Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, the 44-year-old Canadian-born Texan who is now just in his third year as a U.S. senator, announced today during a speech at Liberty University in Virginia that he is running for his party's nomination for president. He thus has the distinction of being the first major candidate from either party to announce an official candidacy. Cruz said in his announcement today, "I believe in the power of millions of courageous conservatives rising up to reignite the promise of America, and that is why today I am announcing that I'm running for president of the United States."
There is little doubt that Cruz's "first out of the gate" announcement was intended to differentiate him from the many other Republicans who are lining up to run, and to gain the news coverage that comes from being first.
Cruz actually has already done a fairly good job of increasing his familiarity among Republicans nationally over the past two years in which he has been in the U. S. Senate. Fifty-seven percent of Republicans nationally know enough about Cruz to have an opinion of him. This puts him about in the middle of the pack of the potential Republican candidates we measured a few weeks ago, clearly behind Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie, but better known than Ben Carson, Bobby Jindal or, in particular, Scott Walker. I singled out Scott Walker because the Wisconsin governor is frequently mentioned as the major challenger to Cruz (and perhaps other candidates) for the conservative Republican nomination. Walker's familiarity score is 46%, even though he certainly was on the national stage as a result of his high-profile efforts to push back on Wisconsin public employee unions.
So Cruz isn't particularly handicapped on a relative basis as far as name identification is concerned, but clearly, with more than four in 10 Republicans nationally unsure who he is, he has a lot of room to grow. Presumably, Cruz and his strategists took this into account in making the decision to announce early, assuming that the publicity he will garner will help push his name identification closer to that of GOP leaders Bush and Huckabee.
Some argue that Cruz may have alienated many of his fellow Republicans, at least those in the Senate and other leaders, with his ideologically rigid tactics that helped lead to the fall 2013 government shutdown. But we don't find much evidence for that among Republicans nationally. Cruz has a net favorable rating of +31 percentage points among Republicans (44% favorable and 13% unfavorable), which is slightly but not dramatically below that of many of his fellow Republican politicians. The two Republicans who are held in worse regard by Republicans are Chris Christie, who has a net favorable rating of only +9, and Rick Santorum, with has a net favorable rating of +14. Cruz's unfavorable rating -- 13% -- pales beside the 31% unfavorable rating pulled in by Christie. Cruz's unfavorable rating is actually lower than the unfavorable ratings of several other potential candidates -- including not only Santorum, but Jeb Bush and his fellow Texan, former Gov. Rick Perry.
These favorable ratings are based on attitudes among the general population of people who identify as Republicans or who lean Republican, and therefore reflect, to some degree, overall familiarity. If a politician is well known, his favorable and unfavorable ratings will be higher than a lesser known politician. One way to mitigate the effect of familiarity is to repercentage the favorable and unfavorable scores based only among those who have an opinion of the individual.
Physician Ben Carson rises to the top of this list, based on the fact that while few Republicans know him, those who do have an overwhelmingly favorable opinion. This reflects the fact of life that as politicians become better known, they often accumulate baggage of one sort or the other and hence their unfavorable ratings go up. Scott Walker also scores well on this list. He is not as well-known as Cruz, but is well liked among those who do know him. But, all in all, Cruz comes out in the middle on this list -- again. His net favorable rating among those who know him is not exceptional, nor is it nearly as bad as the scores rung up by Christie and Santorum.
Cruz made his announcement speech today at Liberty University, an evangelical college in Lynchburg, Virginia, which was founded by the late Jerry Falwell. Falwell's son is its current president. This venue was a deliberate choice by Cruz and his campaign team to play to the conservative base of the Republican Party, particularly to the highly religious or evangelical base.
At this point, Cruz does well among conservative Republicans (who constitute about 60% of Republicans and Republican leaners nationwide), with a favorable rating that ties him with Marco Rubio, but Cruz is slightly behind Perry, Rand Paul and Jeb Bush among conservative Republicans, and considerably behind the current conservative favorite, Mike Huckabee.
Cruz does not fare as well with the moderate/liberal wing of the GOP, a standing which is less relevant to his apparent strategy of attempting to corner the conservative GOP vote and ride it to the nomination.
Cruz's announcement speech at Liberty was very religiously oriented. Cruz asked, "What is the promise of America? The idea that -- the revolutionary idea that this country was founded upon, which is that our rights don't come from man. They come from God Almighty." And he then made a direct pitch to evangelical Christians, saying, "Today, roughly half of born again Christians aren't voting. They're staying home. Imagine instead millions of people of faith all across America coming out to the polls and voting our values."
Religiosity is highly bound up with being Republican in the U.S. today, and within the Republican Party religiosity is correlated with its conservative wing. Cruz does better among those who are the most religious, but so do other Republican candidates. It will take time to see if Cruz's image among highly religious Republicans begins to shine above that of other conservative GOP candidates who are vying for their party's nomination.
Overall, the data show that Cruz's image among Republicans, as he begins his quest for his party's presidential nomination, is fairly average compared with other candidates, and not one that stands out in an unusual way. He has not picked up an inordinately high percentage of unfavorable evaluations among his fellow Republicans, nor does he soar to the top of the pack on the positive side. He is known to over half of Republicans nationally, but more than four in 10 say they don't know enough about him to have an opinion. It is the effort to break out of this "average" positioning that fueled his decision to announce his candidacy today, and as other announcements follow in the weeks and months ahead, his efforts to reach this objective will be a fascinating process to follow.