- Both of the remaining Democratic candidates for president easily top Republican front-runner Donald Trump in hypothetical general election match-ups, according to a new CNN/ORC poll
- Clinton tops Trump 52% to 44% among registered voters
But Hillary Clinton, who is well ahead in the Democratic race for the presidency, would likely face a stronger challenge should Florida Sen. Marco Rubio or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz capture the Republican nomination for president.
In the scenario that appears most likely to emerge from the primary contests, Clinton tops Trump 52% to 44% among registered voters. That result has tilted in Clinton's favor since the last CNN/ORC Poll on the match-up in January.
But when the former secretary of state faces off with either of the other two top Republicans, things are much tighter and roughly the same as they were in January. Clinton trails against Rubio, with 50% choosing the Florida senator compared to 47% for Clinton, identical to the results in January. Against Cruz, Clinton holds 48% to his 49%, a slight tightening from a 3-point race in January to a 1-point match-up now.
Sanders -- who enjoys the most positive favorable rating of any presidential candidate in the field, according to the poll -- tops all three Republicans by wide margins: 57% to 40% against Cruz, 55% to 43% against Trump, and 53% to 45% against Rubio. Sanders fares better than Clinton in each match-up among men, younger voters and independents.
The race for the presidency hits its primary season peak as 78% of voters, including almost the same share among Democrats, Republicans and independents, who say that the nation is more deeply divided on major issues facing the country than it has been in the past.
The survey asked voters to choose which of all the remaining top candidates, regardless of party, they trust most to handle seven top issues. Trump tops the list on the economy, terrorism and immigration, while Clinton is the top choice when it comes to health care, race relations and foreign policy. Voters are about evenly split between Trump and Clinton on gun policy.
Adding up all the candidates from each party, Republicans have the edge on the economy, terrorism, immigration and gun policy, while more voters choose one of the Democrats' candidates on race relations and health care, with about an even split between the two parties on foreign policy.
Voters' choices broken out by party provide an interesting window into areas where Trump might hold cross-party appeal. Though the share of leaned Republicans choosing Clinton on any of the tested issues tops out at 8% on health care, Trump is the most trusted for 15% of leaned Democrats on terrorism, 14% on the economy and 13% on immigration.
As noted above, Sanders holds the most positive favorability rating of any of the top candidates for president: 60% of registered voters view him positively, 33% negatively. He is the only candidate seen favorably by a majority of voters, and one of four who are seen more positively than negatively.
The two front-runners, Clinton and Trump, are seen unfavorably by majorities of voters. Almost 6-in-10 have a negative view of Trump, 59% with 38% favorable, and 53% have a negative view of Clinton, 44% see her positively.
Cruz also has a net negative rating, while impressions of Carson, Rubio and Kasich tilt positive.
Clinton's husband, former president Bill Clinton, has a broadly positive favorability rating. Melania Trump, wife of the billionaire GOP front-runner, is broadly unknown, but among those who do express an opinion, more have a negative one than a positive one.
The economy remains far and away the country's top concern as the election campaign rolls on, with 47% calling it most important as they decide how to vote for president, followed by 19% citing health care, 14% terrorism, 10% foreign policy and 8% illegal immigration.
Should Michael Bloomberg, the independent former mayor of New York City, throw his hat into the ring as an independent candidate, his candidacy would do more harm to Clinton's bid to beat Trump than it would to Sanders' effort.
All told though, few say they would consider backing Bloomberg if he did run. Interest is strongest among political independents, and just 49% of them say they would definitely or probably consider voting Bloomberg for president.
The CNN/ORC Poll was conducted by telephone February 24-27 among a random national sample of 1,001 adults. Results among the sample of 920 registered voters have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.