Before the terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday, the focal point of the 2016 presidential race was the economy. Polling from Quinnipiac University released at the beginning of the month found that economic issues and jobs were the top concern of voters regardless of ideology. A third of Republicans and nearly half of Democrats identified the economy as their main priority in voting.
That's one reason why Ben Carson and Donald Trump have been leading in the polls. Trump supporters (and Trump) have long argued that his business acumen suggests that he'd bolster the economy as president. Carson's no slouch on the private sector end, either, but he likely benefits from the abstract relationship between the presidency and the economy. A president has an obvious role in leading the military and driving American foreign policy. The president's role in the economy is murkier, making it easier for someone without government experience to argue that he could be effective. Among Republicans identifying the economy as the most important issue in that Quinnipiac poll, 26 percent backed Trump and 20 percent supported Carson.
In the wake of the attacks, though, it's safe to assume that terrorism and the immigration of refugees from Syria and Iraq will rise as campaign issues. So who benefits?
In September, CNN/ORC asked Republican voters which candidate they thought was the best choice for addressing a number of issues. This is a fairly old poll, by now; it included Scott Walker, for example, and Carly Fiorina was at the peak of her polling. But on foreign policy, there was a clear pattern: The candidates with the least experience under-performed compared to their overall standing in the polls.
Marco Rubio, on the other hand, over-performed. Only 11 percent of Republicans supported him as the nominee -- but 17 percent thought he was strongest on foreign policy.
A more recent poll in Iowa, also from Quinnipiac, found something similar. On foreign policy and immigration, Iowa Republicans shifted away from Carson and toward Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who are both sitting senators.
Trump drops a bit on foreign policy but does great on immigration, as you might expect. The drops in support for Carson, though, are staggering -- 19 points lower than his overall support on both issues in a state where Carson only recently took the lead.
All of this data comes from the pre-Paris world, however. Carson has largely echoed the rhetoric of his opponents in the days since, and the focus on the subject allows him to present his foreign policy ideas to voters in many cases for the first time. But we will note: Carson’s foreign policy arguments to this point have not been the strongest part of his campaign.
A shift away from the economy and social issues and toward foreign policy might be inevitable after what happened Friday. For Ben Carson, that's probably not good news.