The latest poll numbers are in, and even though Donald Trump is maintaining his lead in Arizona, it appears U.S. Senator Marco Rubio rapidly is gaining momentum.
The political consulting firm MBQF, which has been tracking Republican voter preference in Arizona since July, reports that Rubio jumped 11.3 percentage points since January, nearly doubling the number of voters saying he was their top candidate.
MBQF conducted the latest poll on Monday, February 22 – mere days after former Florida Governor Jeb Bush dropped out of the race – and experts think the rapid surge could be evidence that the GOP establishment is rallying around Rubio in Bush's absence.
Earlier this week, Rubio picked up numerous endorsements from party elites and former Bush supporters, and he came in second place during Tuesday’s Nevada caucus.
“[Eleven] percentage points — that’s a pretty substantial jump,” says Richard Herrera, professor at the ASU School of Politics and Global Studies.
MBQF CEO Michael Noble suggested in a statement that Trump has hit a ceiling in Arizona, given that his lead hasn’t grown in proportion to the shrinking candidate field. Herrera says this is possible, but he’s skeptical because it’s probably too early to say so definitively.
“This data don’t necessarily tell us that [Trump] is having a problem with the base . . . but he could have a primary election problem in Arizona because if Rubio wins the state even by a small amount, he gets all of the delegates since we’re a winner take all state.” (The candidate who wins the primary election in Arizona gets all of the state’s delegates.)
Will that happen? It’s hard to say: “Trump benefited from huge field of 15 or 17 candidates and is about 50 delegates ahead right now. At a certain point, it becomes too difficult for others to catch up,” which is why primaries in states like Arizona are important.
Herrera adds that no one should discount the fact that Trump, with his “the anti-incumbent, anti-establishment message,” maintains a solid lead in Arizona. On the flip side, he says, poll numbers also “mean two-thirds of likely voters don’t voice that support.”
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We’re still about a month away from the Arizona primary, meaning things could change dramatically, but he believes these polls are informative.
“Here’s where I think the value of these polls lie: Heading into the Arizona primary, they can be pretty indicative of how the votes are going to turn out,” he says. “Are they going to predict what happens in the general election? No. [But] they generally indicate which candidates are gathering momentum and that matters for other things.”
At this point in the election season, Herrera says there are three important things every candidate must be aware of: “funding, poll numbers, and endorsements.”
And funding and endorsements often are tied to polling numbers because better poll numbers tend to encourage major party leaders and donors to rally behind a certain candidate. In other words, if Rubio can continue to show party elites that the voters in the base are behind him, more endorsements and campaign money probably will flow his way.