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.
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.