Donald Trump has reached a new high in support for the Republican presidential nomination in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll, drawing on GOP support for his proposed ban on Muslims along with his powerful outsider credentials. Ben Carson’s cratered, while Ted Cruz has advanced to join the double-digit club –- but with Trump now unrivaled for the lead.
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That said, Trump slightly trails Hillary Clinton in a general election matchup, by 6 percentage points among registered voters, expanding to 13 points among all adults. And a broad 69 percent of Americans express anxiety at the thought of Trump as president, with half saying it makes them “very” anxious. Clinton makes far fewer anxious, albeit 51 percent.
Trump has 38 percent support for his party’s nomination from Republicans and GOP-leaning independents who are registered to vote, up a slight 6 points from last month, entirely among men. He’s added concerns about terrorism to his existing anti-immigrant, political outsider credentials -– all pressing items in his party, but less so outside of it.
Tested against his top rivals in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, Trump has gained 8 points in trust to handle terrorism and 7 points as the strongest leader, as well as 9 points in being seen as likeliest to win in November. He holds vast in-party advantages on all three items, and on handling immigration as well.
Critically, leaned Republicans by 58-37 percent say they’re looking for someone from outside the existing political establishment rather than someone with political experience. Trump’s support among the majority favoring an outsider soars to 50 percent, compared with 21 percent among those putting a priority on experience. It’s the central feature of the Trump phenomenon.
A challenge is what may happen outside the party. Among all adults, the tables turn – 37 percent are looking for an outsider, while more, 57 percent, prefer a candidate with political experience. Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, preference for experience soars to 76 percent, with just 18 percent looking for an outsider.
In a statistical analysis testing the strongest independent factors in support for Clinton or Trump in a hypothetical matchup, her single biggest advantage is experience, and his single biggest advantage is being an outsider – factors that, remarkably, are even stronger than partisanship and ideology. Just within the GOP contest, the same analysis finds that Trump’s outsider status is his single biggest asset.
Trump’s gain in support this month came among men, up 17 points, leading to the re-emergence of a broad gender gap: He’s backed for the nomination by 47 percent of men vs. 28 percent of women. He also remains strongest among less-educated and lower-income leaned Republicans, with 42 percent support among those who lack a college degree and 50 percent among those with incomes less than $50,000. Those can be low-turnout groups, a potential risk for Trump.
There also may be a cautionary tale in the results on Carson: Candidates with substantial support don’t always stay there. He’s dropped from 22 percent in October and November to 12 percent now, giving ground on key personal attributes across the board – down 15 points in being seen as having the best chance to win, -11 in being likeliest to “bring needed change to Washington,” -10 on honesty/trustworthiness and -9 in having the best personality and temperament for the job. Just 7 percent call him the strongest leader, a continuing shortfall, and clearly a hazardous one.
Carson’s trajectory will be familiar to Jeb Bush; mired for months in an epic slump, Bush has gone from 21 percent support last March to a new low, 5 percent, now. He’s suffered from a lack of a central theme or unified support in any core GOP groups – as well as in the party’s yearning for an outsider.
Notable among other GOP candidates is Ted Cruz, advancing to 15 percent support in this survey, up 7 points from last month and 11 points from July to a new high, including a 16-point advance among women in the past month. He’s numerically second to Trump, albeit distantly, and his support is not significantly different from either Carson’s or Marco Rubio’s, both at 12 percent.
Cruz’s advance and Carson’s decline can be traced mainly to two important GOP groups: Evangelical white Protestants and strong conservatives. Carson has lost 19 points in support in each of these groups since last month; Cruz has gained 15 and 13, respectively.
Trump’s lead among Republicans looking for an outsider has advanced a bit, by 9 points compared with October; Cruz is +9 in this same group, while Carson is -16 and Carly Fiorina -5. (Fiorina has slipped from 4 to 1 percent support overall, a statistically significant change given her low level of backing.) Cruz is the only politician in this group, though one who portrays himself as something of an anti-politician politician.
Relating to his controversial proposal on temporarily banning Muslims from entering the United States, Trump does better with registered leaned Republicans who see mainstream Islam as a violent religion (46 percent support) vs. those who see it as peaceful. But even in the latter group, a still-high 31 percent support Trump over his GOP competitors.
There’s a continued split between the parties in top issues. Most leaned Republicans cite terrorism or the economy, 38 and 29 percent, respectively, with other items (health care, immigration and tax policy) in the single digits. Among leaned Democrats, the economy clearly is first, cited by 38 percent, with health care and terrorism next, at 19 and 17 percent.
The choice of issues matters in a hypothetical general election matchup. Among those most concerned with the economy (a Democratic-leaning group, as noted), 58 percent prefer Clinton vs. 36 percent for Trump. The margin flips among those most concerned with terrorism (a more GOP group), 61-33 percent, Trump-Clinton.
Clinton’s six-point advantage among registered voters is significant at the 90 percent confidence level, albeit not at the customary 95 percent. That’s a better result for her than her +3 vs. Trump, 46-43 percent, in a matchup in September.
That said, preference in a general election contest at this stage is more about partisanship than about specific candidate choices. Forty-seven percent of registered voters in this survey are Democrats or independents who lean toward the Democratic Party, while 41 percent are leaned Republicans. (The power of partisanship explains why Trump gets support from some registered voters who are anxious about him.)
Among groups, Clinton holds a 19-point lead among moderates, up slightly from September, and has more support among liberals (82 percent) than Trump does among conservatives (71 percent). Liberals and moderates together make up 63 percent of registered voters.
Clinton continues to dominate among 18- to 29-year-olds, with 70 percent support – a key group for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 alike. And Clinton has narrowed the race among seniors, shaving a 55-35 percent Trump lead in September, to nearly an even split, 47-43 percent, Trump-Clinton.
There are other divisions – a 14-point advantage for Trump among whites, for example (Mitt Romney won this group by 20 points) and a 52-point lead for Clinton among nonwhites (Obama was +61). Clinton, further, leads by 22 points among those with post-graduate degrees, a group Obama won in 2012 by 13 points. Clinton and Trump are about even among those who lack a college degree.
Trump, notably, has gained 9 points among those preferring a candidate from outside the political establishment, from 64 percent in September to 73 percent now. Clinton’s lost 7 points in this group, from 25 percent to 18 percent, but wins 72 percent of those who favor a candidate with experience. And at least at the moment, as noted, that’s the factor driving the 2016 race.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone Dec. 10-13, 2015, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,002 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 6 points for registered leaned Republicans. Partisan divisions are 33-23-34 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.