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Michigan Polling Demonstrates Ted Cruz's Next Big Challenge

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 6/03/2016 Ariel Edwards-Levy
ATHENA IMAGE © J Pat Carter via Getty Images ATHENA IMAGE

After netting wins in Kansas and Maine  Saturday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is facing longer odds in one of the next big states to vote, according to polls released Sunday.

In NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist and CBS/YouGov polls of Michigan, which votes March 8, Cruz trails Donald Trump by 19 and 15 points, respectively. HuffPost Pollster's average, which includes all publicly available polling, shows him an average 19 points behind.

Things could already be changing. Those surveys were both conducted before Saturday's elections, which saw Cruz surging dramatically among late-deciding voters , mostly at the expense of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

But the results also highlight a key difference between states like Michigan and many of the places Cruz has won so far.

In the NBC/WSJ/Marist poll, Ted Cruz easily wins a plurality among Michigan voters who describe themselves as "very conservative," taking 43 percent to Trump's 30 percent, Rubio's 14 percent, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich's 6 percent. Among those who are just "conservative," though, he trails Trump by 14 points.

Cruz has pretty much relied on a conservative base to carry him to victory. Exit polls have only been conducted in three of the states he's won: Iowa, Oklahoma and Texas. But in those states, between 39 and 43 percent of voters described themselves as very conservative. In each of those states but Texas, he lost among voters with other ideological leanings.

Very conservative voters, though, make up a smaller faction in many of the upcoming primary races. While Mississippi, which also votes Tuesday, is staunchly conservative, just 30 percent of Michigan GOP primary voters in 2012 described themselves as very conservative , as did 33 percent in Florida, 29 percent in Illinois and 32 percent in Ohio.

If Cruz wants to build on the momentum from his recent wins, he'll have to prove that his appeal carries across ideological lines.

NBC/WSJ/Marist surveyed 482 likely Republican primary voters on March 1-3, using live interviewers to reach both landlines and cell phones. The CBS/YouGov poll used an online panel to reach 638 voters between March 2 and March 4.

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