Defying the predictions of just about everyone who watches politics even remotely, the two nontraditional Republican presidential contenders remain at the top of just-released opinion polls. Public polls, it is true, have proliferated, and many are worthy of being ignored. But four of the most respected surveys came out this week, and they pretty much agreed.
The ABC News/Washington Post poll found an unusually wide, 10-point lead for Donald Trump over second-place finisher Ben Carson (32 percent to 22 percent). Sen. Marco Rubio ran third, at 10 percent, followed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (7 percent) and Sen. Ted Cruz (5 percent). Everyone else in the Republican field drew 3 percent or less.
The CNN/ORC survey pegged Trump at 27 percent, five points ahead of Carson. Rubio and Bush were tied for third, at 8 percent, followed by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Sen. Rand Paul, at 5 percent each. The latest Fox News poll put Trump at 24 percent and Carson a point behind, followed by Cruz (10 percent), Rubio (9 percent), and Bush (8 percent) in a pack. In the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Trump led Carson by three points (25 percent to 22 percent), outpacing Rubio (13 percent), Cruz (9 percent), and Bush (8 percent).
The common thread: So far, Trump and Carson are running well ahead of their more traditional rivals. This is no longer a surprise. But three months ago, who would have guessed?
“Donald Trump’s Lead Explained in Two Sentences”—that was the headline of a piece this week by National Journal’s Ronald Brownstein. Those sentences were: “The blue-collar wing of the Republican Party electorate has consolidated around one candidate. The party’s white-collar wing remains fragmented.” Among Republicans without a college degree, Trump holds a very substantial lead, but—this, from GOP pollster Glen Bolger—“nobody has consolidated the college-graduate vote against Trump.” Roughly half of Trump’s support, pollsters have found, comes from Republicans who identify with the Tea Party movement—but half doesn’t. Trump runs particularly well among men younger than 45 and, not surprisingly, among Republicans who frequently watch Fox News.
While Trump is capturing a majority of the blue-collar, less-than-college-educated half of the GOP, the party’s other half—white-collar, college-educated—is splintered. Partly, this is attributable to the underperformance of two candidates—Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker—who were expected to crowd out their competitors in this half of the party. Bush has dominated in terms of fundraising and endorsements, but by any other metric, he has fallen far short of expectations. Walker didn’t live up to his billing and dropped out of the race. Their failures to thrive created a political vacuum that has left the party’s once-unbeatable white-collar constituency still window-shopping and, in some cases, demoralized and divided.
Donald Trump’s Lead Explained in Two Sentences
An exclusive look at states where the GOP front-runner splits Republican voters along class and education lines.
But this leaves unexplained the strong support for Dr. Carson, the other political novice who’s flying high. The retired pediatric neurosurgeon draws more support among female and white-collar Republicans than Trump does. A more important difference: His supporters are very religious and typically more conservative than Trump’s, who tend to be populist more than strictly conservative. Personality, undoubtedly, plays a role. Trump is the flamboyant man-about-town who brags about having been featured on the cover of Playboy (fully clothed). Carson is soft-spoken, usually even-tempered—a gentleman, not a loudmouth.
An unusual dimension of Carson’s support among conservatives, pollsters add, is simply that he is an African-American they agree with. Some of Carson’s supporters are trying to show that their opposition to President Obama isn’t because of his race but because of vehement disagreement on the issues. Republican pollsters note that black conservatives such as Sen. Tim Scott, the South Carolina Republican, have also benefited from this in recent years.
The question remains whether Trump or Carson can attract many new supporters, as weaker candidates follow Walker and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry into the sunset. It’s hard to see Trump gaining very much; some polls have him still rising a little, but more of them show him declining a little more. Carson might pick up a few percentage points as Huckabee, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and former Sen. Rick Santorum fall by the wayside, as they almost certainly will.
Nor is it clear that either front-runner could inherit the other’s supporters. Carson folks regard Trump as vain and profane; Trump folks would see Carson as boring. And no one wins a presidential nomination with support from only a quarter or a third of the party.
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"President Donald Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to Russia was unequivocal Tuesday in calling out the federation’s interference in the 2016 election in the United States. 'There is no question—underline no question—that the Russian government interfered in the U.S. election last year, and Moscow continues to meddle in the democratic processes of our friends and allies,' Jon Huntsman Jr., told the Foreign Relations Committee."