Despite Obvious Shortcomings, Ben Carson Rises In The Polls

Ben Carson has no government experience, he has a history of saying things that don't seem grounded in reality, and he lacks the resources for a credible campaign. And yet, he's closing in on Donald Trump in the polls.

Dr. Ben Carson Speaks At Launch Of New Media Online Network In Scottsdale, Arizona

With only one day left before the next Republican Presidential debate, a new national poll from CBS News and The New York Times shows retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson pulling closer to Donald Trump:

As big names fall, and Donald J. Trump sees only a modest gain, Ben Carson no longer has to look ahead to see who is leading in polls: He can just look to his side.

Mr. Carson has amassed considerable new support from Republican primary and caucus voters and is now running nearly even with Mr. Trump as their pick for the party’s presidential nomination, according to a new New York Times/CBS News poll.

Far more than other Republican contenders, Mr. Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, has capitalized on his outsider message — a mix of anti-establishment views, delivered in a calmer tone than Mr. Trump’s, and socially conservative positions — to draw voters away from rivals and leap ahead in the poll, which will be published on Tuesday. The proportion of Republican voters favoring Mr. Carson rose to 23 percent from 6 percent in the previous CBS News poll, which was taken just before the first televised Republican debate in early August. Over that same period, Mr. Trump made modest gains, to 27 percent from 24 percent.

Mr. Carson pulled at least some of his support from Republicans who are more typical political figures. Jeb Bush fell in the poll, to 6 percent, from 13 percent, and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin tumbled to 2 percent from 10 percent. No other candidates fell as much as those two, according to the poll. Mr. Carson drew more support from college graduates than Mr. Trump, while those without a college education were more likely to favor Mr. Trump.

Over all, 37 percent of Republican voters say their minds are made up about which candidate they will support as their party’s presidential nominee, while 63 percent say it is still too early to say. Slightly more than half of Mr. Trump’s backers say they have decided, while 46 percent said they could still switch candidates. Those who said they had made up their minds are twice as likely to support Mr. Trump over Mr. Carson. Women were less likely than men to support Mr. Trump and more likely than men to support Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

The only other significant gain was made by the third outsider in the Republican field, Carly Fiorina, the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, who drew support from 4 percent of voters, compared with a trace amount in midsummer.

Carson has been rising in the polls quite steadily ever since the first Republican debate on August 6th, during which he seems to have come across in a manner that many Republican primary voters, and quite a few pundits, liked. To be honest, there wasn’t anything all that special about what Carson said at the debate, he repeated most of the standard conservative policy positions that he’s said in the past. He did avoid his long-standing habit of comparing things such as the Affordable Care Act to the Holocaust or slavery, though, and he also managed to come across as far more mild-mannered than most of the other people on the stage that night. Perhaps that that’s the reason that we’ve seen him rising in the polls lately, though one suspects that it also has a lot to do with the fact that, like Donald Trump, he is very much the political outsider. Even before the debate, Carson was doing fairly well in the polls, both on the national level and especially in early primary states where conservative voters are dominant such as Iowa and South Carolina. In the six weeks since the debate, though, he has rapidly moved up in the polls. On the national level, Carson went from an average of 5.8% in the polls to 17.8% today. In Iowa, he’s gone from 7.0% to 20.8% in the same time period. In New Hampshire, he’s risen from 6.0% to 11.8%, and in South Carolina, where Carson was already doing well in the polls, he’s gone from 10.8% to 16.8%.

As Philip Bump notes, Carson’s rise in the polls right now is starting to look a lot like Donald Trump’s rise since he entered the race for the White House in mid-June. In both cases, you have candidates who have taken off at an extraordinary rate notwithstanding the fact that neither one of them has been very specific about what they would actually do as President or how they accomplish it. Additionally, as I noted above, both Trump and Carson seem to be appealing to the same type of people who are attracted to political outsiders. What’s interesting, of course, is that these are two candidates who could not possibly any more different when it comes to their personal style. Where Trump is brash, outspoken, and self-confident to the point of being an egomaniac, Ben Carson is quiet, soft-spoken, and often loathe to boast of things he accomplished in his career as a doctor. When it became clear that Carson was becoming something of a threat in polls, Trump proceeded to attack him, and while Carson initially fired back, he ended up apologizing, which is of course something that Donald Trump would never do. This kind of personal dynamic, makes the fact that they are now in first and second place in the race for the nomination quite interesting, especially as we head into a debate where CNN is reportedly going to encourage the candidates to engage with each other.

On some level, the idea of Ben Carson as a credible candidate for the Presidency makes even less sense than the idea of Donald Trump as a credible candidate for President. Notwithstanding the fact that he is quite obviously a skilled surgeon and an intelligent man, for example, Carson has a long history of make statements that seem more appropriate for a comment thread on the Internet than a Presidential campaign. He has equated the Affordable Care Act to the September 11th attacks, made frequent use of Nazi analogies to criticize the President, and said that “progressives” want to turn the United States into Nazi Germany, and compared abortion to human sacrifices by civilizations of the past. More recently, he claimed that prison rape is proof that being gay is a choice. While this rhetoric may play well with a certain segment of the Republican base, it is not the kind of thing that will play well in a General Election.  Additionally, much like Trump, Carson to date has displayed a stunning lack of substance in his political rhetoric, and in some notable cases distinct gaps in his knowledge in areas that someone running for President ought to be well-informed about.

More importantly, unlike Trump Carson does not have access to an unlimited supply of money to finance a Presidential campaign. While his fundraising during the quarter that ended on June 30th was respectable, it was hardly sufficient to fund a major campaign going forward and it seems unlikely that Carson would be able to compete with the likes of Trump, Bush, and others when it comes to having the resources needed to mount a major campaign for the nomination. More likely than not, Carson will be this election cycle’s version of Herman Cain, although hopefully he won’t end up having to shut down his campaign under the same circumstances as the former pizza mogul.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. CrustyDem says:
  2. Ron Beasley says:

    The base of both parties is fed up with the status guo. You have Trump and Carson in the Republican party and Sanders in the Democratic party. Are the pitchforks to far behind?

  3. Ron Beasley says:

    The base of both parties is fed up with the status guo. You have Trump and Carson in the Republican party and Sanders in the Democratic party. Are the pitchforks to far behind?

  4. Moderate Mom says:

    The richest of the rich get richer, the poverty rate increases, and the middle class continues to lose ground. Doesn’t seem to matter which party is heading the Executive branch or the Houses of Congress, it’s just more of the same.

    People on the left and right are pissed off and fed up. Right now it doesn’t seem that this will be a typical election.

  5. Slugger says:

    I honestly don’t get it and would be interested in hearing from a supporter of Carson, Trump, or Fiorina. Whatever their personal merits in their private lives, none of them has held elective office. POTUS is the most important elective office in the world; surely no one thinks that it’s a good starter position. No matter how well spoken you are, real political leadership experience is not the same as giving a speech that rings the right bells. You can know the textbook backwards and forwards; you can give great talks on neuroanatomy, but you will still have to do years of apprenticeship before you’re ready to crack a skull. How do the people who poll for these candidates think the world works?

  6. legion says:

    I’d also like to point out something that doesn’t get nearly enough media attention… Ben Carson is a young-earth creationist. As in – the entire universe is less than 6000 years old. World-class surgeon he may be, but there is no accomplishment so bold that it spare you from ridicule if you espouse such a jaw-droppingly _dumb_ opinion.

  7. Deserttrek says:

    @legion: using the far left, racist and bigoted huffington post for a reference is reaching

  8. Pinky says:

    still can’t believe ben carson bragged about separating conjoined twins. america needs a uniter not a divider

    https://twitter.com/andylevy/status/629747927993462784

  9. gVOR08 says:

    he has a history of saying things that don’t seem grounded in reality

    What’s your point, Doug? This is a Republican primary.

  10. al-Ameda says:

    from Dr. Carson:

    “You know, Obama­care is really, I think, the worst thing that has happened in this na­tion since slavery. And it is, in a way it is slavery in a way be­cause it is mak­ing all of us sub­ser­vi­ent to the gov­ern­ment.”

    “I mean, [our so­ci­ety is] very much like Nazi Ger­many. And I know you’re not sup­posed to say ‘Nazi Ger­many,’ but I don’t care about polit­ic­al cor­rect­ness. You know, you had a gov­ern­ment us­ing its tools to in­tim­id­ate the pop­u­la­tion. We now live in a so­ci­ety where people are afraid to say what they ac­tu­ally be­lieve.”

    …. But he says all of this in such a nice, soft-spoken manner.

    Given the way this country is going – dumbing down rapidly – I can see why Carson appeals to 23% of Republicans, just 4 points less than the 27% crazification factor.

    In a related matter:

    Over that same period, Mr. Trump made modest gains, to 27 percent from 24 percent.

  11. C. Clavin says:

    @Deserttrek:
    Of course you resort to ad hominem attack…because you cannot argue the fact.
    Carson is widely know to be a creationist and a denier of climate change…both of which put him at odds with the vast majority of the scientists on this planet.
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/ben-carsons-creationist-views-spark-controvery-over-commencement-speech/2012/05/08/gIQAi0vsBU_blog.html
    http://www.theamericanconservative.com/2013/04/01/dr-ben-carson-creationist/
    Contribute something of substance…or go away troll.

  12. C. Clavin says:

    Notwithstanding the fact that he is quite obviously a skilled surgeon and an intelligent man

    Skilled surgeon…yes.
    Intelligent man…the facts in evidence would tend to contradict that statement.
    Intelligent men are not literal 7-day creationists, nor do intelligent men deny climate change science.

  13. Neil Hudelson says:

    Who would’ve guessed that the “No, really, without exaggeration, I completely believe that Nazi Germany, from the beer hall putsch, through kristalnacht, the invasion of Europe, and the extermination of 11 million Jews, Poles, Roma and homosexuals is absolutely a better situation than Obamacare” crowd and the “Unions are responsible for every single economic restriction facing our nation” crowd were so similar?

  14. Guarneri says:

    @Moderate Mom:

    Perhaps government isn’t the solution…..

  15. MarkedMan says:

    @Pinky:

    america needs a uniter not a divider

    Well played sir. Well played.

  16. Guarneri says:

    I do admit we need a career politician. Someone grounded in reality and the ways of Washington. Perhaps someone formerly in charge of her candidate husbands bimbo eruptions whose clear competency was smearing the integrity of the claimants………..and now assuming the mantle of protector and believer in any and all women’s assertions.

    THATS political talent! Or perhaps she just “evolved.” (Snicker).

  17. gVOR08 says:

    Is the ability to say in a calm tone that Obamacare is worse than the Nazis really a virtue?

  18. C. Clavin says:

    @Guarneri:
    What does that word salad mean?

  19. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Guarneri:

    Ok, I get it when people type “your” instead of “you’re” (or vice versa), as people often inadvertently type phonetically. Similarly, I’m ok with “its” and “it’s.” Who hasn’t made that mistake?
    But please, for the love of God, can everyone please learn that an ellipses is three dots: “…”

    Also, it’s cool that you would see an incredibly accomplished woman–a U.S. Senator and Secretary of State no less–and only see someone who handled “bimbo eruptions whose clear competency was smearing the integrity of the claimants.”

    I can’t imagine why conservatives and Republicans are having such a hard time reaching out to women.

    Related: it’s really surprising that, according to your past braggings, you are a Randian master of business, yet you can’t string together a simple sentence. In my experience, those two traits do not go hand in hand.

  20. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Slugger: I can’t speak for the views of actual supporters; I can only guess. My guess (at least as far as Carson goes) is that he is presenting himself as a relatively modest person who has the interests of the nation and the people at heart. For what it’s worth, that presentation is very attractive (even I find myself less worried about a Carson administration than I would be about Jeb! Walker, or Cruz, for example). As for Trump and Fiorina, I suspect that the attraction is what drew me to vote for Perot one time. I expected that he wouldn’t win, but thought that he might be able to secure the kinds of changes that I agreed would be good for the nation at the time if he did.

    When my brain takes back over, I see that all three are way out of their depth and swimming with the sharks.

  21. legion says:

    @Deserttrek: Are you… stupid? It’s a widely reported fact; one Carson himself doesn’t deny.

  22. Tillman says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    But please, for the love of God, can everyone please learn that an ellipses is three dots: “…”

    Way to represent the PC left, Neil. 🙂

  23. al-Ameda says:

    @Guarneri:

    Perhaps government isn’t the solution…..

    more to the point, perhaps Ben Carson isn’t the solution.

  24. An Interested Party says:

    I do admit we need a career politician. Someone grounded in reality and the ways of Washington.

    It’s funny that the usual idiots want experts to be in charge of every facet of life, except politics…I mean, using their logic, it would be far better to put a seasoned and successful politician in charge of a corporation rather than a businessman…

  25. Tillman says:

    His greatest credential to being a presidential nominee is his ability to speak Truth™ to power, not any mortal concerns of administrative capability or workable vision. His moment of fame was denouncing President Obama at some national prayer breakfast hogwash. While Cain might have made it as far as he did purely by being a black Republican (it couldn’t have been anything else), I think Carson is tapping the anti-establishment section of Republicans who are honestly repulsed by Trump. He was too Pawlenty in the debate to have impressed people considering the insane statements he’s made before.

    The problem with this particular section of the base that yearns for a political outsider is they’re divided on how brutish their outsider can be. Enough want a Gallic Roman to take the emperor’s throne over some Lombard barbarian to keep either from winning. If they united behind a compromise candidate, that quoted polling would be dire.

  26. Pete S says:

    Maybe the same idiots who want Carson to be president would like a career politician like Scott Walker to perform surgery on them? After all if training and experience don’t matter.

  27. Jim Henley says:

    Say this for Carson, he was actually good at his old job. That’s more than Trump or Fiorina can say. It’s kind of the difference between the Peter Principle and failing upward.

  28. MarkedMan says:

    @An Interested Party:

    put a seasoned and successful politician in charge of a corporation rather than a businessman…

    I can’t tell if you are being sarcastic or not, or rather, if you are being doubly sarcastic. But if you are one of those people that think being a successful businessman is good preparation for being a successful government executive, well, you are just really incredibly wrong. Ross Perot is the perfect example of this. I remember is big stick was that “If I were President I would just lock Tip Oneil and the other leaders in the room and wouldn’t let them out until an agreement was reached.” (I may be wrong about it being Tip O’neil, but you get the idea) Really? Sure, if you are a CEO and everyone works for you, you can make them stay in a room. How does he think a President would keep a congressman in the room if they didn’t want to stay there? Tell the Secret Service to shoot him if he tried to walk out? Merely making such a statement shows that you know so little about how a democracy works proves you would be made a fool of in your first week in office, and end up as a bitter ineffective hack.

  29. anjin-san says:

    @Moderate Mom:

    Doesn’t seem to matter which party is heading the Executive branch or the Houses of Congress, it’s just more of the same.

    Well, the last time the GOP held the White House, people were not “losing ground” they were losing everything. So it does kinda matter.

  30. anjin-san says:

    @Guarneri:

    Perhaps government isn’t the solution…..

    I don’t think I know anyone who thinks government is “the solution”. What they do think is that is is an important part of the equation – unless we simple want to turn the keys over to the new robber barons.

  31. Grewgills says:

    In both cases, you have candidates who have taken off at an extraordinary rate notwithstanding the fact that neither one of them has been very specific about what they would actually do as President or how they accomplish it.

    It is precisely because their positions and methods to achieve them are so vague that they are doing so well.

  32. Paul Hooson says:

    Carson is a brilliant doctor with a great life story. But, the minute he opens his mouth on politics, he comes across as a real wacko. He’s hardly the Republican Obama. He’s another Clarence Thomas…

  33. Electroman says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I can’t tell if you are being sarcastic or not, or rather, if you are being doubly sarcastic.

    *ahem* Yes, yes. A thousand times yes.

  34. David in KC says:

    Dr. Carson is a very skilled neurosurgeon, but while his intelligence is a mile deep, it’s only an inch wide.

  35. DrDaveT says:

    @anjin-san:

    I don’t think I know anyone who thinks government is “the solution”. What they do think is that is is an important part of the equation

    Indeed — Adam Smith absolutely hammered on that point in An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Anyone who thinks Smith would have approved of laissez-faire has never read the book.

  36. An Interested Party says:

    But if you are one of those people that think being a successful businessman is good preparation for being a successful government executive…

    Let me assure you that I am not one of those idiots…the point I was trying to make is that if it is appropriate to have a seasoned businessman head a corporation why is it wrong to have a seasoned politician in government…

  37. Grewgills says:

    @An Interested Party:
    Because business good, politics bad.

  38. DrDaveT says:

    @DrDaveT: I’d love to know who downvoted Adam Smith here. Who knew Bernie Sanders had so many fans?

  39. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @anjin-san: Since Drew Guaranari, as far as I can tell, believes himself to be one of the robber barons, my thought is that he’d probably be okay with that.