The pious Ben Carson has plowed past the braggadocious New York businessman to take the front-runner crown, unseating Trump as the most popular choice for president among likely GOP caucusgoers, the new Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll shows.
Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, is the favorite choice for 28% — 9 percentage points ahead of Trump’s 19%.
Even Carson’s most controversial comments — about Muslims, Hitler and slavery — are attractive to likely Republican caucusgoers. The poll shows just two perceived weaknesses: his lack of foreign policy experience and his research using fetal tissue during his medical career.
Carson’s support has jumped 10 percentage points since the last Iowa Poll in August, and Trump’s has fallen 4 points. This shift to a new pack leader is a thunderclap in the Republican presidential race.
“Donald Trump’s got a real problem,” GOP strategist Alex Castellanos told The Register. “Ben Carson is now the favorite to win Iowa.”
Asked which candidate they’d like to see drop out of the race, if anyone, more caucusgoers (25%) name Trump than any of his 14 rivals. And among both moderates and caucusgoers ages 44 or under, 36% would like him to quit, noted J. Ann Selzer, the pollster for the Iowa Poll.
Ted Cruz ticks up, Rubio close behind
Moving up into third place in the Iowa horse race is Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, at 10% support.
Close on his heels is the top establishment contender, Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, at 9%.
Tied for fifth at 5% are former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, the son of three-time presidential candidate Ron Paul.
This has been a GOP primary cycle for outsider candidates, but one contender with no previous political experience, Carly Fiorina, hasn’t taken wing in Iowa like Trump and Carson have. Fiorina, a former tech company CEO, has 4% support, down a point since the last Iowa Poll.
Wallowing in the dregs of the new poll are a pack of political insiders: former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, 3%; Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, each with 2%; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, 1%; and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, South Carolina U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and former New York Gov. George Pataki, each with less than a point.
“The outsiders are still beating the insiders, of course, but that’s not what is interesting,” Castellanos said. “What’s interesting is that the moral outsider (Carson) is whipping the businessman-not-politician-outsider (Trump) and crushing the hope-and-change insiders (Bush and Rubio).”
The results suggest that Iowa GOP caucusgoers see America’s decline as primarily a moral problem, Castellanos said.
Carson has room to grow
Carson has plenty of room to grow in Iowa: He’s at 28% in the horse race, but he could exploit another 25 percentage points from the 53% of caucusgoers who have “very favorable” feelings about him, Castellanos said.
“In other words, Carson could blow this out,” he said.
Poll respondent Bruce Lindberg, a 56-year-old chiropractor who lives in Ottumwa, said Carson is his No. 1 choice because “he’s very intelligent. He speaks from his heart. … I just think it’s time for honesty. And we need to figure out how to slow down the government spending somehow.”
The poll shows Trump has little headroom.
“His problem is, shy and retiring wallflower that he is, he is well-known,” Castellanos said. “Trump has left little ambiguity about who he is with voters.”
Carson’s overall favorability rating, combining “very” and “mostly” favorable responses, stands at a field-leading 84%, with just 12% unfavorable. He’s followed by Rubio (70% view him positively, 20% negatively) and Fiorina (66%/22%).
A chance to gain steam
If Trump collapses a few more points, there is a chance Rubio or Fiorina could climb into second place, Castellanos said. “If Trump pulls out, all hands on deck,” he said.
Strategists for Cruz think he’s poised to gain steam right before the Iowa caucusesFeb. 1, because he stands at the intersection of rabble-rouser outsider and Washington insider.
But Castellanos said these poll numbers indicate that “as long as Carson remains in the race, Cruz has nowhere to go.”
Cruz has a solid favorable rating: 61% view him positively, 26% negatively. But about twice as many likely caucusgoers have very favorable feelings about Carson compared with Cruz (53% to 28%), even though Cruz is second-highest in the field on that passion measure.
“Ted Cruz is in a good-looking car with a big engine, lots of gas, ready to roll — and the road ahead of him is blocked,” Castellanos said.
The Iowa Poll of 401 likely Republican caucusgoers was conducted Oct. 16-19 by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
Trump’s backers think his forte is his forcefulness: He’ll stand up to anybody, they say.
Why Carson is attractive
Carson has a different superpower: His statements that he would be guided by his faith in God are an attractive attribute for 89% of likely caucusgoers. That’s topped only by the 96% who find his perceived common sense attractive.
“These numbers tell me that Carson’s relationship with Iowa caucusgoers is more personal and intimate than the relationship other candidates have with voters because it is on a values level, not a political level,” Castellanos said. “He’s connecting with voters because of who they are inside, not because of what they want on the outside — and that’s strong.”
Trump’s secularism may be limiting him in Iowa, the poll shows.
The New Yorker has the backing of 18% of born-again Christians, a number that is unchanged since the late-August Iowa Poll. But Carson’s support with this instrumental group has grown from 21% to 33%.
Some controversial statements Carson has made are attractive in a majority of GOP caucusgoers’ eyes: 81% like that Carson has said Obamacare is the worst thing since slavery; 77% like that he has said Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler might not have been as successful if the people had been armed; and 73% like that he has raised questions about whether a Muslim should ever be president of the United States.
But the poll shows there’s some softness to Carson’s support. Only 15% of his backers say their mind is definitely made up. For Trump, a more substantial 32% say they won’t change their mind about him.
“That’s a silver lining for Trump,” Selzer said.
Electability is what’s most important for Aaron Hintz, 36, a West Des Moines Republican who describes himself as very conservative. Hintz doesn’t think there’s “a chance in hell” Trump could win a general election. But Carson, with his personal story of “living in the ghetto and becoming a surgeon” will attract some black voters, as well as some Democrats, independents and libertarians, he said.
“Rubio might have some of that, with the Spanish vote,” said Hintz, who works in the automotive industry.
How much wiggle room is there for a shake-up in the final 100 days before the caucuses?
Just 22% of all Republican likely caucusgoers say their minds are made up; 78% say they could still be persuaded to support another candidate as their first choice.