One of politics' most reliable polls has found first-time candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson galloping to big leads in the Iowa caucuses. The Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll, released Saturday night, also finds one-time front-runner Scott Walker, governor of neighboring Wisconsin, losing the dominance he's had all year.
The poll of 400 likely Republican caucus-goers finds Trump experiencing the biggest overall surge in support, leading a thriving pack of outsiders. In May, before the tycoon officially entered the Republican primaries, the DMR/BPol survey found him at just 4 percent support, with a toxic favorable rating of -36 points. The new poll finds Trump at 23 percent, and a positive favorable rating of 26 points, a dramatic reversal in voter opinion. Carson has surged by eight points, from 10 to 18 percent, and seen his favorable rating surge from +41 to +71.
Two candidates seeking office for just the second time also saw notable gains. Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, saw a jump from just 2 to 5 percent, but her favorable numbers rose from +26 to +49, a gain reflected in the high number of Republicans calling her their second choice. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) rose from 5 to 8 percent, with smaller but notable growth in his favorable numbers.
Those gains came at the expense of more experienced candidates — starting with Walker. He tumbled from 17 percent support to 8 percent, despite boasting some of the highest favorable ratings of anyone in the race. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush fared no better, slipping from 9 percent to 6 percent as his favorable rating remained underwater.
But Bush never had as much riding on Iowa as Walker, who had a breakout moment at a January candidate summit in Des Moines and spent eight months leading local polls. The former frontrunner spent the summer trying and eventually struggling to stick to his narrative, of a tightwad governor waging an "unintimidated" war against government waste and labor unions. Like Bush, he's struggled to answer questions thrown into the race by Trump — most recently, whether he would do away with the 14th Amendment's granting of citizenship to anyone born in America.
Almost every other candidate in the field saw his support slip or flatline since May. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has been particularly hurt by the rise of the chaotic Trump campaign, fell from 10 percent to 4 percent while his favorables sank. Fifty-five percent of GOP caucus-goers viewed him favorably in May; just 39 percent do so now. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, the winner of the 2008 caucuses, saw no comparable move in his favorable numbers, but he slipped from 9 percent support to a tie with Paul.
The field's other also-rans fared even worse than Huckabee. Former Texas governor Rick Perry, whose strapped campaign has stopped paying some staff, careened from 3 percent to 1 percent — with just 2 percent of Republicans viewing him as a second choice. Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, the narrow winner of 2012's caucuses, watched his support fall from 6 percent to 1 percent, even as he spent more time and held more events in the Hawkeye state than any candidate.
"People don't understand," Santorum told the Des Moines Register after one summer event drew a crowd of four people. "One guy in there said, 'I'll speak for you at the caucus.' That's maybe eight votes that you wouldn't otherwise get."
The poll's biggest "establishment" winners may have been a swing state candidate running in single digits. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) stayed steady at 6 percent from May to August. In that time, his favorable rating grew from 60 to 67 percent.