Trump Hits a Wall Within the GOP; His Critics Back a Convention Fight (POLL)

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a news conference, March 5, 2016, in West Palm Beach, Fla.PlayBrynn Anderson/AP Photo
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Donald Trump’s facing a wall within his party, with Republicans who don’t currently support him far more apt to prefer Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio in a two-way race -- or even to favor a contested convention to block Trump’s nomination.

Trump continues to lead in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll, with 34 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents who are registered to vote saying they’d like to see him win the nomination. But he trails both Cruz and Rubio one-on-one. And preferences for Cruz, Rubio and John Kasich have grown as others have left the race, while Trump’s support has essentially remained unchanged for months.

See PDF with full results here.

In the current multi-candidate race, 25 percent say they’d like to see Cruz win the nomination, with 18 percent for Rubio and 13 percent for Kasich; those are +4, +7 and +11 points compared with January, respectively, to new highs for each. Trump, by contrast, peaked at 38 percent in December. (In a difference from previous matchups, this poll asked respondents whom they’d like to see win, rather than whom they’d vote for, since the primaries are underway.)

In hypothetical two-way matchups, Cruz leads Trump by 54-41 percent and Rubio leads Trump by 51-45 percent in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates. While the latter lead isn’t statistically significant, both are further signs of the apparent limits to Trump’s popularity within his party. Indeed, among non-Trump supporters, seven in 10 say they’d prefer Cruz, and as many say they’d pick Rubio, in head-to-head contests.

Two key groups help Cruz outperform Rubio mano-a-mano against Trump: strong conservatives and evangelical white Protestants. Cruz leads Trump by 60-34 percent among very conservative registered leaned Republicans and by 64-31 percent among evangelical white Protestants. Rubio’s margins vs. Trump in those groups are a closer 56-41 percent and 55-42 percent, respectively.

Both Cruz and Rubio run up the score among those who value experience over being an outsider and who oppose Trump’s signature issues, deporting undocumented immigrants and banning Muslims from entering the country. They also benefit from vast margins among women, more than six in 10 of whom choose either Rubio or Cruz over Trump. Trump wins a smaller majority of men.

The national survey, conducted March 3-6, also finds less drama but still a closer-than-previous race on the Democratic side, where Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents who are registered to vote say by 49-42 percent that they’d like to see Hillary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders -- the closest it’s been in any ABC/Post poll this cycle, dramatically tighter than the peak 68-16 percent Clinton advantage in vote preferences in July.

It’s the first time preference for Clinton has slipped below half of registered leaned Democrats in ABC/Post polls, as well as the first time Sanders has held a lead among men. Still, Clinton’s 12-point advantage among mainline Democrats is keeping her boat afloat.

GOP Contest

There are more trouble signs for Trump in the Republican race: A tepid 52 percent of leaned Republicans see him favorably overall. Just 51 percent say they’d be satisfied with him as the nominee. And those who don’t currently support Trump say by a broad 63-30 percent that if he lacks the majority it takes to win on the first ballot -- even if he has the most delegates -- they’d rather have the convention pick someone else.

Trump, as noted in the two-way results, has a particular problem with GOP women. His support from women is 20 points lower than from men, 24 vs. 44 percent. (The gender gap has fluctuated; it was similar in December, disappeared in January, and now is back in a big way.) Moreover, 60 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning women say they’d be dissatisfied with Trump as the nominee, including 45 percent “very” dissatisfied. Comparable numbers among GOP men are far lower –- 35 percent would be dissatisfied with Trump, 20 percent very much so.

Other results also mark Trump’s challenges as a front-runner under siege. He trails Cruz and Rubio alike in all four personal attributes tested in this survey. Fewer than half of leaned Republicans -– from 42 to 45 percent –- call Trump honest and trustworthy, say he understands their problems, think he has the right personality and temperament, or say he has the right experience to be president. Comparable numbers are 63 or 64 percent on each attribute for Cruz and 61 to 63 percent for Rubio on the first three items. He slips to 50 percent on experience.

Some of these have worsened for Trump: a 12-point drop among leaned Republicans since September in seeing him as honest and trustworthy and an 8-point drop in thinking he has the kind of personality and temperament it takes to serve effectively as president.

Trump, again, is especially weak on personal attributes among GOP women -– off by 15 to 20 points compared with men. And just 41 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning women see him favorably overall, vs. 62 percent of men. Indeed, 40 percent of these women see Trump “strongly” unfavorably, compared with 24 percent of GOP men.

Additionally, just among mainline Republicans, “strongly” unfavorable views of Trump overall are up by 12 points since November. His overall favorability rating in the party is down by 17 points from a high of 69 percent in November, led by a 30-point drop among strong conservatives, from 82 percent favorable in November to 52 percent now.

Even with substantial support for a contested convention among leaned Republicans who don’t support Trump, efforts by party elders to block him get a mixed reception. Among those who’d be less than very satisfied with Trump as the nominee, 43 percent support efforts by some GOP leaders to prevent his nomination; 51 percent are opposed. That said, support for a contested convention is an eye-opening result, clearly indicating the depths of divisions within the party.

Democratic Contest

The Democratic race resembles the GOP contest in one respect: a large gender gap. Clinton leads Sanders in preference to win the nomination by 55-34 percent among women, while it’s Sanders over Clinton by 53-41 percent among men. Sanders has gained 16 points among men since January, and Clinton’s lost 12; it’s the first time in ABC/Post polls that he’s led among men.

Among other groups, Sanders continues to draw strongly from younger adults, Clinton’s lost 13 points since January among liberals, and -- as in primaries to date –- the two are essentially even among whites, while Clinton leads by a substantial margin among nonwhites.

That said, while the two run evenly among Democratic-leaning independents, Clinton holds a 12-point advantage among mainline Democrats, 51-39 percent, a key reason she’s prevailed in most primaries to date.

Clinton is rated particularly well for her personality and temperament and experience, with more than eight in 10 leaned Democrats rating these positively; 72 percent also say she understands their problems. Fewer, 58 percent, see Clinton as honest and trustworthy, but that’s better than Trump within his party, and close (5 points shy) to Cruz and Rubio’s in-party ratings.

Furthermore, either Democratic candidate is broadly acceptable within their party: 74 percent of leaned Democrats say they’d be satisfied with Clinton as the nominee, and 72 percent would be satisfied with Sanders. That compares with satisfaction figures on the Republican side of 51 percent for Trump, 56 percent for Kasich, 62 percent Rubio and 65 percent for Cruz.

Other results help flesh out these findings. Among them -- focused on the GOP race:

• Americans by 63-33 percent oppose temporarily banning Muslims from entering the country -- a cornerstone Trump proposal -- but that flips to 52-43 percent support among leaned Republicans. Preference for Trump is twice as high among supporters of this idea as compared with its critics.

• Similarly, the public by 61-36 percent opposes deporting undocumented immigrants, but this goes to 55-41 percent support among leaned Republicans, an even stronger source of Trump’s support. He wins 46 percent of deportation supporters, vs. 18 percent of opponents.

• There’s also some racial tension behind Trump’s numbers -- he does notably well among leaned Republicans who feel that whites are “losing out” because of preferences for blacks and Hispanics, with 43 percent support in this group vs. 25 percent among those who feel otherwise. In a statistical analysis, this view is one of the strongest independent predictors of preference for Trump vs. his GOP competitors, along with ideology, gender, support for deportation, and support for banning Muslims.

• Fifty-five percent of leaned Republicans are looking for a political outsider -- again a boost for Trump. Among leaned Democrats, 82 percent instead put a priority on a candidate with political experience.

• Anger at the government is down, to 21 percent -- 11 points lower than in October 2013, when economic discontent was much higher, and its lowest since October 2010. Trump does best with angry voters; economic gains therefore may work against him.

• Americans by 69-29 percent see the current political system as “dysfunctional” -- similar to what we’ve seen previously, and a sense that peaks among leaned Republicans. As with anger, this is another strong factor in support for Trump: Among leaned Republicans who feel strongly that the current system is dysfunctional, Trump has 40 percent support; among all others, 23 percent.

Methodology

This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone March 3-6, 2016, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,000 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points, including the design effect, for the full sample; 5.5 points for registered leaned Republicans; and 6.0 points for registered leaned Democrats. Partisan divisions are 34-25-32 percent, Democrats-Republicans-Independents.

The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by Abt-SRBI of New York, New York. See details on the survey’s methodology here.