Donald Trump, Ben Carson Lead The GOP Field Heading Into Second Debate

Donald Trump and Ben Carson remain at the top of the Republican Presidential field heading into the second debate on Wednesday.

Republican Debate August 6

As we head into the next Republican debate, the race looks about the same as it has for the better part of two months now, and it’s unclear just when or how that’s going to to change.

On the state level, a new set of polls of the early primary states shows Donald Trump and Ben Carson leading and most of the rest of the field lagging behind. In the new round of polls, conducted by CBS News and YouGov, Donald Trump leads the Republican field in Iowa with 29%, with Ben Carson continuing to gain in the Hawkeye State and now behind him by only four points at 25%. Ted Cruz is in third place at 10%, which is better than he’s done in other polling in the state recently, with the rest of the field down below double digits. In New Hampshire, Trump’s lead is at an astounding 40%, with Carson far behind in second place at 12%, John Kasich at 9%, and Carly Fiorina at 9%. Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, who had previously been in the top two in the Granite State, were far behind at 6% and 3% respectively. In South Carolina, Trump leads the field at 36%, with Carson at 12% and Ted Cruz leading the rest of the back at 6%. As I’ve noted before, YouGov’s online polling isn’t always necessarily trustworthy, and it’s often led to results that tend to exaggerate Trump’s lead compared to other polling. Nonetheless, it is consistent with the trends that we’ve seen in the race so far. In Iowa, for example, Trump now has a 6.4 point lead in the RealClearPolitics average, while candidates like Scott Walker and Jeb Bush continue to drop in the polls. In New Hampshire, Trump is lead is now an average 23.6 points, which is closet opponent John Kasich more than 20 points behind him. Finally, in South Carolina Trump is averaging a 16.7 point lead in the polls, and even South Carolina’s ‘favorite son’ Lindsey Graham isn’t having much of an impact on the race. Even accepting the idea that these latest YouGov polls are exaggerating Trump’s position slightly, it’s clear that he’s the undisputed frontrunner in the race.

The situation is much the same in the national race:

Twothirds of the Republicans who say they are looking for non-political experience currently support either Trump or Carson — the foundation of the wide division between the two outsiders and the rest of a field made up almost exclusively of traditional politicians. Several of these current or former elected officials registered new lows in the survey.

Their next big chance to reverse their fortunes comes at a debate Wednesday evening at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., that will feature the top 11 candidates. The debate, hosted by CNN, will begin at 8 p.m. Eastern time. There will be an earlier forum, beginning at 6  p.m., for the candidates who did not qualify for the main debate.

The new poll found Trump to be the favorite of 33 percent of registered Republicans and ­Republican-leaning independents. That is a jump of nine percentage points since mid-July and a 29-point increase since late May, just before Trump announced his candidacy. He does well with most groups of GOP voters, but his strongest support comes from those who do not have a college degree and those with incomes below $50,000.

Carson runs second at 20 percent, 14 points higher than in July. His surge is consistent with several other national polls that show him moving up the ranks since the first Republican debate in Cleveland last month. Carson’s base is more strongly rooted in the conservative wing of the party.

After Trump and Carson, there is a significant falloff in support for the other candidates. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who began the year as the nominal GOP front-runner, stands at 8 percent, his lowest ever in Post-ABC surveys of the 2016 field. Next, at 7 percent each, are Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida. No one else registered above 5 percent.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie either tied or registered their lowest levels of support in Post-ABC polls of the 2016 race dating to the beginning of 2014.

Walker suffered the steepest decline since the July survey, falling from 13 percent to 2 percent. Recent polls in Iowa, where Walker had been leading, also have shown a loss of support.

These numbers are largely consistent with the national poll that was released by CNN last week, although in that case Scott Walker’s position was slightly better in that he registered 5% rather than merely 2%, although either number is fairly bad and a good indication that his campaign is in trouble. More broadly, the national poll average shows Trump and Carson comfortably at the top of the pack, with Bush, Cruz, and Rubio in the second tier, Fiorina, Walker, and Huckabee, making up the third tier, and Paul, Kasich, and Christie bringing up the rear among the candidates that will be on the prime time debate stage. The remaining candidates, all of whom will be featured in the early debate that will air at 6pm Eastern, are either a or near 1% in the polls and basically non-entities.

Heading into the debate, these poll numbers give us a good idea of what we ought to expect from the candidates. With Trump at the top of the field, it’s obvious that he’ll be getting most of the attention both from the moderators and from the other candidates. Already, we’ve seen candidates such as Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, and, although he won’t be on the same stage as Trump, Bobby Jindal, level increasingly strong attacks against the frontrunner, typically aimed at attacking his claims to be a conservative while simultaneously having a record of positions that seems more at home in the Democratic Party. Some of these attacks have also started to become more personal, although it’s unclear is anyone will actually have the nerve to engage in those kinds of attacks when the cameras are rolling. It reminds one somewhat of the situation in 2011 when former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty had spent the better part of the month leading up to a debate in August 2011 attacking Mitt Romney and then, when given the opportunity to do so in person, only to back down in a move that most observers interpreted as a sign of weakness. If that happens with the candidates who have spent the better part of the past month taking on Trump, then it’s likely to damage them further in the polls.

The coming debate will also likely be a test for two candidates who have largely gone unnoticed until they started rising in the polls in the past few weeks. Ben Carson has quietly risen in the polls over the past several weeks thanks largely to his outsider status, but his new prominence is also likely to lead to the kind of attention that a more serious a candidate is exposed to, and it’s not clear that the retired neurosurgeon can stand up under that pressure. In the past, Carson has come across as soft spoken, not very aggressive, and not exactly up to speed on policy issues. While Carson has been able to ride his outsider status and his appeal to religious conservatives to second place in the polls so far, it’s not clear how long that can last once he’s exposed to the realities of the campaign trail. Similarly former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina largely made her way onto the main stage this week thanks to the fact that she appeared to be a giant among midgets at the “Kids Table” debate in August. So far, that has only manged to give her a slight bump in the polls that has been sufficient to get her on to the main stage, but clearly wouldn’t be enough for her to be considered a serious contender going forward. The question for Fiorina will be whether she can do as well on a stage with ten other people as she did on one with just seven, most of whom were largely ineffectual. And, of course, hovering about all of this will be the media presence that is Donald Trump. Last time around, Trump garnered more television time than any of the other debate participants, and that’s likely to happen this time around. Given that, it’s unclear if anyone will be able to breakthrough.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held 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 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. C. Clavin says:

    Carson has come across as soft spoken, not very aggressive, and not exactly up to speed on policy issues.

    Not a single Republican candidate is up to speed on policy issues.
    Not a single thing they say is true.
    Their stands on the Iran deal are based on nonsense.
    They misstate the facts on Planned Parenthood.
    Their economic policies are based on unicorn tears.
    They are in denial of science on climate change.
    The list goes on.
    To watch one of these debates is to witness the dumb and the ignorant…or a pack of liars. You choose which.

  2. James Pearce says:

    Two–thirds of the Republicans who say they are looking for non-political experience currently support either Trump or Carson

    I think it’s funny that people who for years decried Obama’s lack of experience have now chosen by their own free will the “no experience” route. It rather exposes those “community organizer” complaints as insincere, dunnit?

    Would Republican voters even be looking at Trump/Carson now if it weren’t for Obama’s success? Many of them are probably thinking a variation of “Maybe he’ll come out of nowhere and get stuff done like that other guy.” The imitative nature of the thing is rather obvious.

    Last time around, Trump garnered more television time than any of the other debate participants, and that’s likely to happen this time around. Given that, it’s unclear if anyone will be able to breakthrough.

    The breakthrough has already happened. Trump’s the guy.

    In the new Avengers movie, the Avengers realize they can’t defeat Ultron alone. They must do it “together.” Cue up the 360 Hero shot, Thor swinging his hammer, Hawkeye shooting an arrow, Hulk roaring, and those brassy horns.

    The only way the other Republican hopefuls can beat Trump is together, and elections just don’t work like that.

  3. C. Clavin says:

    An interesting take on how the “Both Sides Do It” fetish, which Doug is particularly fond of participating in, helped create Trump and empowers the Republican know-nothings.

  4. Pinky says:

    @James Pearce: That’s the fallacy of composition, or maybe division, assuming that the people who complained about Obama’s inexperience are the same ones who want candidates without experience. I think it may be both fallacies, because you’re assuming that a characteristic of a portion applies to the group, then assuming that the characteristic of the group applies to the portion. Most of the complaints about Obama’s inexperience came from the party-types and most of the calls for candidates without experience come from the tea-party-types.

  5. Tillman says:

    The strategists have to be consulting many entrails and tea leaves these coming nights. The paradigm already shifted when it turned out people liked Donald Trump more than Megyn Kelly. Becoming confrontational against him seems like the way to go, but Trump has proven that the current field is not known for its collective wit. They can’t attack him with purity tests lest he point out their own failings; they can’t attack him for incivility because he can label them PC, thus Democrat-lite; they can’t even attack him for his lack of policy achievement without drawing attention to political narratives of wealth inequality they’d prefer to avoid as a party and possibly insulting their donor base. They can’t wound him without wounding themselves. The only way through would be to exceed his wit in the moment, but politicians are not born witty. It’s a practiced skill for them.

    As the mentor’s campaign flails from Trump’s relentless assault, it’s time for the manatee to rise. He can deliver whatever’s left of the Florida Republican machine with the right endorsements. He’s young, and the only thing against him is previous stumbles to power. Just crack that frickin’ shell already and become the psychopath you were always meant to be, Marco!

    It’s amazing how much potential is squandered there.

  6. James Pearce says:


    I think it may be both fallacies, because you’re assuming that a characteristic of a portion applies to the group, then assuming that the characteristic of the group applies to the portion.

    If anything, I’m assuming sincerity somewhere, trying to reconcile what appear to be irreconcilable views. It’s a fact that Obama had faced questions about his experience, which always seemed a bit weird coming from a type that prizes “Washington outsiders,” but hey, whatever. Assume good faith, until that assumption proves you an idiot.

    Now we’re being told that non-politicians are hot, a description that even Senator Obama from Illinois couldn’t fit. Is it because the right suddenly decided “executive experience” wasn’t important?

    Or was it never really that important, proving all those knocks against Obama as mere partisan mud-slinging?

    Now if you want to argue the right is split up into factions, one which prizes experience, and one that doesn’t…not really….then, okay. My point still stands: Obama’s success as president, meep meep and all that, has tilted the right away from “experienced” candidates and towards the untested. It’s a long shot bet on repeatability, and well…it’s one I wouldn’t make.

    Maybe Obama’s success didn’t come from being a relative outsider with no experience. Maybe it came from some quality that Obama has that Trump/Carson doesn’t?

  7. bob says:

    Carson thinks the constitution is a regional choice.–Asked by Beck for his thoughts on the Second Amendment, Carson gave the popular pro-gun argument: “There’s a reason for the Second Amendment; people do have the right to have weapons.”

    But when asked whether people should be allowed to own “semi-automatic weapons,” the doctor replied: “It depends on where you live.”

    “I think if you live in the midst of a lot of people, and I’m afraid that that semi-automatic weapon is going to fall into the hands of a crazy person, I would rather you not have it,” Carson elaborated.

    However, if you live “out in the country somewhere by yourself” and want to own a semi-automatic weapon, he added, “I’ve no problem with that.”

    Watch below, via TheBlaze: TRUMP 2016

  8. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Pinky: I think if you go back in time, you will see that “tea party types” did their own carping about Obama’s inexperience, too. In your case, you will complain that I’m being unfair in noting that because the tea party types were only parroting what the party types were saying, but since I really don’t care whether you think I’m being fair or not, go ahead and make your counterclaim.

  9. Pinky says:

    @James Pearce: I appreciate the assumption of good faith.

  10. DrDaveT says:

    @Tillman: Your (excellent) analysis of the non-Trump dilemma led me to an analogy that tastes right:

    Donald Trump is the biker boyfriend that the Republican base just brought home to meet the folks. Mom and Dad are stumped — they can’t denigrate their daughter’s taste in men without pissing her off. They certainly can’t denigrate the biker’s taste in women. And they really can’t explain to Missy that Spike can’t possibly be interested in her mind without hurting her deeply.

  11. Tyrell says:

    Another debate, another diversionary, planned, programmed forum designed to keep the people’s attention on non issues. The moderators themselves sound more like the candidates, injecting their own views and opinions.
    We have seen our leaders focused on such pertinent and impactful issues such as e mails, flags, and names of mountains.
    The people are being blindfolded.

  12. Dave Francis says:

    ALL of these presidential candidates have little to say about the illegal alien problem. They are all closed mouthed and probably scared of their own shadow. Mr. Donald Trump is completely different from the pack, and is not hindered in saying anything that is the truth and that is exactly what people want to hear the truth? The rhetoric is finally old hat and the majority of the population is not listening anymore? They want change! Trumps greatest advantage to me and millions of millions of average American, they cannot buy his loyalty. All of a sudden the career professionals on both side of the aisle in Congress cannot offer any special favors to the wealthy donors.

    Myself, the family circle have had it on trust with both parties and so has the unknown numbers of people throughout the United States that are ready to collectively vote for Trump. You cannot even have any credence in the REAL numbers of illegal aliens in our nation, as the government fudges so much on any statistics?

    That’s what we want and always needed a true outsider who is not looking for a handout cash to fill their campaigns and their own bank accounts. Jeb Bush cannot touch trump or even Madam Clinton; Ben Carson is really too timid to fight the deal makers or those who are falling behind in the polls. A billionaire, where money is no object and a chance ‘TO MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN’; somebody who is worth voting for, to bring back all the jobs to our country again, and more jobs for every new and genuine American; jobs for people who have given up and can hardly put food on the table? Food stamps were never the answer, except to those people who prefer to be a parasite on the working man or women. No matter whom you are and as long as you’re here in the United States legally, then you will be eligible for a job.

    Forget the Birthright Citizenship controversy; the Feds need to run Mandatory E-Verify without any immunity. How can an enforcement tool, work to its full capacity if it’s optional? Its about time employers were accountable for using illegal workers, instead of hiring Americans. Paying low wages in any industry should be severely punished. Every American of any race, color or religion should be first for any job, and not foreign nationals? Business owners deserve prison and hefty fines.

    The National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd, testified before the House Oversight Committee earlier last week and projected that the agency has only accomplished operational control for approximately 40% of the U.S.-Mexico border. Former President Bush signature on the 2006 Secure Fence Act had an obligation that DHS attain operational control along the entire Southern border.

    US Border Patrol agents testified about the porous and brutal conditions facing them on the southern border.

    Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, (R-Utah) first questioned Director of Customs and Border Protection’s joint task force, Robert L. Harris, on the topic of operational control, but he wouldn’t articulate how much was under control. Operational control means that the government in that area is ready and capable of interdiction or apprehending illegal aliens crossing the border.

    Brandon Judd said.” I would say we would be lucky if it we’re 40 percent”

    Councilor Judd also said that one out of every five illegal aliens caught along the border in 2014 have a criminal record. Nearly half of the criminal aliens that were deported had aggravated felonies, helping to explain some of the violence in the different sectors.

    “This is the challenge we are facing at the border today,” Judd said. “There are those who will point to lower apprehension rates and tell you the border is secure. Border Patrol agents, however, throughout this nation will tell you the border is not secure and the southwest border certainly is not safe.”
    DHS also revealed this week that only 36 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border has effective double fencing. That came in response to a letter sent to the agency by Senate Judiciary Committee Member, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). DHS also said that 66% of the border had no fencing at all. The agency said:
    • 1,300 miles have no fencing (66.5%)
    • 299.8 miles have vehicle fence (15.3%)
    • 316.6 miles of pedestrian fence (16.2%)
    • 36.3 miles of double-layer fencing (.02%)
    • The current total for primary fencing to be 352.9 miles. 316.6 single layer plus 36.3 miles of double layer = 352.9 miles of primary fencing.

    I really hope Mr. Donald Trump has takes the time to read about this disgraceful travesty. Why is it that King Obama hasn’t deployed the national guards into these places? Go in with Apache helicopters, mini guns and even tanks and clean out these ‘Hell holes” Are we so naive to protect our own country from these animals, who kill without thought? Continuously we have been lied to by the top leaders in the Democratic and Republican Party? King Obama has put the cuffs on the Border agents only to process and not taken into detention.

    I read: Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, whose county lies at the center of major drug and alien smuggling routes to Phoenix and cities east and west, attests to the violence. He said his deputies are outmanned and outgunned by drug traffickers in the rough-hewn desert stretches of his own county.
    “Mexican drug cartels literally do control parts of Arizona,” he said. “They literally have scouts on the high points in the mountains and in the hills and they literally control movement. They have radios, they have optics, and they have night-vision goggles as good as anything law enforcement has.

    “This is going on here in Arizona,” he said. “This is 70 to 80 miles from the border – 30 miles from the fifth-largest city in the United States.”

    This is what I have been saying all the time; when just a few years ago I drove to the Arizona border region and saw it for myself? The signs were posted by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) along a 60-mile stretch of Interstate 8 between Casa Grande and Gila Bend, a major east-west corridor linking Tucson and Phoenix with San Diego. Land—our own country and you’re told to stay away. Why is billions of our tax dollars spent to defend foreign countries when we are losing American territory to a bunch of criminals? Citizens should be able to travel highways in southern Arizona without fearing for their lives. Ranchers and other residents should be able to live safely on their property — which they do not.

  13. Tillman says:

    @Dave Francis: Part of that is the fact that Arizona’s only livable if you have air conditioning, so the criminals there are hardcore sweaters. If you’re a criminal (or brigand I guess, at this point) out in the desert, you’d better be making some damn money.

    Otherwise, the rest of what you wrote barely qualifies as coherent, and what coheres is…illustrating.

  14. James Pearce says:

    @Dave Francis:

    Trumps greatest advantage to me and millions of millions of average American, they cannot buy his loyalty.

    Donald Trump can’t be bought?

    He’s a businessman and a billionaire. He most assuredly can be bought, and the price can be measured in US Dollars. Indeed, Trump’s more likely to be bought than a politician because he’s more likely to see it as a mere transaction rather than an ethical breech.

    He’s also not going to do anything about illegal immigration. Sorry.

    Gold stars for enthusiasm, but you should probably temper it with some cynicism. Might be the best to stave off the inevitable disappointment.

  15. Todd says:

    @Dave Francis:

    Citizens should be able to travel highways in southern Arizona without fearing for their lives. Ranchers and other residents should be able to live safely on their property

    This is such utter and complete bullshit.

    I live in southeast Arizona, about 15 miles from the border. I regularly going hiking (unarmed) in the mountains and canyons around here. Since I’m a night shift worker, sometimes on my nights off, I’ll go for walks around my town at 2 or 3am, also unarmed. I have never felt the least bit unsafe in this area. To be perfectly honest, by far the worst thing about living this close to the Mexican border is the ridiculous 4th Amendment violating border patrol checkpoints that I have to go through every time I want to leave town, and again when I take I-10 to visit my family in Texas.

  16. Todd says:

    I think both Trump and Carson just reinforce how cynical most Republican voters are.

    Trump shows us that if you talk enough crap about Liberals and RINOs, you can absolutely get away with holding some issue positions that don’t even approach, let alone toe, the Conservative party line.

    Carson is an example of an even worse phenomena. I’ve already had friends point to their support of Carson as “proof” of how non-racist they really are. To me, support for Carson is almost proof of just the opposite. To believe that Ben Carson has any chance of being elected President of the United States in 2016, you almost have to believe (as a depressingly large percentage of my Conservative friends appear to) that Barack Obama won the Presidency twice because he is black, rather than in spite of it.

  17. al-Ameda says:

    @Dave Francis:

    Myself, the family circle have had it on trust with both parties and so has the unknown numbers of people throughout the United States that are ready to collectively vote for Trump. You cannot even have any credence in the REAL numbers of illegal aliens in our nation, as the government fudges so much on any statistics?

    My family (my father, 8 siblings) is as conservative as any I know, and they do not take Trump seriously at all. They like some of the things he’s saying, but do not believe that he’s in it for the long run. The only candidate I’ve heard any of them express any interest in at all is Ted Cruz.