Ben Carson maintains his exceptional popularity among Republicans amid criticisms of his campaign and past statements, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
And, in fact, he's quite popular among independents too.
Over seven in 10 Republicans have a positive view of Carson (71 percent), similar to his 68 percent favorable rating in a Post-ABC poll six weeks ago. Businessman Donald Trump is close behind, with 69 percent favorability among Republicans, followed by Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) at 58 percent, former Florida governor Jeb Bush at 56 percent and Sen. Ted Cruz at 53.
What distinguishes Carson from his opponents is how intensely Republicans like him -- 39 percent report a "strongly" favorable view of Carson, 13 points higher than for Trump (26 percent) and more than twice as many with strongly positive views of Rubio (19), Cruz (18) or Bush (12).
Carson also boasts largely positive ratings beyond the Republican party. By 50 percent to 32 percent, considerably more Americans have a favorable than unfavorable view of Carson. And in fact, that 50 percent favorable rating is the best for any presidential candidate in Post-ABC polling going back several months. The last candidate who had half the country like them was Hillary Rodham Clinton in July (52 percent) -- and even then, she had significantly more detractors than Carson does today.
The poll was conducted Wednesday through Sunday, so it doesn't cover the entire period during which Carson faced the most scrutiny. CNN first questioned some of his biographical claims on Thursday, followed by reports from Politico and the Wall Street Journal in the days that followed. But it does include many interviews conducted during the controversy.
Among all Americans, Rubio receives narrowly positive ratings -- 41-37 -- but other Republicans are underwater. Trump receives the most negative appraisal, with 59 percent rating the real estate mogul unfavorably.
The survey finds one bit of negative news for Carson: His unfavorable ratings among political independents have risen to 35 percent, up from 23 percent six weeks ago. But even here, his overall image among independents continues to be positive, with 47 percent giving him favorable reviews.
An opening for Rubio?
Rubio’s 58 percent favorable rating among Republicans is right in the middle of the pack, but his position is better considering 1 in 5 Republicans have no opinion of him. As noted, he has the next-to-lowest unfavorable rating of 22 percent -- a sign he has not alienated significant portions of the party and has room to grow his already-solid appeal.
Perhaps most importantly for an establishment-type candidate, Rubio is also overwhelmingly popular among strong conservatives. Fully 75 percent of Republicans and independents who call themselves “very conservative” have a favorable view of Rubio. That matches Carson and Trump and is similar to Cruz at 72 percent.
Troubles for Bush and Trump
More than one-third of Republicans (37 percent) have an unfavorable opinion of Bush. That's higher than any other candidate tested in the poll and a significant obstacle to winning the party’s nomination. Where Rubio is strong among very conservative Americans, Bush is less popular. Just about half of very conservative Republicans and independents have a positive view of Bush (51 percent), while 43 percent are unfavorable. This dynamic has tracked in Post-ABC polls throughout the year, with Bush faring worse among the most conservative swaths of the GOP electorate.
It’s worth noting Mitt Romney won the 2012 nomination despite weak support from strong conservatives, but he maintained consistent vote support from more moderate Republicans, which Bush hasn’t so far. Bush also cannot claim Romney's veneer of general-election appeal; 36 percent of all Americans rate him favorably, while 55 percent see him unfavorably.
Trump’s image troubles are of a much different nature, but they suggest even bigger challenges when it comes to winning a general election. His overall image is widely negative, with 38 percent holding favorable views of Trump and 59 percent unfavorable. In addition, nearly half the public (46 percent) has a “strongly unfavorable” view of him.
Among independents, the margin is a similar 35-62 favorable-unfavorable. Among Hispanics, 80 percent report an unfavorable view of Trump, compared with less than half who dislike other Republicans in the poll.
The Post-ABC poll was conducted Nov. 4-8 among a random national sample of 1,023 adults, including users of both conventional and cellular phones. Overall results from the survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The error margin is seven points among the sample of 263 self-identified Republicans.