Trump grows lead in NC; GOP leads most match ups

| Tom Jensen

Last month when we polled North Carolina and found Donald Trump leading the Republican field, it was the first poll by anyone anywhere to find Trump out ahead. He was at 16%. Our newest survey of the state finds that Trump’s momentum has just continued to grow. He’s now at 24% to 14% for Ben Carson, 13% for Jeb Bush, 10% for Ted Cruz, 9% for Marco Rubio, and 6% each for Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, and Scott Walker. Those folks make for a pretty clean top 8 in the state. Rounding out the field are Rand Paul at 3%, Chris Christie and Rick Santorum at 2%, John Kasich and Rick Perry at 1%, Jim Gilmore, Bobby Jindal, and George Pataki with less than 1%, and Lindsey Graham with literally no supporters.

Trump’s 8 point gain gives him the biggest momentum in the state over the last month. The other two candidates with upward momentum are Carson and Cruz. Carson’s gone from 9% to 14% as people’s first choice. Beyond that he’s 21% of voters’ second choice, making him the clear leader on that front. And his 66/11 favorability rating makes him the most popular of the GOP hopefuls in the state. Cruz has gone from 6% a month ago to his 10% standing now.

The losers in North Carolina over the last month are Walker, Huckabee, Paul, and Christie. Walker’s dropped 6 points from 12% last month to now 6%. His 51% favorability rating remains unchanged, but voters just seem to be finding others of their options to be more compelling. It’s a similar story for Huckabee. His 60% favorability rating ties him with Rubio as the second most broadly liked candidate in the state behind Carson, but the share of voters who actually want him as the nominee has dropped from 11% to 6%.

The news is worse for Paul- he has seen a precipitous decline in his popularity. A month ago his favorability in the state was 49/22. Now it’s 31/47- it’s clear from three polls we’ve done now since the debate that it killed Paul’s image. He’s dropped from 7% to 3% in the horse race. Finally Chris Christie’s gone from 5% to 2%, making it 1%, 1%, and 2% in the three polls we’ve done since the debate. He remains very unpopular with a 23/55 favorability rating.

Trump leads the GOP field with moderates (29%), ‘somewhat conservative’ voters (25%), ‘very conservative’ voters (21%), men (26%), women (22%), middle aged voters (26%), younger voters (25%), and seniors (20%) alike. It’s interesting to note though that his 47/40 favorability rating only makes him the 7th most popular of the 11 candidates we looked at in the state.

If voters had to choose just between Trump and Ben Carson (59/35), Marco Rubio (51/43), or Scott Walker (50/43) the supporters of the other candidates would coalesce around the non-Trump candidate enough that he would lag behind. Trump has the most passionate supporters at this point but at the end of the day his popularity isn’t that broad. He would at least lead Bush 50/42 in a head to head. Bush has a 37/47 favorability with ‘very conservative’ voters and that skepticism towards him on the right will continue to cause him problems unless he can change that.

On the Democratic side things are very consistent. Hillary Clinton leads with 55% to 19% for Bernie Sanders, 5% for Jim Webb, 2% for Lincoln Chafee and Martin O’Malley, and 1% for Lawrence Lessig. A month ago Clinton led Sanders by a nearly identical 55/20 spread. Clinton’s over 60% with liberals, moderates, and African Americans and over 50% with men, women, and voters within every age group.

A higher than usual 20% of Democratic primary voters in North Carolina identify themselves as conservatives and with that group she only gets 26% which is what keeps her to 55% overall despite being over 60% with both liberals and moderates. The only other group Clinton’s under 50% with is white voters, among whom she leads Sanders 47/25.

Clinton trails 8 of the 11 Republican hopefuls in hypothetical match ups, although most of the margins are close. The strongest performers against her are Ben Carson who leads 47/40 and Marco Rubio who has a 45/41 advantage. Carson and Rubio have been the strongest performing Republicans in the general election in all three of the polls we’ve done since the debate.

Doing the worst against Clinton are Rand Paul who trails 44/40, Chris Christie who trails 40/39, and Jeb Bush who ties Clinton at 42. In between, all with leads of 1-3 points over Clinton, are Carly Fiorina (42/41), John Kasich (41/40), Ted Cruz (45/43), Mike Huckabee (46/44), Donald Trump (45/42), and Scott Walker (44/41).

North Carolina continues the recent trend of Bernie Sanders not faring much differently in general election match ups than Clinton. He trails Rubio 42/36, Walker 41/37, and Bush and Trump both 43/40. On average his performance against the Republicans is just 1.5 points worse than Clinton’s.

The specter of Trump running as an independent candidate in the general election continues to be a big potential problem for Republicans. In such a scenario Clinton leads with 38% with Bush at 28% and Trump at 27% basically tying for second place. Trump wins independents with 38% (to 28% for Clinton and 24% for Bush), takes 38% of Republicans, and 14% of Democrats.

Finally another declared independent candidate, Deez Nuts, polls at 9% in North Carolina to go along with his 8% in Minnesota and 7% in Iowa in our recent polling. Trump leads Clinton 40/38 when he’s in the mix.

Full results here

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