Two non-politicians, businessman Donald Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, dominate the contest for the Republican nomination, together accounting for more than half of the potential vote as support for traditional politicians continues to decline, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
In the contest for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Rodham Clinton has lost significant ground over the past two months, as she has struggled to manage the controversy over her use of a private e-mail server while secretary of state. She still leads the field of Democrats, but for the first time her support has dropped below 50 percent in Post-ABC surveys, with the biggest decline coming among white women.
Overall, the survey underscored the degree of dissatisfaction toward government and politics that is shaping the campaign. More than 7 in 10 Americans say people in politics cannot be trusted. More than 6 in 10 say the political system is dysfunctional. Sizable majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents agree with those assessments.
But Democrats and Republicans part ways over the kind of experience they are looking for in the next president. Nearly 6 in 10 Republicans say they prefer the next president to have experience that comes from outside the political establishment. Only about a quarter of Democrats say the same.
Two-thirds of the Republicans who say they are looking for non-political experience currently support either Trump or Carson — the foundation of the wide division between the two outsiders and the rest of a field made up almost exclusively of traditional politicians. Several of these current or former elected officials registered new lows in the survey.
Their next big chance to reverse their fortunes comes at a debate Wednesday evening at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., that will feature the top 11 candidates. The debate, hosted by CNN, will begin at 8 p.m. Eastern time. There will be an earlier forum, beginning at 6 p.m., for the candidates who did not qualify for the main debate.
The new poll found Trump to be the favorite of 33 percent of registered Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. That is a jump of nine percentage points since mid-July and a 29-point increase since late May, just before Trump announced his candidacy. He does well with most groups of GOP voters, but his strongest support comes from those who do not have a college degree and those with incomes below $50,000.
Carson runs second at 20 percent, 14 points higher than in July. His surge is consistent with several other national polls that show him moving up the ranks since the first Republican debate in Cleveland last month. Carson’s base is more strongly rooted in the conservative wing of the party.
After Trump and Carson, there is a significant falloff in support for the other candidates. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who began the year as the nominal GOP front-runner, stands at 8 percent, his lowest ever in Post-ABC surveys of the 2016 field. Next, at 7 percent each, are Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida. No one else registered above 5 percent.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie either tied or registered their lowest levels of support in Post-ABC polls of the 2016 race dating to the beginning of 2014.
Walker suffered the steepest decline since the July survey, falling from 13 percent to 2 percent. Recent polls in Iowa, where Walker had been leading, also have shown a loss of support.
Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, Clinton is the choice of 42 percent of registered voters. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is second with 24 percent and Vice President Biden, who is deciding whether to run, is third with 21 percent. Sanders’s support has risen by 10 points since July, while Biden has gained nine points.
Biden advisers have said he is likely to make a decision this month. The vice president has said recently that he is still dealing with the death of his son Beau a few months ago and cannot yet say he has the emotional commitment needed to seek the presidency. But his advisers are preparing for a possible campaign as Biden and his family weigh the personal costs of running.
The survey indicates that if Biden decides not to run, Clinton would benefit far more than Sanders, at least initially. Without Biden on the list, Clinton jumps 14 points, to 56 percent, among Democratic-leaning voters, while Sanders rises four points, to 28 percent.
While Clinton maintains the lead, her support has dropped 21 points among Democrats since July. She has lost ground with most demographic groups, but the sharpest drop has come among women and particularly white women. In July, 64 percent of white women said they supported Clinton; today, it is 31 percent, the same level of backing as Sanders, whose support has doubled among this group.
A majority of Americans (55 percent) say they disapprove of the way Clinton has handled questions about her use of a private e-mail account while serving as secretary of state. An almost identical percentage (54 percent) say that she has tried to cover up facts. Asked whether Clinton stayed within government guidelines or broke the rules by using a private server, 51 percent say she broke the rules, while 32 percent say she did not, with the remainder offering no opinion.
The public is divided on the question of whether the e-mail issue is a legitimate one in the coming election, although today, unlike four months ago, slightly more say it is not legitimate.
On all those questions, there is a big difference in the responses of Democrats vs. Republicans and independents. A majority of Democrats (55 percent) approve of how she has handled the controversy, while a third do not. More than 7 in 10 say the e-mails are not a legitimate issue in the coming campaign.
In a hypothetical general election, Clinton runs about evenly with Trump, leading 46 percent to 43 percent among registered voters. Clinton holds a much bigger lead, 51 percent to 39 percent, among all adults.
Clinton and Trump share one vulnerability: Almost 6 in 10 Americans say Trump is not honest and trustworthy, while 56 percent say that about Clinton. But in other measures, Clinton is seen as far readier to be president than the GOP front-runner.
At this point, 6 in 10 say Trump is not qualified to be president, though more than 6 in 10 Republicans say he is. Two-thirds say he does not understand the problems of “people like you.” More than 6 in 10 say he does not have the kind of personality and temperament it takes to serve effectively as president.
Just over half of all Americans say Clinton does not understand their problems, but 56 percent say she has the personality and temperament to serve as president.
Among all Americans, 57 percent oppose Trump’s tough positions on immigration. Among Republicans, 56 percent support them — with 39 percent saying they strongly support them.
The Post-ABC News poll was conducted Sept. 7-10 among a random national sample of 1,003 adults, including landline and cellphone respondents. Overall results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Full results of the poll and detailed methodology are available at wapo.st/pollarchive.
Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.