for Cruz to turn this around, of course, but the early events of 2016 seem to suggest that the battle in Iowa is far from over and that Senator Cruz may end up suffering the fate of having peaked too earl. This seems especially true given the fact that, throughout the time that Cruz was leading in Iowa, Donald Trump’s numbers barely moved, and the fact that Cruz’s declined seems to be accompanied by what clearly seems to be a slight up-turn in Marco Rubio’s numbers. If that’s the case, then it’s going to be quite an interesting January.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. grumpy realist says:

    Well, that’s what happens when you act like an arrogant SOB–people start lining up to throw axes at you when the chance arises.

    Cruz deserves all the trolling he gets.

  2. C. Clavin says:

    Clearly the nut-job base has been swayed by Trumps birther comments.
    Facts are no longer important to Republicans.

  3. grumpy realist says:

    @C. Clavin: I don’t think the birther stuff would have had any legs (or rather would have been immediately brushed to the sidelines) had not a sizable percentage of Republicans and Democrats said “hey, you know, there might be something in that argument….” People like McCain, Pelosi, McConnell, etc.

    If it ever gets up to the Supreme Court I expect the whole “natural born citizen” thing to immediately be defined such that Cruz is covered, but in the meantime, a lot of the people Cruz stomped over and insulted in the past are enjoying watching him twist in the wind.

  4. James Pearce says:

    “The most notable news item over the past week regarding Cruz, of course, has been all of the speculation about his birth in Canada and the question of whether or not that impacts his legal eligibility to serve as President of the United States.”

    I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised if this birther thing becomes a factor. It fits with an increasingly nativist cohort that is obsessed about purity as it is interested in pettiness.

    Ted Cruz was born in Canada and Marco Rubio wears funny boots. Chortle.

  5. C. Clavin says:

    This website keeps going to a white screen.
    My smart-phone does it constantly…my desktop not as often but still does.
    Anyone else notice this?

  6. C. Clavin says:
  7. grumpy realist says:

    @C. Clavin: Laurence Tribe pointed out that if one uses originalist thinking–as Cruz claims he does–then Cruz is definitely not eligible because back then nationality was considered to run along patrilinial lines. It’s only with newer interpretations (such as used by those icky liberals) that Cruz could be considered eligible.

    In other words, if Cruz really believes what he claims to believe, he should disqualify himself.

    Bring on the popcorn….

  8. Awren says:

    Everyones stupid and soft but the Donald

    The definition of soft is certainly one of opinion.
    Mr. Trumps girth is not the target of my observation.
    It’s that this man probably never does a thing for himself
    the power of the dollar allows him to point and it is done.
    Whisked from penthouse to elevator to limo to plane.
    Hairspray and pedicures
    Without servants helpless like a turtle on its back

    I guess Donalds version of tough is hate filled rhetoric.

  9. Scott says:

    WRT the Cruz birther issue, I must admit to being thoroughly amused. I am deeply ashamed.

  10. gVOR08 says:

    @Scott: Schadenfreude is not an admirable emotion, but fun.

  11. grumpy realist says:

    @Scott: Just think of this as karma coming back to bite El Cruz in the ass.

  12. Pete S says:

    @grumpy realist: Yes, it is fun to see all of Cruz’ friends in Congress rushing forward to defend him against Trump’s ludicrous attack. These people know better. But why would anyone expend their own credibility to defend him when he has spent the last few years following his own agenda at the expense of the party.

  13. edmondo says:

    Cruz… was fighting for space with … Chris Christie

    Most people do, Doug, especially on airplanes.

  14. MikeSJ says:

    Natural Born? I’m not sure either. Looking at that mug and “hatched” rather than “born” is always a possibility.

    On a serious note it’s been bandied about for years…and the press and our elites have done their best to suppress this explosive news.

    Fidel Castro. We all know that Ted Cruz’s father was a henchman of Fidel’s. It’s a well known fact that Fidel reworded his followers with cigars if they passed him their wives…

    Look at Ted’s slimy cold eyes. Consider his pathological lying. All traits passed on by the Diablo, Fidel? I just don’t know.

    I just hope the good people of Idaho consider this before they vote/caucus/whatever for a possible spawn of Fidel.

    This is America people. Say No! to Fidel (and his possible evil spawn, the Canadian Raphael)

  15. Tillman says:

    One thing’s for certain: if this birther nonsense is what brings Cruz down, the Republican party is in worse shape than I thought. It’ll tick off another box in the “Is This Fascism?” checklist.

    For those keeping track, we’ve got an advanced industrial economy hit hard by recessionary slump, dissatisfaction with a corrupt parliamentary system, an end to consensus politics, nostalgia for a strong state, and racism provoked by immigrants seeking jobs and asylum-seekers. We don’t quite have a discredited left and a respectable right (though we’ve got a significant-enough population that sees things this way). There are precious few boxes left. Starting to see the appeal of letting Y’all Qaeda in Oregon stew in the cold for a few months instead of clamping down.

  16. ernieyeball says:

    @C. Clavin:..white screen…Anyone else notice this?

    This has been going on with both Safari and Chrome on my MacBook Air today but seems to have stopped.

  17. grumpy realist says:

    @Tillman: Oh, but if we draw the lines as to who’s in and who’s out of being eligible for POTUS according to the rules Cruz claims to hold near and dear to his heart–well, yeah, he ain’t qualified.

    That’s why this is all so amusing. And yup, it serves him right.

  18. grumpy realist says:

    @Pete S: It’s also not just Trump banging the drum on this–we now have had at least three well-known law professors saying that Cruz is on the wrong side of the line.

    MOAR popcorn! Nomnomnom….

  19. Pete S says:

    @grumpy realist: Trump got the bus rolling, though. The Republican base voters have been trained not to listen to pointy headed academics. You are sure right that it is fun watching his colleagues pole on.

  20. Tillman says:

    @downvoters: Here’s the thing dudes. When birtherism reared its head at Obama, it was primarily motivated by race and party. Obama had a darker skin tone, a funky name, was born in a noncontiguous state, and spent time abroad as a kid. He became an object of especial hatred among certain segments of the right which several orgs in the media complex exploited for ratings, eroding the integrity of our discourse all the while. Obama’s race reinforced tribal narratives, but tribal narratives are endemic to society and nothing new.

    However, birtherism becoming a factor for Cruz is more worrisome. Cruz hits all the right notes for conservatives like a firebrand preacher at mass. If he weren’t such an outright douche, I would’ve put money on him to win the nomination a long time ago. As noted by Mr. Mataconis in his above post, the birtherism story in the past week has coincided with his downward trend in the polls. Ted Cruz is as legally eligible to be president as Barack Obama was, but if the notion that he was foreign-born subverts any love for his message — and this is still a very tenuous if, we are looking at a correlation here — it speaks to an ultranationalist, nativist faction of the base concerned more with purity than ideology.* So I write again if birtherism is bringing Cruz down, it’s a very bad sign.** If it’s something else and we’re just conflating what’s in the news without discernment, then we have nothing more to worry about.

    * The reason why this is important is because fascist movements co-opt both leftist and rightist elements during their rise. There’s a reason dumb Republicans can say Nazis were “National Socialists” as a jab at socialism — the Nazis presented themselves as friends to the worker opposed to communists and their revolutionary zeal at first. Fascists are surprisingly fluid in their ideological commitments, which is why labeling them “far right” is inaccurate.
    ** And a sure sign that Trump will win. People sign up for Carson and Cruz because they find Trump too crude, not because they disagree with him. But if Carson’s a glorified con man and Cruz a Canuck, Trump is the only candidate left.

  21. Grewgills says:

    I think the birther issue with Cruz isn’t so much about nationalism as it is about bringing up doubts about his electability by adding a made up issue that he will supposedly have to overcome. He isn’t the type of foreigner that they hate, he’s just not worth the effort for the marginal voters that were only giving him soft support anyway.

  22. grumpy realist says:

    The NYT is expressing doubts about Trump’s ground game in Iowa.

    Will be interesting to see if Trump is able to run a campaign on the cheap with Twittering and saying outrageous things so that the media cover him for free.

    At some point you have to sit down and actually do the work. And I don’t think Trump knows how to do that.

  23. ernieyeball says:

    @grumpy realist:..so that the media cover him for free.

    Doesn’t the media cover all the candidates for free?

  24. grumpy realist says:

    @ernieyeball: Of course. It’s that he’s getting the media to yammer about him rather than Bush (Who?)