Donald Trump holds his lead for the GOP nomination and has soared in expectations: 64 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents now expect him to be the party’s nominee, up sharply in the last two months.
Expectations that Trump will win the nomination have jumped by 25 percentage points since November among Republican-leaning voters in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll. Two-thirds also say they’d accept him as their party’s nominee. And he’s seen by 56 percent as their most electable nominee in the general election this fall.
Trump has 37 percent support nationally among Republicans who are registered to vote, unchanged from last month (with no bounce from his endorsement by Sarah Palin). Ted Cruz has advanced by a slight 6 points from last month, and 15 points from October, to a clear, if somewhat distant, second place, with 21 percent. Marco Rubio’s in the third slot, 11 percent, with all others in the single digits in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates.
Rubio appears to have a stand-in shot – he does well as a second choice, selected by 23 percent now vs. 14 percent last month. Ben Carson, for his part, has continued to crater, showing the sometime changeability of voter preferences: he’s gone from 22 percent two months ago to 7 percent now, almost precisely swapping places with Cruz.
There’s essentially no change among lower-tier candidates – 5 percent for Jeb Bush, 4 percent for Chris Christie, 3 percent for Carly Fiorina, 2 percent apiece for John Kasich and Mike Huckabee, 1 percent for Rand Paul and less than that for Rick Santorum.
These standings reflect, above all, two factors: the strength of leaned Republicans’ interest in a candidate from outside the political establishment, and the power of anti-immigrant views in the party. Statistical analysis finds that these two are the single strongest independent predictors of supporting Trump vs. any of his opponents. They’re also issues on which the rest of the public differs dramatically from prevailing GOP sentiment, raising challenges for the party in the general election ahead.
Underscoring party preferences for an outsider, it’s the more traditional GOP candidates – Bush and Christie – who are less apt to be rated as acceptable nominees. Just 52 percent of leaned Republicans see either as acceptable; Rubio, Cruz, Trump and Carson all do better on this score, rated as acceptable by 67, 66, 65 and 62 percent, respectively.
Fifty-six percent of leaned Republicans have a favorable opinion of Palin (unlike the rest of the public, who view her unfavorably by a broad 69-16 percent). That said, her endorsement of Trump last week shows no impact on vote preferences: His support is unchanged from its pre-endorsement level. Ten percent of leaned Republicans say the endorsement makes them more likely to support Trump, but as many, 9 percent, say it makes them less likely to do so. Most by far, 81 percent, say it makes no difference to their vote.
Endorsements customarily don’t change preferences but, at best, reinforce them. And Trump’s support appears strong: Fifty-seven percent of his backers say they’ll definitely support him; among all other GOP candidates combined, strength of support declines to 35 percent, with the rest saying they may yet change their minds.
Additionally, Trump’s support is essentially the same whether it’s among all registered leaned Republicans or those indicating they’re most likely to vote in the caucus or primary in their state. And there are no meaningful divisions in his support among key GOP groups – e.g., whether mainline Republicans or independents, evangelicals or not, or by strength of ideology (moderates vs. somewhat conservatives vs. strong conservatives). He continues to do somewhat better with lower-income leaned Republicans; differences by education and gender have faded.
Cruz, by contrast, does best with strong conservatives and evangelicals, and better with men than with women.
Trump’s support, as noted, continues to spring from anti-establishment and anti-immigrant sentiment within the GOP, buttressed by economic discontent and by a broad sense among the rank and file that he’d be the party’s most electable pick. Among those results:
• His backing soars to 53 percent among leaned Republicans who strongly feel that immigrants weaken U.S. society, vs. 24 percent among those who think immigrants strengthen this country. The former view is far more prevalent within the GOP.
• Leaned Republicans by 54-42 percent chiefly want a candidate from outside the political establishment. Among those who are in the anti-establishment group, and registered to vote, 51 percent pick Trump over his 10 rivals tested in this poll.
• Among those who are very worried about their economic prospects (27 percent of registered leaned Republicans), Trump gets 45 percent support, vs. 28 percent among those who aren’t worried.
• Fifty-one percent think Trump is the best choice to bring needed change to Washington, perhaps the single most crucial attribute to leaned Republicans – 83 percent of whom express dissatisfaction or even anger with the way things are working in the capital.
• As noted, 56 percent of leaned Republicans think Trump has the best chance to win the general election in November, up 9 points from last month. And the sharp increase in expectations that he’ll win the party’s nomination has been broadly based, occurring across GOP groups. While attitudes certainly can shift with events, some academic work has suggested that public expectations for who’ll win an election can be credible predictors of actual outcomes.
These results, in any case, are intended to explore how Americans across the country are approaching the election – their issues and attributes that matter to them and how these play out, among various groups, in candidate preferences. The results don’t forecast the outcome of any individual caucus or primary. Low-turnout events such as caucuses can be heavily influenced by effective get-out-the-vote operations and by prevalent population groups; high numbers of evangelical Christians, for instance, often participate in Iowa caucuses. Primaries have their own dynamics; in New Hampshire’s, for example, independent voters are unusually numerous.
In an ABC/Post poll in December 2011, Newt Gingrich had 30 percent support nationally and Santorum had 4 percent; in the Iowa caucus the next month, by contrast, Gingrich won 13 percent of the vote, Santorum 25 percent. It was Mitt Romney – co-leader in the national poll, and co-leader in the Iowa caucus results – who went on to win the nomination. (And Romney consistently led in expectations leading up to the 2012 primaries, even as many of his rivals opened up sometimes sizable leads against him in vote intention questions.)
It’s worth noting, as well, that even among Trump’s supporters 42 percent say they may yet change their minds, as do 64 percent of those supporting other candidates. That makes for plenty of room for movement as the contest unfolds in the weeks ahead.
Trump has less of an advantage on some personal attributes – notably on having the best personality and temperament to serve as president (24 percent pick Cruz on this attribute, despite his alleged lack of collegiality, vs. Trump’s 22 percent) and honesty and trustworthiness (Trump 27 percent, Carson 24, Cruz 17). In being “closest to you on the issues” 36 percent pick Trump, but Cruz, at 20 percent, has moved up, with a 12-point gain since fall.
Trump, separately, leads on most issues: Fifty-five percent pick him as best able to handle the economy, up 8 points from December. Fifty percent prefer him on regulating banks and financial institutions. And he continues to lead widely in trust to handle terrorism and immigration issues.
That said, Trump does notably less well in trust to handle a major international crisis; he’s selected by 31 percent on this issue vs. Cruz’s 23 percent and Bush’s 17 percent – one area in which his rivals might find ammunition.
Reps vs. the rest
In a data analysis assessing the strongest independent correlates of vote preference for Trump, desire for an outsider is the single strongest factor, followed by anti-immigration views. Desiring an outsider, in turn, is independently related to an index of broader discontent, including anger at the way the government is working; a sense that government is part of the problem rather than part of the solution; views that the country’s best days are behind it; whether it’s on the wrong track; a sense that one’s own values are losing ground in society; and economic anxiety.
A challenge for the GOP, looking ahead, is the extent to which leaned Republicans differ from the rest of the public on many such measures. While 54 percent of leaned Republicans are looking chiefly for an outsider, among all other Americans, 75 percent prefer a candidate with experience in how the political system works. While 50 percent of leaned Republicans say immigrants mainly weaken U.S. society, 66 percent of others say they mainly strengthen it. And there’s a vast 45-point difference in views on whether the country’s on the wrong track.
Leaned Republicans also are 27 points more apt than others to see government as part of the problem; twice as likely to be angry about it; 17 points more likely to see America’s best days as behind it; and 15 points more apt to say their own values are losing ground in society today.
Economic worry is the only one of these in which significant differences aren’t evident. On the others, whichever Republican wins the nomination, there will be substantial work ahead in reconciling world views within the GOP with those beyond it.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone Jan. 21-24, 2016, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,001 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points, including the design effect, for the full sample; 4 points for all registered voters; and 5.5 points for registered leaned Republicans. Partisan divisions are 34-23-34 percent, Democrats-Republicans-independents.
The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by Abt-SRBI of New York, N.Y. See details on the survey’s methodology here.