Donald Trump Still Leads The GOP Race In First Post-Debate Polls

The first significant national polls taken in the wake of last week's debate show that Donald Trump has slipped somewhat, but still remains the clear leader of the Republican race for President.

Republican Debate September 16

Two new post-debate polls of the Republican race for President show that Donald Trump is still in the lead, that Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson continue to perform well, and Scott Walker is close to becoming a non-entity.

First up, there’s a new CNN/ORC poll that shows that Trump has dropped while Fiorina has risen:

Carly Fiorina shot into second place in the Republican presidential field on the heels of another strong debate performance, and Donald Trump has lost some support, a new national CNN/ORC poll shows.

The survey, conducted in the three days after 23 million people tuned in to Wednesday night’s GOP debate on CNN, shows that Trump is still the party’s front-runner with 24% support. That, though, is an 8 percentage point decrease from earlier in the month when a similar poll had him at 32%.

Fiorina ranks second with 15% support — up from 3% in early September. She’s just ahead of Ben Carson’s 14%, though Carson’s support has also declined from 19% in the previous poll.

Driving Trump’s drop and Fiorina’s rise: a debate in which 31% of Republicans who watched said Trump was the loser, and 52% identified Fiorina as the winner.

During the CNN debate, Fiorina clashed with Trump over his personal attacks and their business records and scored points for her condemnation of Planned Parenthood.

The top three contenders underscore a key theme in the 2016 race: In a jampacked GOP presidential field, the leading candidates are the only ones who have never held political office.

But one established politician has seen his standing rise after flashing foreign policy chops on the debate stage. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida — identified as Wednesday’s winner by 14% of Republicans, putting him second behind Fiorina — is now in fourth place with 11% support, up from 3% in a previous poll.

In fifth place is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, at 9%. He’s followed by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at 6% each, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky at 4%, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at 3%, Ohio Gov. John Kasich at 2% and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania at 1%.

Five other candidates received less than one-half of 1 percentage point support: former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former New York Gov. George Pataki and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Walker’s collapse is especially stark.

Celebrated by conservatives — in the party’s base and its donor class alike — for his union-busting efforts in Wisconsin, Walker at one point led the field in the key early voting state of Iowa.

His support had already dropped to 5% in a CNN/ORC poll in early September, but the bottom appears to have fallen out completely since then — with a second flat debate performance coming after criticism of his disparate answers on issues like birthright citizenship.

The poll also shows that Carson, Fiorina, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio gained in popularity in the wake of last week’s debate, but when it comes to the issues, Republicans are still behind Trump:

About 44% of likely GOP voters say they see Trump as the candidate who could best handle the economy — well ahead of his nearest competitors: Fiorina at 11%, Rubio at 10% and Bush at 8%.

Trump also wins on immigration, with 47% saying he could best address the issue, ahead of second-place Rubio’s 15% and Bush’s 9%.

He even edges Rubio, 22% to 17%, on who could best handle foreign policy.

The poll offered some good overall news for Republicans: 65% of GOP voters said they are either “extremely” or “very” enthusiastic about voting in the 2016 presidential race, compared with 51% of Democrats.

In a second poll from NBC News and Survey Monkey, respondents said that Fiorina “won” the debate, but Donald Trump continues to lead the GOP field:

More than a third of Republican voters say that Carly Fiorina performed best in the Wednesday night debate on CNN. But debate performances don’t translate into vote preference overnight, and Donald Trump maintains his position at the top of the Republican pack, according to the latest NBC News online survey conducted by SurveyMonkey from Wednesday through Friday.

When the candidates’ negative performance percentages are subtracted from their positive percentages, Fiorina emerges the clear winner, with a positive 34, whereas Trump nets a positive 2 among Republican voters who watched or followed the debate coverage. Marco Rubio and Ben Carson also received positive reviews from Republican voters who followed the debate, with net scores of 8 and 5. Rand Paul fared poorly, scoring a negative 13.

Republican debate watchers were divided over who appeared most presidential during the debate. Despite a tepid score for his overall debate performance, 17% of Republican voters said that Trump was the most presidential — but that wasn’t significantly different than Carly Fiorina or Jeb Bush (14%) or Ben Carson (13%). Marco Rubio was the only other candidate to get a double-digit score on appearing presidential, with 11%.

Debates alone rarely move poll numbers in big ways, and Trump continues to lead the crowded field with 29 percent of Republican and independent voters who lean Republican saying they would cast their vote for him. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina remain on an upward trajectory, now filling in the second and third spots. Jeb Bush is holding steady at 8%, about the same level of support he’s seen since April in NBC News/SurveyMonkey polling. During that same period, Scott Walker has seen his support shrink from 12% to just 3% in our latest poll.

However, nearly a third of Republican voters now say that they expect Donald Trump will be the eventual nominee. When we first asked the question back in April, Trump and Fiorina had not yet announced their candidacies, and Scott Walker was leading the field. Back then, 24% thought Jeb Bush would be the eventual nominee. More than 1 in 5 currently say they don’t know who will win, showing that there’s still plenty of time for candidates to rise and fall during the next few months, as voters start to make up their minds.

Many pundits are pointing out that Trump has declined to some extent in these first post-debate polls, and others have pointed to other polling out of New Hampshire that allegedly shows Fiorina jumping ahead of Trump in the Granite State as well as a national poll purporting to show Fiorina tied with Trump at 22%, although it’s worth noting that either of these polls are from organizations that are considered reliable. No doubt, many Republicans who have spent the summer looking with dread on Trump’s rise and the impact that he was having on the level of discourse in the race and the supporters he was attracting to the party. However, while Trump has slipped in the CNN/ORC poll, and the RealClearPolitics average shows him taking a bit of a drop, it is far too early to say that we’ve seen the end of the Trump phenomenon. As the NBC poll shows, by far he is seen as Republicans as the person most likely to be the party’s nominee next year, and while that may not ultimately end up being true it does tend to lead one to believe that his level of support will remain relatively stable for the foreseeable future. Given the fact that he is in a field of sixteen other people, that’s likely to be enough to keep him at the top of the race, and in the news, for some time to come.

Beyond Trump, it seems clear that the candidates will benefit the most from last weeks’ debate are Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson. Both were already in strong positions behind Trump before the debate, and the fact that they’ve gotten generally good reviews from people on the right for their performance on Wednesday will likely cause them to rise higher. In the short term at least, it seems likely that Fiorina will benefit the most from the debate and the media exposure that she has gotten since then both because she is far better spoken, and seems to be far more knowledgeable, on the issues that Carson and because Carson has a continued ability to put his foot in his mouth in a way that only leads to negative press coverage, as we learned again today. Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush also appear to have benefited from the debate, with Rubio rising into double digits in the CNN poll and Bush not far behind, although they remain below 8% in the RealClearPolitics average. After those two candidates, the rest of the field drops off quickly, with Huckabee, Cruz, and Paul in the middle of the pack and Christie slipping down to 3%.

If anyone can be classified as the loser from last week’s debate, though, it would be Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Once again, the general consensus was that his performance at the debate was sub-par at best, and his post-debate complaining about not getting enough airtime from the moderators came across as entirely un-Presidential. In the CNN poll, Walker polled worse than Lindsey Graham and is down below 1% with Bobby Jindal and Lindsey Graham. The Wisconsin does somewhat better in the NBC poll, but even there he only comes in at 3% and his poll average is now down below 2% and it’s unclear if he will even qualify for the next Republican debate at the end of October. As I’ve noted before Walker’s campaign has been in serious trouble for some time now. These polls seem to indicate that it will only get worse for him.

As we go forward, we’re likely to get several more post-debate polls that will make the state of the race clearer. Perhaps they will in fact show that Trump is beginning to fade while Carson and, especially, Fiorina rise, but at this point it is far too early and there is far too little data to say that this is the case. Additionally, given the way that Trump has conducted himself it seems clear that a modest decline in the polls would only cause him to turn up the volume on his outrageousness. Considering the fact that those tactics served him well during the summer, there’s no reason to believe they won’t work again. Whether Republicans like it or not, Donald Trump is going to be setting the tone of the race for their nomination for the foreseeable future.


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


  1. Facebones says:

    Perhaps Walker can change his campaign song to “Can’t buy me love,” since a billion Koch Brothers dollars can’t make anyone like him.

    I’m honestly surprised how hard he’s fallen. I thought it would come down to him and Jeb! at the end. Thank Trump for his collapse.

  2. Russ says:

    The national press has lost all believability and credibilty by not calling out Fiorna’s lie abour the non existant Planned Parenthood video she says she viewed. The camels back is broken in my opinion.
    As John Mayer sang, “when you own the information you can bend it all you want”.

  3. Gustopher says:

    @Russ: or, does the Liberal Media want the Republicans to nominate someone who makes banning abortion their top campaign promise?

    Americans are, by and large, pro-choice. This could ensure a Democratic sweep, with clear control of the Senate, and slicing down the Republican majority in the House.

    Never underestimate the Liberal Media.

  4. al-Ameda says:

    Carly Fiorina is the latest Republican mirage – the delusion that a Republican female candidate can appeal to Democratic women voters, just as GOP strategists thought Sarah Palin would cause crossover voting, or changed party affiliation, that ideology just did not matter.

    In 2010 GOP strategists figured that Carly Fiorina would finally be that Republican female candidate for the senate who could-and-would siphon moderate Democratic women away from *socialist* Barbara Boxer. Final score? Boxer 52% Fiorina 42%. And, in an analogy to national voting patterns – Boxer won Blue State CA, and Fiorina won Red State CA.

    Carly Fiorina holds extremely anti-choice views, which hurt her here in CA. Also, Fiorina will, at some point, have to answer for her unsuccessful tenure as CEO of HP, for the very public layoff of over 30,000 workers, and the then-questionable and subsquently poor decision to burn $25B to acquire Compaq which did nothing for HP.

  5. michael reynolds says:


    Plus the printers still don’t work worth a damn.

  6. Lit3Bolt says:


    This about HP. Republicans brag that government should be run “like a business,” which in Trump and Fiorina’s cases, mean multiple bankruptcies and running an industry standard like HP into the ground so hard that the remains are still smoldering.

    I’m becoming more and more convinced these polls are made up as the rest of the gossipy Beltway media carnival. “A poll,” “Democratic insiders,” “Senior government officials,” etc. They have every reason to lie, and every reason to believe that not a single soul will bother to fact-check or corroborate their breathless rumors and claims and assertions because by tomorrow the Dow will be down or there’ll be another shooting massacre or it’s the first day of Fall, and here’s pictures of PUPPIES!! By the time someone does the shoeleather fact-checking, no one cares and it is literally only of academic interest by journalism professors.

    Here’s my prediction: Republican voters, even in Iowa, will want to beat HRC more than rub Trump in the faces of the establishment. Ergo, an actual politician will be selected, meaning someone who’s actually campaigned all season and won an election or two.

  7. Mr. Prosser says:

    @Facebones: As Charles Pierce says, “Watching Scotty Blow.”

  8. michael reynolds says:

    If the US were run like a business the first thing we’d do is shed the underperforming sectors. Like the deep south, which sucks in tax money and gives very little in return. No CEO would ever hold onto Mississippi, we’d spin it off into its own little failed state. Lose the deep south and our GDP per capita would rise, our costs would drop, and yay, profit! Then of course our mythical CEO would slash the military, sell the national parks, and most likely eliminate Social Security and Medicare.

    More Republican stupidity and magical thinking.

  9. Gustopher says:


    Carly Fiorina is the latest Republican mirage – the delusion that a Republican female candidate can appeal to Democratic women voters, just as GOP strategists thought Sarah Palin would cause crossover voting, or changed party affiliation, that ideology just did not matter.

    I think her appeal is something much more basic — spite. The belief that Democrats will be pissed off that someone who “should” be a Democrat because of their race or gender is a Republican. Case in point:

    This is why Herman Cain got a boomlet last cycle, and Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson are benefiting from it this cycle. Tokenism and novelty gives them a higher profile among a field of unknowns. To succeed, they would need to make good use of the extra attention, and not just fall on their face or fizzle out.

    (This person on the left thinks that it is progress — Republicans talking up their minority candidates are also spiting the Stormfront Wing of the Republican Party, rather than sheepishly embracing it, and that’s a good thing)

    Well, I’ll say this: Herman Cain ran a successful pizza company. Carly Fiorina just ran HP into the ground. If you believe success in business means someone will be a success in government, then Carly Fiorina is no Herman Cain.

  10. Franklin says:

    I wouldn’t compare Fiorina to Palin, to be honest. She may take many of the same positions, but she seems a LOT smarter. Not that that’s saying much.

    Carson is probably dead in the water, he had his peak and I don’t see that happening twice.

    I clearly can’t predict Trump, so I’ll stop trying. He may be gone in a few weeks, or he may be the nominee.

    Jeb will be in it for the long haul, I would guess him vs. Fiorina at the end (as the so-called “serious” candidates).

  11. DrDaveT says:


    I wouldn’t compare Fiorina to Palin, to be honest. She may take many of the same positions, but she seems a LOT smarter.

    She is — but that doesn’t negate al-Ameda’s point. Fiorina’s intelligence or lack thereof is irrelevant to the GOP’s decision process in deciding whether or not to run her. To them, she’s a female, and thus should draw tribal loyalty votes from other females. They think it’s that simple.

  12. Tyrell says:

    @Lit3Bolt: I don’t know about that. I remember a few years ago there was talk that HP was finished, done for. Yet the stores around here that sell electronics are lined with HP, front and center. Dell is second, with Lenovo or Acer next. Gateway ? Don’t see them anymore. They used to advertise on tv a lot.
    As far as these “debates”, no surprises. Programmed, scripted, sanitized diversions. The moderators are giving opinions and trying to control the candidates. All planned out.
    Now the attention turns to the pope. What will he say ? Announce ?

  13. elocs says:

    Walker’s plunge in the polls has been precipitous but that was predictable once people saw that he had no substance. He is a big fish in his little Wisconsin pond where he has a legislature and Supreme Court to back him up along with a well funded Koch political machine to grease the wheels. He will be relegated to the second tier in the next debate–how the mighty in their own mind have fallen. This means he will return more quickly an unhappy camper to Wisconsin and set about giving as much of the state away to reward the rich in his contempt for the poor and needy. Although he has another 3 years in office he has to know he will never be reelected again.

  14. Matt says:

    @Tyrell: HP fired her oops I mean bribed her to leave in 2005. HP has made a nice recovery since her departure.