Six days before Super Tuesday, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are now tied in Texas, according to a new public opinion poll commissioned by WFAA-TV.
Cruz and Trump both had 32 percent support from likely and actual GOP primary voters, with a 3.9 percent margin of error.
It is the most recent survey of Texas voters and the first one to show Cruz no longer leading in his home state.
“He’s fading,” said Cal Jillson, professor of political science at Southern Methodist University, of Ted Cruz’s candidacy. “Trump has proven to be stronger and more resilient than anyone expected.”
Marco Rubio is a distant third in the WFAA Texas TEGNA poll with 17 percent, John Kasich has 6 percent, Ben Carson has 5 percent and another 5 percent of respondents remain undecided, the poll revealed.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has double the support of Bernie Sanders with 61 percent compared to his 32 percent. Seven percent of likely or actual Democratic voters were undecided.
The poll, conducted by SurveyUSA on February 21 and 22, interviewed 1,750 adults across the state using a mix of phone calls and internet surveys. It was completed after the South Carolina Republican primary but before the Nevada Republican caucuses.
The WFAA Texas TEGNA poll breaks down the Republican electorate even further to show Cruz narrowly leads Trump among Texas's Hispanic/Latino population, 34 percent to 27 percent.
Cruz has a wide lead over Trump among Texas evangelicals, 42 percent to 28 percent.
The senator overwhelmingly leads Trump among those who are members of the tea party, 62 percent to 21 percent.
Cruz leads by 11 points in West Texas, which includes El Paso, Midland and 88 surrounding counties; and by a nominal 3 points in East Texas, which includes Houston and 60 surrounding counties. That is a surprising finding, considering Cruz is from Houston.
Cruz leads by 20 points among "very conservative" primary voters.
But Trump leads by 16 points among Republican voters who identified themselves as moderate and by 14 points among non-evangelical voters.
Trump leads in North Texas, which includes Dallas, Tarrant, Collin and 41 surrounding counties.
The New York billionaire leads among the least educated Republican primary voters and among the most affluent Texans, but Cruz leads among middle-income primary voters.
In Central Texas, which includes Austin, San Antonio, and 28 surrounding counties, the two candidates run effectively even.
They are also virtually tied among men and women, younger voters and older voters, gun owners and non-gun owners and college-educated voters.
Last month, Cruz defied polls and placed first in Iowa but the Texas Senator has yet to duplicate that win in any other contest. Trump won in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada and remains the national frontrunner. Cruz finished third in each of those races.
“Trump has clearly gained momentum out of South Carolina and Nevada. As he continues to win he continues to look more and more like the most likely nominee,” said Matt Mackowiak, Republican consultant and owner of Potomac Strategy Group. “I would caution to remind people that we had six full days of early voting before South Carolina. In spite of your poll, the Texas Tribune poll and Emerson survey (which showed Cruz with a one point lead), I still would be very, very surprised if Cruz does not win Texas.”
But Jillson said the WFAA Texas TEGNA poll offers a dim view of Cruz’s future in the 2016 race.
“If he is beaten in Texas that means he is beaten across the SEC primary,” Jillson explained. “Cruz exudes a determination that sort of borders on the frantic. He is deeply supported by the true believers. But once you get beyond that slice of the electorate people have a natural concern about Cruz and his approach to the campaign and his willingness to play dirty tricks. Those charges have stuck to him because he has a lean and hungry look that worries people. Trump is showing real resilience and even increasing his support and Rubio is becoming the alternative. That doesn’t leave much of a lane for Cruz.”
“If Trump were to somehow win Texas that would be a mortal blow for Cruz and make it difficult for him to move forward in the other states,” Mackowiak added.
The WFAA Texas TEGNA poll also asked voters who should select the next Supreme Court Justice – the current president or the next one? Forty-one percent said the next president should select that Justice, 38 percent said the current one should choose, and 21 percent said they didn’t know enough to respond.
The Republican candidates meet in Houston on Thursday for their final debate before Super Tuesday.
Early voting in Texas ends Friday.
On March 1, Texans go to the polls along with voters in 10 other states.
METHODOLOGY: Of the 1,750 Texas adults interviewed in either English or Spanish, 1,531 were registered to vote in Texas. Of the registered voters, SurveyUSA identified 1,293 as likely to vote in the 11/08/16 general election for president, 645 who had either already voted in the Texas Republican primary or were certain to do so on or before 03/01/16, and 569 who had either already voted in the Texas Democratic primary or were certain to do so on or before 03/01/16. This research was conducted using blended sample, mixed mode. Respondents reachable on a home telephone were interviewed on their home telephone in the recorded voice of a professional announcer. Respondents not reachable on a home telephone were shown a questionnaire on their smartphone, tablet or other electronic device.