Fox on Friday released polls of Iowa, New Hampshire, and the national electorate. Cruz led in Iowa, and Trump led in New Hampshire and nationally. A careful read of the polls tells the following story:
Cruz not Pulling Away in Iowa
Cruz's 4-pt lead over Trump in Iowa is within the margin of error. Combined with all of the December polls (mostly showing Cruz ahead there), it's safe to call Cruz the Iowa frontrunner. But he doesn't appear to be pulling away.
Compared to Fox's December poll Cruz is down an insignificant one point, and Trump is down three points. No other candidate showed a statistically significant move.
Most telling might be the second-choice question Fox asked: 25 percent of Iowa Republicans picked Cruz as their second choice, the highest of any candidate by far. That shows very large upside potential for him in the next three weeks. Rubio was a strong second place in the second-choice column at 17 percent, with most of that coming from candidates other than Trump and Cruz.
When you count the second-choice column, it's not far-fetched to see Rubio finishing second in the caucuses, leaving Trump No. 3.
Trump lead not shrinking in New Hampshire
Fox polled 414 likely Republican voters. That's a strong sample, and it speaks well to Trump's strength here.
Trump (at 33 percent) is six points higher in New Hampshire today than he was in Fox's previous poll, conducted back in November. The other candidates are all flat.
Rubio's 15 percent second-place standing doesn't represent a rise, but it confirms that he is currently the strongest non-Trump candidate there.
Compared to the recent PPP New Hampshire poll, the Establishment Gang (Rubio, Bush, Christie, Kasich) is far weaker, pulling in a combined 36% in the Fox survey, compared to 45% in the PPP survey. If Trump is really only 3 points behind those four candidates combined, then he is very strong. Any imaginable consolidation of the N.H. establishment vote after Iowa still wouldn't beat him.
The national poll included 423 registered voters. For a national poll, that's a smallish sample size. More importantly, the poll didn't screen for likely voters.
The lack of a likely-voter screen makes Trump's 35 percent and Ben Carson's (4th-place) 10 percent unsurprising, and almost certainly overstated.
More importantly, national polls at this point in the election are not terribly indicative. That almost none of the candidates changed significantly from the December national poll just confirms that this poll doesn't tell us much, except that very few voters nationally are considering any establishment candidate besides Rubio.
Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Tuesday and Thursday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.