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Linda Qiu
By Linda Qiu February 21, 2016

Do Republicans think Donald Trump is the right candidate to beat Hillary Clinton?

Don’t let Donald Trump’s win in South Carolina fool you, says Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. The good majority of Republicans don’t actually support the frontrunner.

Cruz made the case against Trump’s inevitability on NBC’s Meet the Press and argued that he, Cruz, was actually the best candidate for the job.

"For anyone who doesn't believe that Donald Trump is the best candidate to go head to head with Hillary Clinton in November, and that's about 70 percent of Republicans nationwide who don't think Donald Trump is the right guy," Cruz said on Feb. 21. "Our campaign is the only campaign that has beaten Donald Trump and that can beat Donald Trump."

This rosy forecast caught our attention (as well as the attention of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who made a similar claim on CBS’s Face the Nation). Is it true that 70 percent of Republicans "don’t think Donald Trump is the right guy?"

The Cruz campaign referred us to Trump’s Real Clear Politics polling average of 34.2 percent, as of Feb. 17, 2016. This figure represents the portion of Republican primary voters who prefer Trump as the party’s nominee.

"The point is, close to 70 percent of Republicans are choosing someone else," said Cruz spokesman Brian Phillips.

True. But by this logic, about 80 percent of Republicans don’t think Cruz — who’s polling at an average of 20.6 percent — "is the right guy" either.

Here’s a breakdown of the latest polls:






Fox News

Feb. 15-17




NBC/Wall Street Journal

Feb. 14-16





Feb. 12-16




USA Today/Suffolk

Feb. 11-15





Feb. 10-15




The Economist/YouGov*

Feb. 11-15




(* was not included in the Real Clear Politics aggregate)

Cruz’s interpretation leaves out some nuance.

Even though Trump isn’t the top pick for many Republican primary voters, a good chunk of them would be perfectly happy with him (or Cruz or Rubio for that matter) as the party’s nominee.

Trump was the first or second choice for 47 percent of Republicans in a Fox News poll, for 38 percent in a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, for 44 percent in a USA Today/Suffolk University poll and for 52 percent in The Economist/YouGov poll. A similar portion of GOP voters (39 to 45 percent) named Cruz and Rubio as their top two picks.

Trump is also viewed favorably by most of the party: about 62 percent of Republican voters in a Quinnipiac University poll and 62 percent in The Economist/YouGov poll. Cruz and Rubio commanded similar numbers.

Conversely, in the Quinnipiac poll, more Republicans (31 percent) had an unfavorable opinion of Trump than Cruz or Rubio (23 percent). The three men clocked similar numbers in The Economist/YouGov poll.

Trump does the worst when voters are asked if they could see themselves supporting him for the nomination. In a Feb. 17 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 42 percent of Republicans said no. In comparison, 33 percent could not see themselves supporting Cruz, and 28 percent said the same about Rubio.  

And finally, most Republicans would support any of the three men if they were the party’s nominee according to a CBS poll. But about a fifth of Republican voters said they wouldn’t back Trump (20 percent), Cruz (18 percent) or Rubio (17 percent) no matter what.

Our ruling

Cruz said, 70 percent of Republicans nationwide "don't think Donald Trump is the right guy" to take on Hillary Clinton in November.

Cruz is referring to the polling average of 34 percent of GOP voters who say Trump is their top choice. Inverted, 66 percent of Republicans prefer someone else.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the 66 percent refuse to support Trump overall. The highest estimate we found for Republicans flat-out protesting Trump is 42 percent.

Cruz’s statement is largely accurate but leaves out some context. We rate it Mostly True.

Our Sources

NBC, Meet the Press, Feb. 21, 2016

Real Clear Politics, 2016 Republican Presidential Nomination, accessed Feb. 21, 2016

Email interview with Brian Phillips, spokesman for Ted Cruz, Feb. 21, 2016

Fox News, Fox News Polls, Feb. 18, 2016

NBC News, NBC News/Wall Street Journal Survey, Feb. 17, 2016

CBS News, "The Republican Race: Trump Remains on Top  –   He’ll Get Things Done," Feb. 18, 2016

Suffolk University, Suffolk University/USA Today, Feb. 17, 2016

Quinnipiac University, "Trump Surges 2-1 Lead Among Republicans Nationwide," Feb. 18, 2016

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Linda Qiu

Do Republicans think Donald Trump is the right candidate to beat Hillary Clinton?

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