Over the last few months, the early polling in the Republican presidential race has been relatively consistent. Jeb Bush and Scott Walker have made the top tier of the GOP field, with Mike Huckabee – and in some polls, right-wing neurosurgeon Ben Carson – not far behind. The rest of the crowded field has generally struggled to reach double digit support among likely Republican primary voters.
But just over the last 24 hours, the political world has received a timely reminder about the volatility of the early standings. Consider, for example, the new national survey from Public Policy Polling, which suggests the Republicans’ top tier has a new member.
1. Scott Walker 20%
2. Jeb Bush 17%
3. Ted Cruz 16%
Note, Cruz saw his support more than triple since the previous PPP survey in late February. (In this poll, Carson and Rand Paul were at 10% each, creating a second tier, and no one else reached double digits.)
There’s also this new Washington Post/ABC News poll of Republican voters:
1. Jeb Bush 20%
2. Ted Cruz 13%
3. Scott Walker 12%
No other GOP candidate in the poll reached double digits. After the top tier, Rand Paul was fourth with 9%, followed by Huckabee at 8%, and Ben Carson and Marco Rubio tied for the sixth place with 7% each.
So, is it time to welcome Ted Cruz to the top tier of the Republican presidential race and start treating him accordingly? Not exactly.
It seems entirely plausible that the far-right Texan will enjoy a competitive base of support. Cruz, perhaps more than any GOP senators, personifies the id of the Republican Party in the Obama era – no compromises, no concessions, no breaks from party orthodoxy – and it stands to reason that will draw the support of a significant chunk of the GOP base.
But Cruz was also the first candidate to formally launch a presidential campaign – to date, he’s still the only candidate to formally launch a presidential campaign – which means the Texas Republican has benefited from extensive attention and media coverage.
If Cruz didn’t see his support jump, that would have been far more alarming.
But looking ahead, each of the many likely candidates will enjoy some similar time in the sun, and many will also get a boost in the polls. “Post-announcement bounces” will probably be pretty common over the next several weeks.
The question, which we can’t yet answer with confidence, is who’ll be able to maintain and build on this initial support.
Is Ted Cruz a top-tier Republican contender? For now, sure. I imagine the senator and his team will even be able to exploit these new poll numbers for campaign fundraising and some grassroots activism. But what matters is not where a candidate stands six days after launching a campaign, but rather, six months.
It’s a reminder that there will be some fluidity to the standings for quite a while, so the data should be taken with a grain of salt.