For the fourth consecutive month, businessman Donald Trump leads the contest for the Republican presidential nomination, with his candidacy fueled by a powerful anti-Washington mood among GOP voters, according to a new national poll by The Washington Post and ABC News.
After a tumultuous period that has included terrorist attacks in Paris, calls for stepped-up efforts to combat Islamic State militants, a backlash against accepting refugees from Syria, and two Republican debates, the race looks on the surface very much as it did in a Post-ABC survey a month ago.
Trump runs ahead of the large field with 32 percent support among registered Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. Running second is retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson at 22 percent. Both figures are identical to last month.
Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) is the only other Republican in double digits, inching up from 10 to 11 percent over the past month. Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) runs fourth, with 8 percent, up from 6 percent in October. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush is fifth, with 6 percent, his lowest percentage during two years of surveys. No other candidate has more than 4 percent nationally.
No candidate’s support has shifted beyond the poll’s six-percentage-point margin of error since September.
National polls are only one measure of the nominating contests. But they are playing a more important role in this campaign than in some in the past, because they are being used by news organizations that are sponsoring debates as one important criterion for determining who qualifies for prime-time participation.
State polls can be equally indicative of candidates’ standings — and sometimes more so. In Iowa and New Hampshire, where the voting will begin in February, polls show Trump and Carson leading, but they also indicate possible movement as the first contests near.
In New Hampshire, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, businesswoman Carly Fiorina and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) are hoping to break through with strong finishes. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum see Iowa as their best hope to defy the national polls.
The Post-ABC poll finds Republicans are more engaged in the upcoming year’s election than in the past. Eighty-two percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents say they are following the election closely, up eight percentage points from this time in 2011 and 16 points higher than in 2007.
Republicans are also 18 percentage points more likely than Democrats to say they are “certain” to vote in the primary or caucus in their state, a far wider advantage than in 2008, the last year both parties held competitive nomination contests.
The Post-ABC poll finds four candidates — Rubio, Carson, Trump and Cruz — are cited most often (and in that order) as second choices. More Trump supporters currently favor Carson as a second choice, followed by Cruz and Rubio. Carson supporters most often cite Rubio or Trump as their second choice.
In the Democratic race, Hillary Clinton has maintained a wide lead over Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.). The former secretary of state has the support of 60 percent of registered Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, compared with 34 percent for Sanders. Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley remains a distant third with 3 percent.
Support for Clinton and Sanders rose over the past month, primarily because Vice President Biden, who was included in the previous poll as a possible candidate, decided not to enter the race.
Sanders was the bigger beneficiary of Biden’s absence, but his deficit nationally remains significant.
Clinton has continued to rebound from her low point of 42 percent in September, when her support was weakened by questions about her use of a private e-mail account while serving as secretary of state. Her standing has been strengthened by broad likability within the party, with a separate Post-ABC poll earlier this month finding 83 percent of Democrats with a favorable impression of her.
The Republican race continues to be shaped by frustration with Washington, a general disdain toward politicians and a desire to shake up the nation’s capital — all of which have elevated Trump and Carson, two candidates with no prior political experience. With Fiorina’s 4 percent support added in, the three non-politicians have the support of almost 60 percent of the GOP electorate.
Changing Washington is the dominant impulse driving most Republicans this fall. Just over half (52 percent) say that finding a candidate who will “bring needed change to Washington” is the most important factor in how they will decide for whom to vote in the primaries and caucuses.
Meanwhile, experience so far counts for little with Republicans. Just 11 percent cite experience as the primary factor influencing their voting preference.
Within the dissatisfied Republican electorate seeking someone to challenge the status quo in Washington, 47 percent name Trump as the candidate best able to so. Carson stands a distant second at 22 percent.
The contrasting results about the value of experience vs. the desire to change Washington pinpoints the reasons Bush has been frustrated in his bid to join his father, George H.W. Bush, and his brother, George W. Bush, as an occupant of the Oval Office.
The former two-term governor earns the highest marks of any candidate on the question of who has the best experience to be president, with a third of Republicans naming him. Trump is second, with about a fifth. But when Republicans were asked who they think would best be able to change Washington, only 7 percent named Bush. On that crucial question, Bush trails Trump, Carson, Rubio and Cruz.
More than a quarter of all Republicans say what they are looking for most in a candidate is honesty. Carson rates highest on this attribute, followed by Trump. Only 4 percent say electability is the most important factor, but when asked in a separate question who had the best chance among those now running of winning in 2016, Trump was first with 38 percent.
Republicans are split over who has the most presidential temperament. A quarter name Carson, while Bush, Rubio and Trump were each cited by roughly one-fifth of all Republicans.
Trump’s strength can be seen in another series of questions that asked Republicans whom they see as best equipped to deal with major issues. Of five issues tested, the billionaire businessman is seen as most able to handle four of them — and all by overwhelming margins.
At least 4 in 10 Republicans said he would be the best to handle the economy, the threat of terrorism, immigration and tax policy. He runs second to Carson on the question of handling health care.
On immigration, Trump has called for deporting the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country. The Post-ABC survey found that, overall, 55 percent of Americans oppose deportation while 42 percent support it.
Among Republicans and independents who lean Republican, 57 percent support the idea, while 40 percent oppose it. By better than 2 to 1, Trump is the choice among those who favor deportation, particularly those strongly in favor. Carson is the first choice of those opposed, with Rubio second.
Trump continues to draw most heavily from white voters without a college degree, holding a 2-to-1 advantage over Carson among those Republicans. Among white Republicans with college degrees, Trump holds only a narrow edge over Carson, with Rubio third.
Ideologically, Trump does best with Republicans who identify themselves as moderate or liberal, leading Carson by 16 points. He has a nine-point edge among those who call themselves “somewhat conservative.” He and Carson are tied among “very conservative Republicans,” with Cruz third among these voters.