by Anthony Alaimo, Monmouth University Poll Institute graduate assistant
Despite many pundits painting his campaign as a sideshow earlier this summer, Donald Trump has managed to stay atop the pack of Republican hopefuls in the race for the 2016 Republican nomination. However, ahead of Wednesday night’s third Republican debate, recently released polls, both nationally and in some important primary races, seem to indicate a Donald Trump slide. Dr. Ben Carson, who has had consistently high favorability ratings among Republican voters since he announced his candidacy in May, looks to be the prime beneficiary of Trump’s decline. Has Carson overtaken Trump as the favorite? If so, why has he been able to despite a lack of any recent major stumbles for Trump? As always, we need only to look at the numbers to find out.
In Monmouth University’s August Poll of Republicans in the crucial first caucus state of Iowa, the two political outsiders were locked in a dead heat at 23%. In Monmouth’s poll taken this past week, Carson (32%) has begun to pull away from Trump (18%). Similar polling in the month of October in Iowa can be seen from Quinnipiac (Carson 28% to Trump 20%) and Bloomberg/Des Moines Register (Carson 28% to Trump 19%). Trump led Carson by 6 points and 5 points respectively, in each outlet’s late August/early September Iowa polling of Republican voters.
Unfortunately for Trump, the downward trend continues when we look at recent national polling. A CBS/New York Times Poll, taken October 21-25, shows Carson (26%) now leading Trump (22%) nationally for the first time since Trump entered the fray in June. In a previous CBS News/New York Times national poll, taken September 9-13, Trump led Carson 27% to 23%. While Carson has not pulled ahead in any other major national poll, he continues to close the gap with Trump. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken October 15-18 had Trump (25%) holding on to a small lead over Carson (22%). CNN/ORC polling done October 14-17 show Trump clinging to a 5 point lead over Carson after leading him by 10 points in their September poll. Additionally, polls released this week in both Texas and North Carolina tell a similar story. A KTVT-CBS 11/Dixie Strategies Poll in Texas, taken October 23-24, shows Carson with a slim 1 point lead over Trump, while a Public Policy Polling survey taken October 23-25 in North Carolina has Carson leading Trump 23% to 11%.
So, why the sudden shuffle at the top of the GOP totem pole? Simply put, voters may simply be tiring of The Donald Show. After his announcement in June, to the surprise of many pollsters and pundits alike, Trump’s low favorability rocketed up as he took on the role of frontrunner while drawing huge crowds everywhere he went. However, after his performance in the second GOP debate in September, those ratings flattened and began to trend downward. Conversely, Dr. Ben Carson’s favorability ratings among Republican voters have consistently been at or near the top when compared to his fellow candidates, both nationally and in the early voting states. In fact, in a Loras College Iowa poll taken just this past week, when asked if they would absolutely not vote for Dr. Ben Carson, only 3% of Iowa Republicans would refuse to vote for the famed neurosurgeon, while 28% said they would absolutely not vote for Trump.
Trump is clearly no longer running away with the 2016 Republican nomination. However, besides his consistently high marks with Republican voters, why has Carson been the one to pose a significant challenge to the frontrunner? Essentially, Republican voters are still clamoring for an outsider candidate who has not been sullied by the partisan stalemate in Washington. A recent Associated Press-GfK poll, taken October 15-19, made this preference very clear. An overwhelming number of Republican voters (77%) prefer an outsider candidate who will change how things are done, instead of a candidate with Washington experience (22%). Similarly, they prefer a candidate with private-sector leadership (76%) over someone with experience holding political office (22%). With Carly Fiorina failing to gain any real momentum after her impressive debate performances, that leaves Trump, who Republican voters are clearly tiring of, and Dr. Ben Carson, who in the same AP-GfK poll pulled the highest favorability rating of any GOP candidate (65% favorable to just 13% unfavorable).
Trump recently said, “I don’t quite get it,” when he was asked about these troubling polls. Unfortunately for The Donald, unless he delivers a quality performance at Wednesday’s third GOP debate, he really might not get it.