Four polls.* Three views of how the race is going for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas. How big is his lead? Depends on which poll you find most compelling. He leads Trump by 15 in a University of Houston poll, by 8 in a KTVT-TV/Dixie Strategies poll and a UT/Texas Tribune poll and by 1 in an Emerson poll. Trump is in second or statistically tied for first across the board. How’s Marco Rubio doing? Again, depends on the poll. He’s either in the upper single digits (Houston), around 15% (KTVT and UT/TT) or statistically tied with Cruz and Trump (Emerson).

* A fifth poll is discussed at the end of this post.

KTVT-TV/Dixie Strategies

33% – Ted Cruz
25% – Donald Trump
15% – Marco Rubio
8% – John Kasich
6% – Ben Carson

13% – Undecided


Telephone survey of 725 “likely” Republican presidential primary voters. Results were “gathered” 2/22.

Margin of error: ±3.64%

Link to Poll
University of Houston

35% – Ted Cruz
20% – Donald Trump
8% – Marco Rubio
7% – Ben Carson
5% – Jeb Bush
4% – John Kasich

19% – Undecided


The Univ. of Houston Hobby Center for Public Policy’s Survey Research Center was in the field 2/12-2/22 and used two samples. The first sample of 315 included registered voters who voted in one of these elections: 2008 Republican primary, 2012 Republican primary and 2015 general election. The second sample of 100 included all other registered voters. Results are given for the combined samples.

Margin of error: ±4.8%

Link to Poll
UT/Texas Tribune

37% – Ted Cruz
29% – Donald Trump
15% – Marco Rubio
6% – Jeb Bush
5% – John Kasich
4% – Ben Carson
5% – Others


YouGov interviewed 1,371 respondents between 2/12-2/19 and matched them down to a sample of 1,200. The sample was then weighted based on known characteristics of registered voters from the 2012 Current Population survey and the 2007 Pew Religion Landscape Survey. YouGov relies on an opt-in survey panel that is recruited primarily through online advertising campaigns. Some additional panelists are solicited via telephone and mail surveys. The firm says it has more than 20K active panelists in Texas.

Results shown are among likely Republican primary voters.

Margin of error: ±5.05%

Link to Poll
Emerson College

29% – Ted Cruz
28% – Donald Trump
25% – Marco Rubio
9% – John Kasich
4% – Ben Carson


The Emerson College Polling Society conducted the poll 2/21-2/23. For the Republican primary, an interactive voice response system polled 446 likely primary voters via landlines. The sample was weighted by 2012 presidential election results (How is not clear.)

Margin of error: ±4.6%

Link to Poll

A month ago, a CBS News/YouGov poll has Cruz up 15 points (45%-30% over Trump) and Rubio third at 8%. Another January poll by KTVT-TV had Cruz up 5 points (30%-25% over Trump) and Rubio third at 12%.

The Democratic race is clearer, according to the polls. Clinton leads Sanders by 31 in the KTVT/Dixie poll, by 16 in the Emerson poll, by 10 in the UT/Texas Tribune poll and by 23 in a Public Policy Polling poll.

The polls, though disparate in results and methods, do show some common results. First, it’s a three-person race between Cruz, Trump and Rubio, and it appears to be in that order. The three of them combined receive 73%, 81%, 63% and 82% of the vote across the polls. Cruz is in first, Trump second and Rubio third in all four polls. In three polls, Rubio is in third place by more than 10 points.

Second, Cruz is not winning the state outright. He is under 40% in all four polls. If one were to average his poll numbers, he is polling roughly how he finished in the 2012 Republican primary for U.S. Senate: 34%. The difference here is that it should be good enough for first place.

Third, Trump’s voters appear to be the most solid, while Rubio’s are most likely to vote for someone else of the top three candidates. UT/TT finds 68% of Trump’s voters are “extremely certain” they will stick with him (Cruz is second at 67%, Rubio third at 41%). Emerson uses a different measure but reaches the same basic conclusion that Trump’s voters are most likely to stick with him, Cruz is in the middle and Rubio has the least loyal voters of the three.

The UT/TT poll may explain why the open Republican presidential nomination is drawing record numbers of voters to cast ballots early but not record-shattering numbers like the Democrats experienced in 2008. Essentially, likely primary voters think none of the candidates would make a good president:

  • 36% think Cruz would make a “great” or “good” president, but 46% think he would be “poor” or “terrible” (36% think terrible)
  • 29% think Trump would make a great/good president, but 55% think he would be poor/terrible (42% terrible)
  • 25% think Rubio would be a great/good president, but 38% think he would be poor or terrible (18% terrible).

Kasich fares the best as 20% think he’d be great/good (Only 3% great) but just 11% think he would be terrible. Carson is at 23/46. Clinton and Sanders are also underwater on the Democratic side.

The UofH poll’s net favorability results mirror these numbers. Cruz is viewed favorably by 56% of respondents, unfavorably by 40%, while Trump is a little underwater at 45% favorable, 50% unfavorable. Kasich had the highest net favorability (58/29). Asked if there was a candidate they “could not vote for,” more UofH poll respondents cited Trump (26%) than anyone else.

Trust may also be an issue. Emerson found that 37% of respondents said Cruz was the least honest of the Republican candidates, followed closely by Trump at 35%.

So how can “likely” voters polled at roughly the same time result in such wobbly leads between the candidates? At its core, it comes down to how to translate a stated likelihood to vote and a stated candidate preference into a prediction of how actual votes will be cast by actual voters. Each poll arrives at this answer differently, and it can lead to contradictory conclusions, including:

  • Cruz leads by 15. Cruz leads by 1.
  • Rubio is at 8. Rubio is at 25.
  • Emerson found Rubio performed best among voters over 75 (40%). KTVT/Dixie found Rubio was best among voters under 40.

The UT/TT poll uses a sample drawn by YouGov primarily from self-selected survey participants. As such, it tends to emphasize demographic groups that are more inclined to be online and willing to respond to Internet-based questionnaires. About 52% of the survey respondents consider themselves to live in a “suburban” community, with more than 25% of them residing in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Three in five respondents have no children living with them. Overall, the sample includes more self-identified Democrats than Republicans, which may have skewed respondents’ views of how great/terrible a president the candidates would be.

The UofH poll’s choice of building a sample off of two primaries, one constitutional general election and non-participants of any of these elections is odd and likely moderates the overall pool of respondents. Asked how conservative they consider themselves, 49% of respondents said they were “conservative” and just 24% said “very conservative.” Another 23% said they were “moderate.”

Emerson’s exclusive use of landlines likely skews its sample toward older voters. Almost 55% of the overall sample was 55 or older (11% were 75 and older.). Voters aged 18-34 comprised 17% of the sample. Looking just at those who identified with the Republican Party, nearly 70% were 55 or older (15% were 75 and older.). Voters aged 18-34 represented just 7% of self-identified Republicans. In other words, four out of every five respondents under age 35 identified as Democrats.

We do not have much information on the KTVT-TV/Dixie Strategies poll aside from it being a “telephone survey.” Not enough raw data has been provided to evaluate its sample or methodology.

Differences could also be attributed to timing. Some polls were in the field before the South Carolina primary, the results of which may have changed the expectations of voters and forced, or encouraged, them to explore other options for their vote.

Three of the four polls tend to conform to expectations. The fourth would indicate a much closer race. Only the voters know their hearts, and some may not know them until Tuesday.


UPDATE: After completing this write-up, we learned of another poll released today. It was conducted by Survey USA for several Texas television stations, including KENS-TV in San Antonio. This poll showed Cruz and Trump each favored by 32% of respondents, and Rubio came in third at 17%. Kasich (6%), Carson (5%) and undecided (5%) rounded out the field. Democrats preferred Clinton 61%-32% over Sanders.

The KENS poll surveyed 645 people who either already voted in the Republican primary or “were certain to do so” and 569 for the Democratic primary. Respondents reachable on a home telephone were interviewed. Others were shown a questionnaire on their electronic device. The poll was in the field 2/21-2/22 (In other words, it was completed after the South Carolina primary but before the Nevada Republican caucus.). The margin of error is ±3.9%.