The GOP debate: Donald Trump's moment?

August 05, 2015, 4:08 PM GMT+0

Donald Trump leads the Republican field with 26%, and his supporters are especially interested in the first debate

Perhaps no group of Republicans will be as interested in Thursday’s Fox GOP debate than the 26% of Republicans supporting Donald Trump for their party’s nomination.  The latest and largest Economist/YouGov Poll (which now includes 2,000 respondents and more than 400 registered voters who identify as Republicans) finds Trump maintaining the lead he took a few weeks ago.

These poll results would not have been part of the group of polls Fox News used to select the ten contenders for the primetime debate, but the results generally reflect the current GOP situation.  There is Donald Trump, followed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.  Then there is a group of four in mid-single digits, including Ben Carson, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and Tennessee Senator Rand Paul.  And then there are the rest. 

Trump, Bush and Walker are also at the top of the list (along with Rubio) when Republicans are asked to name their second choice. 

What has changed for Trump in recent weeks is that he is now seen as a possible winner – at least by many Republicans.  In the past, when Republicans were asked who they think would be the most likely GOP nominee, Jeb Bush was clearly at the top of the field. 

Now Republicans are nearly as likely to say Trump will be their party’s nominee as to think Bush will.  In the past, Trump’s own supporters were dubious about his chances.  In this week’s poll, 61% of Trump’s supporters expect him to capture the nomination.

As for the fall election, one in three Republicans say Trump can win.  One in four say he is the most likely to beat the Democrats.  Jeb Bush and Scott Walker are also seen as possible winners.

Trump’s supporters are more enthusiastic about his candidacy – and about voting – than are Republicans in general.  Although 78% of Republicans say they are enthusiastic about the candidate they favor, 88% of Trump supporters are enthusiastic about him.

Favorable ratings

Trump's favorable ratings have improved as the debate draws near.  

In fact, he is now gets favorable ratings as high as those earned my Scott Walker and Marco Rubio. His unfavorable ratings, however, match those of Lindsay Graham and Jeb Bush.

Donald Trump's supporters

Trump’s focus on immigration has hit a nerve with Republicans. It especially matters to his supporters. Asked for their most important issue, Republicans cite the economy, terrorism and immigration – in that order. Trump supporters agree. But far more choose these three issues than do Republicans in general.

Trump’s voters are especially likely to claim they will be participating in GOP primaries and caucuses next year: nearly all of them (98%) say they will be voting.  80% of Republicans overall say that. 

If Trump drops out, there is no single candidate who benefits.  Bush, Carson, Walker and Paul each are named as the second choice by 11% of current Trump supporters.  Trump supporters like all those candidates; they also like former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and Marco Rubio.  There’s not a lot of love for Jeb Bush, however.  Trump supporters are as likely to dislike Bush as to like him.  And as for Lindsay Graham, with whom Trump had a very public feud last week, Trump supporters are twice as likely to have an unfavorable view of Graham as they are to have a favorable one.

The debate

For GOP voters – whether or not they currently support Trump – this debate could matter.  Nearly two in three claim they will be watching (78% of Trump’s supporters will).  46% of Republicans say they are very interested in the debate, but even more Trump supporters – 69% – are.  Republicans, whomever they support, claim it will be very important in deciding who the nominee will be.


See the Economist/YouGov results

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.