Clinton's Support Drops by a Third as Trump, Carson Surge in GOP Race

Damaged by increased doubt about her honesty and empathy, Hillary Clinton's lost

September 14, 2015, 12:00 AM

— -- Damaged by increased doubt about her honesty and empathy, Hillary Clinton has lost a third of her support for the Democratic presidential nomination in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, while non-politicians Donald Trump and Ben Carson have surged on the GOP side, commanding more than half the vote between them in a crowded field.

The results are remarkable, particularly in the Republican contest: Even as Trump’s lead for his party’s nomination has grown, six in 10 Americans see him as unqualified to serve as president and as many say he lacks the personality and temperament to succeed in the job. His rating for empathy is far worse than Clinton’s; for honesty and trustworthiness, slightly worse.

See PDF with full results, charts and tables here.

That said, Trump –- and to some extent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side – has capitalized on an anti-establishment streak in political sentiment. Trump also has better ratings among Republicans than from the public at large, and he continues to draw particular support from those who favor his controversial positions on immigration.

All told, among registered voters, 33 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents now favor Trump for the nomination, with 20 percent for Carson –- up 9 percentage points and 14 percentage points, respectively, since July. Jeb Bush has crumpled to 8 percent, down from a field-leading 21 percent in March and his first single-digit result in ABC/Post polls this cycle. Among others, Scott Walker’s tumbled to 2 percent, down 11 points since midsummer.

In the Democratic contest, Clinton's drop is dramatic, yet not enough to threaten her clear lead. She's supported by 42 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who are registered to vote, down from 63 percent in July, while Sanders has gained 10 points, to 24 percent, and Joe Biden's up by 9 points, to 21 percent. If Biden doesn't run, most of his support moves to Clinton, boosting her to 56 percent – exactly double Sanders' support in this case.

Even if still in a strong position, Clinton's trajectory leaves no question that she has trouble. Just 39 percent now see her as honest and trustworthy, matching her career low; that has dropped by 14 points since last summer. At 46 percent, her rating for empathy –- understanding the problems of average Americans -– is at a career low (albeit by a single point). Her support in the primary has tanked in particular among women, previously a mainstay of her candidacy, from 71 percent in July to 42 percent now.

The e-mail imbroglio is part of it. Fifty-five percent of Americans in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, disapprove of Clinton's handling of questions about the matter, 54 percent think she's tried to cover it up and 51 percent think she broke government regulations by using a private server for work-related e-mail during her time as secretary of state.

That said, Clinton may have hit a landing pad on the issue: Disapproval of her handling of the situation is no worse now than it was in May, and fewer than half, 44 percent, call it a legitimate issue in the presidential election, actually down a scant 4 points.

Clinton, in any case, benefits from another attribute: Fifty-six percent of Americans say she has the personality and temperament it takes to serve effectively as president. As noted, that's far better than it is for Trump. The public by 63-33 percent says he lacks the personality and temperament to serve effectively -– and, by an even broader 67-29 percent, that he doesn’t understand their problems. Just 35 percent see him as honest and trustworthy.

Yet, as covered in an analysis released Sunday, Clinton and Trump are essentially even among registered voters in a hypothetical matchup for the general election, 46-43 percent.

Two reasons are apparent: One is that Clinton's support –- including her ratings on personal attributes –- are considerably better among groups that are less apt to be registered to vote, such as young adults and racial and ethnic minorities. The other is that vote preferences at this stage of the campaign are driven more by partisanship, by Trump's positions on immigration and by his outsider status than by other factors.


Anti-establishment sentiment is palpable, yet not monolithic. On one hand, 72 percent of Americans say they think most people in politics cannot be trusted; 48 percent feel that way strongly. And 64 percent call the political system "basically dysfunctional"; again most of them (46 percent overall) feel strongly about it.

At the same time, more would like to see the next president be someone with political experience than someone from outside the political establishment, by 56-40 percent. And, by a wide margin, more would rather see the next president "fix the current political system" than "tear it down and start over," 76-21 percent.

Discontent, then, only goes so far –- and it does have a strong partisan flavor. Among Democrats and Democratic leaning-independents, 69 percent prefer experience to outsider status. Among leaned Republicans, by contrast, that drops to 36 percent; 60 percent instead prefer an outsider.

Regardless, these views have impacts. In the Democratic contest, Sanders' support rises to 34 percent among people looking for a political outsider; he's numerically ahead of Clinton's 28 percent in this group. Among those more focused on experience, by contrast, Clinton's support swells to 47 percent, while Sanders' falls to 20 percent.

There's a similar effect in the GOP race. Among those looking for an outsider, Trump's support surges to 41 percent, Carson's to 25 percent; the two alone command two-thirds of this group. Among those who see experience as more important, Trump has 23 percent support, Carson, 13 percent.

GOP groups

Among groups, education continues to be one of the most striking differences in support for Trump; he's backed by 40 percent of leaned Republicans who lack a college degree vs. 19 percent of those who are college graduates. Less-educated voters are less likely to turn out, making this potentially a serious limitation for him.

Trump has some troubles on personal attributes even within his party. Among registered leaned Republicans, 35 percent see him as unqualified to be president, 44 percent think he doesn't have the kind of personality and temperament it takes to serve effectively and 47 percent say he doesn't understand their problems. None reaches a majority, but, for in-party ratings, these are potential concerns for Trump.

Carson, for his part, has 25 percent support from college-educated leaned Republicans -– putting him numerically ahead of Trump in this group. And he does better with strong conservatives than with moderate leaned Republicans, while Trump's support is less tied to ideology. Walker, meanwhile, has lost support especially among strong conservatives.

Dem groups

In the Democratic contest, Clinton and Sanders run essentially evenly among whites, 31 vs. 33 percent; Clinton's lead relies on nonwhites, among whom she has 57 percent support, to Sanders' 13 percent. It's the only major demographic group in which Clinton still maintains a clear majority.

Clinton's support from nonwhites has dropped, by 14 points, from 71 percent in July. But her support from whites has fallen farther, by 25 points, in the same time.

As noted, too, Clinton's support among women has cratered by 29 points since July. Among men she's lost 9 points in the same period, from 52 to 43 percent. Her gender gap has evaporated.


Fifty-seven percent of all Americans say they oppose Trump's positions on immigration issues. Among leaned Republicans who are registered to vote, however, that shifts; 59 percent in this group back Trump on immigration.

That's key to his support. Statistical models indicate agreement with Trump's anti-immigration views is the strongest independent predictor of supporting him for the nomination. Next strongest is preference for a political outsider –- making these two areas that Trump may be expected to emphasize in the GOP debate this week, and beyond.

Among leaned Democrats, meanwhile, support for Clinton is most strongly predicted by the sense that she's honest and trustworthy, as well as being nonwhite. She, therefore, may focus in the campaign ahead on seeking to restore her honesty rating –- and on building up her presumed firewall in the South, outside the confines of Iowa and New Hampshire, where racial and ethnic minorities are comparatively few and far between.


This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone Sept. 7-10, 2015, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,003 adults, including 821 registered voters. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points for the full sample and 4.0 for registered voters, including the design effect. Partisan divisions are 33-22-35 percent, Democrats-Republicans-independents, among all adults, and 34-25-33 percent among registered voters.

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.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events