Billionaire businessman Donald Trump has strengthened his lead at the top of the USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll while two other outsider candidates, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, have gained ground over rivals with electoral experience.
Jeb Bush, who two months ago was second to Trump in the USA TODAY survey, has tumbled to single digits and fifth place. The third-place finisher last time, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, suspended his campaign entirely this month.
“Unfortunately, I’m leaning toward Trump, only because he’s a non-political figure,” says Ginger Mangam, 58, a customer-service representative from Little Rock, Ark., who was among those surveyed. Asked about his lack of electoral experience, she replies: “I don’t think it’s a problem; I think it’s a message.”
Anthony Edelen, 37, a small-business owner from Vermillion, S.D., likes what he hears from Trump and Fiorina. “I just want somebody who is going to move our country in a direction different from where it is currently,” he said in a follow-up interview.
The shifting landscape underscores an electorate that is fed up with politics-as-usual and willing to embrace contenders who promise to shake things up. Some presidential hopefuls with significant political experience — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham among them — have failed to gain traction and now score at 1% or below, a standing that may make it harder for them to raise money and command a spot on stage in future televised debates.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has risen to fourth place, backed by 9% of those surveyed.
The poll of 380 likely Republican primary voters, taken Thursday through Monday, has a margin of error of +/- 5 percentage points. The full sample of 1,000 likely voters has an error margin of 3 points.
Some political analysts, including those in the latest USA TODAY GOP Power Rankings, see Trump as beginning to lose ground as scrutiny on him as a potential president intensifies. Still, he continues to lead the field at 23%, up 6 points from the July survey. Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, and Fiorina, an ex-CEO, tie for second at 13%, both big jumps the last poll. That means about half of the GOP electorate now backs candidates who have never served in elective office.
No other candidate breaks into double digits. Rubio is at 9%, Bush at 8%, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at 6% and Ohio Gov. John Kasich at 2%. Not a single respondent backs former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum or former New York governor George Pataki.
“I support Donald Trump because … he’s the only one that has what it takes to stand up to people,” declares Nina Neece, 56, of Turlock, Calif. “He’s not afraid of offending anybody.”
Jordan Penegor, 21, a barista from Reno, Nev., is following Carson on Facebook and likes what she reads. “He’s not a politician so he doesn’t look at the political views,” Penegor says. “He just looks at helping the American people as a whole.”
The poll does spot some potential problems for Trump. Among all those surveyed, Americans by more than 2-1, 61%-27%, have an unfavorable opinion of him. In contrast, Carson is viewed favorably by 40%, unfavorably by 32%. Fiorina has a net favorable rating of 38%-32%.
And when those surveyed were asked to volunteer one word to describe Trump, the most frequent response was “idiot” or “jerk.” For Fiorina, the most frequent response was “smart.”
SOURCE: Susan Page and Paulina Firozi