Recent polls indicate the complexity of today’s Republican Party.
On Friday, Public Policy Polling released a survey reporting that Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) — fresh from a meandering, bizarre, but oddly heroic faux-filibuster — is now the favored presidential candidate among Republican primary voters for the 2016 elections. He narrowly leads fellow arch-conservative Rand Paul 20% to 17%, and maintains a decisive lead over mainstream Republican Chris Christie, who trails distantly at 14%.
Exactly how influential are primary voters, though? That’s a complicated question. Perhaps this question should be preceded with another one: Exactly who are primary voters, anyway? According to another pollster, Pew Research Center, primary voters consist mostly of the Republican Party’s hard core. According to a survey conducted on August 7, 2013, 62% of Republicans who “always” vote in these primaries also tend to be Tea Party members. Such hardline conservatives are intensely active during the primary seasons, and because of this activity, they are intensely influential, at least in Republican circles. Given their influence, it should come as no surprise that Ted Cruz is the front-runner. After all, he is the current Tea Party darling.
However, the influence of the Tea Party-aligned primary voter is often overstated. The Pew Research Center poll also found that Tea Party members are a distinct if vocal minority within the Republican Party. According to the August survey, moderates actually comprise 60% of Republicans. Less rigid members, then, actually comprise the soul of the Republican Party. The reason that they are less influential during the primary seasons can be easily explained: Only 45% of them “always” vote in the primaries, probably because they have the mistaken idea that they aren’t welcome within the party anymore.
Tea Party members, then, only make up a fairly small although still very significant minority within the party. Like the average American voter, the typical Republican voter is no extremist. That’s bad news for Ted Cruz. Cruz is many things: uncompromising, bombastic, passionate, inflexible, and fiery, among other things. One thing Cruz is not, however, is moderate, and to the average voter — Republican, Democrat, or Independent — he is way too extreme ever to be president. The Monmouth poll conducted this week is especially telling: In the general election, Hillary Clinton would positively crush the inexperienced Cruz, 48% to 32%.