GOP Has Clear Top 4; Clinton Dominant for Dems; General Election Tight

| Tom Jensen

PPP’s first look at the Republican Presidential race nationally in six weeks finds that things haven’t actually changed all that much since early October. Donald Trump leads the field with 26%, to 19% for Ben Carson. Trump and Carson were first and second on our last poll as well at 27% and 17% respectively. Also getting solid amounts of support are Ted Cruz at 14% and Marco Rubio at 13%. No one else in the GOP field even gets more than 5%- Jeb Bush reaches that mark followed by Carly Fiorina and Mike Huckabee at 4%, Chris Christie and John Kasich at 3%, Rand Paul at 2%, Lindsey Graham and George Pataki at 1%, and Jim Gilmore, Bobby Jindal, and Rick Santorum all at less than 1%.

There’s only one candidate in the whole field who can really claim momentum compared to a month ago: that’s Ted Cruz. He’s doubled his support from 7% in early October to its current 14% standing. He’s also seen a net 9 point improvement in his favorability rating from +20 (50/30) a month ago to now +29 (55/26). Cruz is leading the field among voters who describe themselves as ‘very conservative’ with 29% to 24% for Trump and 22% for Carson. On a related note he’s also ahead among self described Tea Partiers with 26% to 23% each for Carson and Trump. He is definitely the candidate headed in the right direction with the right at this time.

Besides Cruz there’s only one other candidate in the whole field whose support has moved by more than 2 points over the last six weeks. That’s Jeb Bush who’s headed in the wrong direction- his 5% level of support is only half of the 10% that he had in October. And Bush just continues to get more unpopular- only 27% of GOP primary voters see him favorably to 50% with a negative opinion. We’ve written a lot this year about his struggles with conservatives and those continue- he has a 22/58 favorability with ‘very conservative’ voters and only 4% support him for the nomination. But he’s also struggling at this point even with moderates- he has a 23/52 favorability with them.

Although Ben Carson remains the most popular of the Republican candidates, his image has taken a little bit of a hit in the last six weeks. His favorability of 61/24 (+37) is down a net 18 points from where it was in early October (+55 at 71/16). Also seeing her favorability go in the wrong direction is Carly Fiorina who declined from +30 (57/27) on the last poll to now +21 (51/30). On the up swing in their favorability numbers are Mike Huckabee (from +6 at 44/38 to +35 at 58/23), Lindsey Graham (from -27 at 18/45 to the still unpopular but better -13 at 24/37), and Chris Christie (from +5 at 43/38 to +14 at 46/32). It’s interesting that everyone who participated in the JV debate last week seems to have come out of it with a better image.

There’s been renewed discussion in the last week about the possibility of Mitt Romney joining the Republican field late in the game but there’s pretty much no appetite for that from the base. Only 20% of GOP voters want him to run, to 66% who say he should stay out of the race. If Romney was in the race he would only be in 6th place at 7%, trailing behind Trump at 24%, Carson at 19%, Cruz at 17%, Rubio at 11%, and Bush at 8%. We also tested the Romney possibility in Iowa in September and found it a nonstarter there as well.

Trump may lead the Republican field overall but when it comes to head to head match ups with the other top tier contenders he doesn’t fare as well. He trails Carson 50/41 and Cruz 46/44, and leads Rubio just 46/44. Head to heads between Carson and the other top GOP hopefuls are comparably competitive- he leads Rubio 43/42 but trails Cruz 44/41. Rubio leads Cruz 43/38 in the match up that people seem increasingly to think it may all come down to. 

Donald Trump floated the idea this week of shutting down all the mosques in the United States. 27% of Republican primary voters support that concept with 38% opposed, and 35% unsure on the issue. Among the top GOP hopefuls supporters of both Cruz (41/27) and Trump (37/27) support shutting down the mosques while backers of Carson (17/43), Rubio (25/37), and Bush (12/45) oppose doing so.

One final note on the Republican primary numbers that shows how out of touch the GOP field is even with the GOP base. 81% of Republican primary voters nationally support background checks on all gun purchases, to only 12% who are opposed to them. And 56% support increasing the minimum wage to at least $10 an hour, compared to only 23% who want to leave it where it is and 19% who want to eliminate it altogether.

On the Democratic side Hillary Clinton leads with 59% to 26% for Bernie Sanders and 7% for Martin O’Malley. Our last national poll without Joe Biden in it was in July and at that time we found Clinton leading Sanders by 35 points at 57/22. These numbers suggest not a whole lot has changed in terms of the overall contours of the race since that time.

O’Malley’s 7% appears to be the best he’s done in a national poll by any company to date. That may have him cutting a little bit into Sanders’ share of the anti-Clinton vote and driving up her margin over the field. Even after a couple debates O’Malley still hasn’t achieved 50% name recognition though, with 27% rating him favorably and 18% unfavorably but 55% having no opinion one way or another. By contrast every candidate on the Republican side has at least 50% name recognition except for Jim Gilmore.

Clinton’s leading within every demographic group on the Democratic side but it’s closer with some segments of the electorate than others. She leads Sanders just 50/36 with white voters, but is up 70/13 with African Americans and 84/8 with Hispanics. She leads Sanders just 47/32 with men, but is up 69/22 with women. She leads Sanders just 53/32 with younger voters, but is up 66/17 with seniors. And she leads Sanders by just 17 with ‘very liberal’ voters at 56/39, but is up 34 with moderates at 56/22, and 49 points with ‘somewhat liberal’ voters at 72/23.

Early general election contests are shaping up to be very competitive with Hillary Clinton polling within 2 points of 5 out of 6 Republicans that we tested against her. The only GOP hopeful to actually lead Clinton is Marco Rubio at 45/43. Rubio is also the only candidate in the field with a positive favorability rating among the overall electorate, at 39/37. 

The one Republican who trails Clinton by a wider margin is Carly Fiorina at 46/41. Beyond that Clinton leads everyone by 1 or 2 points- it’s 46/45 over Ben Carson, 45/44 over Donald Trump, 46/44 over Ted Cruz, and 43/41 over Jeb Bush.

Bernie Sanders does on average 6 points worse than Clinton in comparable general election match ups. He trails Fiorina 42/40, Bush 42/39, Trump 44/41, Cruz 44/39, Rubio 44/38, and Carson 46/39.

Full results here

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