Republican Race Shaken Up After First Debate, But Trump Still Leads

There have been some changes in the race for the Republican nomination.

Republican Debate August 6

A new Fox News poll of the Republican race for President shows that there has been some significant movement by some candidates, but Donald Trump remains the leader by an increasingly comfortable margin:

The explosive first Republican debate has shaken up the 2016 GOP presidential race.

Who’s up?  Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and businesswoman Carly Fiorina.  Who’s down? Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.


Businessman Donald Trump still leads the field for the Republican nomination.  He gets 25 percent among GOP primary voters.  He was at 26 percent before the debate.  Trump’s support among women went from 24 percent two weeks ago to 21 percent now.  He mostly held steady among men (28 percent).

The real-estate mogul maintains his first-place status despite also being judged in the poll as having the worst debate performance and being considered the least likeable Republican candidate.  More on that later.

The August 6 Republican presidential debate was hosted by Fox News Channel in Cleveland.  Several of the exchanges at the debate remained in the news for days after.

Next in the GOP race is Carson, who garners 12 percent.  That’s up five percentage points since the debate and puts him in double-digits for the first time since mid-June.  Cruz captures 10 percent, up four points.

Bush has dropped to nine percent.  That’s down six points — and puts him in single digits for the first time since April.  That’s likely a result of his debate performance, which was judged subpar by those who watched.  Bush does well on other measures — he’s seen as both likeable and qualified.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee held steady at six percent.  Walker slips to six percent — down three points and the lowest support he’s received for more than a year.

Fiorina garners five percent support (+3 points), with Kasich (+1) and Rubio (-1) both at four percent.  New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Paul each get three percent.  The remaining candidates are at one percent or less.

The top favorites among the white evangelical Christians are Trump (27 percent), Carson (14 percent), Cruz (12 percent), Bush (10 percent) and Huckabee (9 percent).

The biggest losers in the poll are the same people who have been seeing their poll numbers dropping for the past couple months. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who saw his numbers slip below 3% before the debate, which caused him to be disqualified from the main debate stage, is now down at 1% in his second post-debate national poll. Combined with this meager fundraising and a debate performance that was less than memorable, this is likely to increase the speculation that Perry may drop out sooner rather than later. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul was also obviously not helped by what has been nearly universally agreed to be a sub-par debate performance. Combined with his fundraising problems and new signs of trouble at home with a Kentucky GOP that may not be as eager to revise its nomination rules to allow him to run for President and Senate at the same time, and the bad press for Paul seems likely to continue. If he continues falling in the polls, Paul is likely to miss the main debate on September 16th. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who was involved in what became a shouting with Paul at the debate, has the same problems as the Kentucky Senator, and there are already rumors that Christie may drop out unless there are signs that he can turn his numbers around. Scott Walker and Jeb Bush have also seen their numbers fall since the debate to some degree, but it’s unclear if this is because of the debate itself or just part of the Trump phenomenon and the GOP electorate’s fascination with other candidates.

On the winning side, the big winners from the debate are clearly Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. Carson had been in the middle of the pack prior to the debate, but how he finds himself in second place behind Trump both nationally and in Iowa. Carson has always been popular with the evangelical and socially conservative wing of the Republican Party, but that popularity exists largely because of what he says rather than any actual policy knowledge on his part. Indeed, when one listens to Ben Carson talk policy one quickly recognizes that he is completely out of his element. Much like Herman Cain four years ago, it’s likely that Carson will continue to rise but it seems unlikely that he will ever really be a serious contender for the nomination. Carly Fiorina’s rise in the polls obviously can be attributed almost completely to her performance in the early debate and the media attention that she has gotten from that. Because of it, she has no risen in the polls high enough to qualify for the main stage debate on September 16th assuming that she continues at this pace. As with Carson, most voters don’t seem to know very much about Fiorina other than the fact that they like what she says. Now that she’s rising, she’s likely to come under far more scrutiny, and her record at Lucent and Hewlett -Packard will once again become public knowledge as it did during the 2010 California Senate race. That’s not likely to happen any time soon, though. For the time being, Carson and Fiorina are likely to continue rising in the polls.

At the top of all of this, of course, is Donald Trump. Trump actually dropped a percentage point from the Fox poll that was released prior to the debate, but a small drop like that within the margin of error is essentially insignificant enough that it can be ignored. As with other polling we’ve seen since the debate, Trump doesn’t seem to be harmed at all from either his debate performance or the bizarre aftermath during which he attacked Fox News host Megyn Kelly. It seems unlikely that there’s anything that’s going to happen between now and the next debate that will dethrone Trump from his current position so, for better or worse, he will once again be the center of attention on September 16th. How long this spectacle lasts is anyone guess, but as I’ve said before it isn’t likely to happen any time soon.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, 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. An Interested Party says:

    What? No “Trump Will Soon Be Dropping Out” post? How disappointing…

  2. Davebo says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Give it time. Frankly I’m holding out for a post from Doug about how Trump is really all Hillary’s fault.

  3. Pinky says:

    Polls that are this far out are meaningless, we all agree, right? Even if you want to take them at face value, it’s unlikely that anything in the poll reflect movement beyond the margin of error except for Bush and Carson. I saw another poll that had Fiorina making a move of (I think it was) 8 points up. Otherwise, there’s really no information here.

  4. Jc says:

    didn’t Rick Santorum lead at one point in January of 2012? Rick Santorum for Christ sake! We are not even in September yet.

  5. edmondo says:

    Bush [is] seen as both likeable and qualified.

    Sure, put him on the stage next to Cruella DeVille – I mean Carly Fiorina – and he seems likeable, sort of. It’s his positions that make him unacceptable.

  6. al-Ameda says:

    Honestly, the only people who should campaign in Iowa are way-outsiders – like Trump, Carson, Huckabee, Perry, and maybe Rand Paul or Scott Walker too – the others, perceived favorites like Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, should ignore Iowa.

    New Hampshire is another story, it’s a more ‘normal’ state, you don’t have to act like a know-nothing cheeseball to succeed in NH.

  7. Ron Beasley says:

    At this point I can actually see the Republican party splitting apart – the corpoartists, the populists and the theocrats. There may be some Venn diagram overlap in the final two.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    So, here is what we know: the Republican Party is decidedly not libertarian – poor old Rand has been spit out. So much for Doug Mataconis’ hopes.

    And the GOP is decidedly not rational or moderate or even for that matter, conservative, since there is nothing conservative about Trump, Huckabee, Santorum, Carson or Cruz, who run the gamut from pandering demagogues of no fixed beliefs (Trump), to howling loons (Huckabee, Carson) to fascists like Cruz. So much for James Joyner’s version of the party.

    The likelihood that a Bush or Kasich will eventually win the nomination does nothing to alter the obvious fact that the GOP – the actual human voters in the GOP – have little or nothing in common with either Doug or James and that they are now for reasons that defy explanation, still supporting a party which is manifestly further away from their core beliefs than Hillary Clinton is.

    Are Doug and James dense? Stubborn? In denial? Afraid to admit the obvious truth?

    Were you to draw a sort of number line displaying the range of Republican voters shading into the range of Democratic voters you’d find both Doug and James clearly closer to the Democratic end of the spectrum.

    And yet, there they are, protesting their virtues while maintaining at least tacit support of a party that logically they should both reject out of hand.

    Curious, ain’t it?

  9. HarvardLaw92 says:


    The value in this polling isn’t what it indicates to the average reader. It’s found in the panic it will induce in the other candidates to do something – anything – to improve their poll numbers.

    The beautiful truth of this cycle is the same that it has been for several preceding ones – why waste energy and resources fighting Republicans when you can get Republicans to fight each other – and destroy each other – instead for free?

  10. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    They’re like the guy who decides that the only way he can “win” his divorce proceeding (nobody really wins in a divorce, but …) is to burn down the house, then realizes he has no way out of the towering inferno. They’ve brought this disaster down on themselves.

    My reaction? Schadenfreude and popcorn. Somebody pass the hors d’oeuvres, please. 😀

  11. Ron Beasley says:

    @HarvardLaw92: I’ve been eating a lot of popcorn lately.

  12. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The likelihood that a Bush or Kasich will eventually win the nomination

    I used to think that, but I’m not sure now. Kasich and Bush are pretty weak tea compared to Trump, and the base loves them some Trump. I think we might see Trump going third party if an establishment candidate wins, and taking the crazy pants vote. The person that might keep the crazy pants vote in the Republican Party would be Ted Cruz.
    The establishment hates Cruz, but they like to win. They might throw their support to Cruz, if they think Trump might go third party.
    Honestly, I can’t war game out the Republican nomination at this point. I can even see a Trump nomination, with Kasich as VP. The possibilities are boundless.

  13. Kylopod says:


    Kasich and Bush are pretty weak tea compared to Trump, and the base loves them some Trump.

    Since when has “the base” decided nominations? They hated Romney and McCain. And given that a majority of voters ended up voting for them, it suggests that either “the base” is smaller than is commonly believed or much of the base fell in line and voted for the candidate they supposedly couldn’t stand.

    What’s important about the crazy candidates isn’t that they win, but that the “mainstream” ones end up sounding like them. Hence Romney ends up talking about “self-deportation,” says stuff like “We are only inches away from ceasing to be a free-market economy,” and pledges to repeal the federal version of his own signature achievement.

    In other words, the question isn’t whether the nominee will be Bush, Kasich, Walker, etc., but whether it will be Trumpified Bush, Trumpified Kasich, Trumpified Walker, etc.

    Sorry to have ruined your day with that image.

  14. al-Ameda says:


    Honestly, I can’t war game out the Republican nomination at this point. I can even see a Trump nomination, with Kasich as VP. The possibilities are boundless.

    A part of me hopes that they – Republicans – end up with a Cruz-Santorum ticket just to see if base Republicans will be complaining they were sold out again – that THAT ticket is too centrist and RINO.

  15. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @stonetools: I can’t see anything right now; the primaries are still too far away. Who “the base” supports and who the selectorate will choose remains to be seen, remembering that even though no body particularly seemed to liked Mitt, he eventually won the primary. If I see Trump starting to win primaries, the race will really start to become interesting to me because I don’t really believe that Trump wants to set aside running the multi-billion dollar house of cards that is Trump Enterprises. It will be interesting to watch if this dog catches that car.

  16. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @al-Ameda: It will have become too centrist and RINO if it loses. No True Scotsman is, after all, a variety of fallacy.

  17. JohnMcC says:

    The Republican nomination offers one great advantage to Mr Trump over running as an independent — a VP candidate. Does anyone remember George Wallace and…..Curtis LeMay? Or Ross Perot and…..James Stockdale? Someone above suggested a Donald Trump/John Kasich ticket. The contrast speaks volumes about the advantage for Mr Trump of going to the convention with a pocketful of delegates.

    Two findings in this poll that didn’t make it into our Original Post: Mr Trump’s approval ratings among women respondents sunk “from 24% two weeks ago to 21% now. He mostly held steady among men (28%).” And if he did in fact run as an independent candidate he gets between 22 — 25% (depends on who the R candidate is and assumes Hillary is the D candidate) and that essentially every Trump vote is a lost Republican vote.

  18. stonetools says:


    I think the difference with this election is the possibility that Trump might go third party. That I think is what worries the Republican establishment. It’s a distant possibility. But it’s out there.

  19. Jim R says:


    didn’t Rick Santorum lead at one point in January of 2012? Rick Santorum for Christ sake! We are not even in September yet.

    And before that Bachman, Perry, Cain, and Gingrich all got turns as “front-runner” (or at least main challenger to Romney) for a couple of weeks or a month.

    On the other hand, Trump seems to inspire a fanatical support that none of the above had and which is impervious to facts or to any stupid s**t that comes out of his mouth, so it’s harder to see him going bust the way those others did — at least not any time soon.

  20. Tillman says:

    So am I to understand that since Trump didn’t drop out when the swarm of mankind said he would or should, we can now take the swarm’s word for it that he’s here to stay for a while?

  21. gVOR08 says:

    @Tillman: Yeah. The supposedly liberal MSM are now all embracing a new conventional wisdom that Trump will be around for the long haul, that he might even get nominated. That’s a sign he’ll be toast by October.

    On the other hand, Bill Kristol says Trump will be gone soon. A sure sign he’ll be nominated. Hard to tell which entrails to read.