Donald Trump again leads the Republican primary field – but his lead has dwindled since before the second debate, while Marco Rubio has seen a significant boost in support
Although businessman Donald Trump continues to lead the GOP field when it comes to presidential preference of those registered voters who think of themselves as Republican, he is by no means the best-liked contender for Republicans for those potential voters. At least five other candidates in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll are seen more favorably by Republicans than Trump. Trump’s lead has somewhat diminished in recent weeks, though he remains in first place when second choice mentions are added to first choice preferences.
Two weeks ago, nearly half of Republicans picked Trump as their first or second choice. Now, after the second GOP presidential debate, that number has dropped by 12 points. One in four now choose Trump as their first choice; last week a third did. And although neurosurgeon Ben Carson continues to perform well, there is a new challenger to Trump among the candidates: Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Rubio is the only elected official among the top three GOP contenders.
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who was widely seen as having done the best job in the second debate, has also gained support. But fewer than one in ten Republicans name her as their first choice, about the same percentage who choose Texas Senator Ted Cruz and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Fiorina runs equally well with men as with women. In fact, support for Cruz has the largest gender gap: 14% of Republican men in this week’s poll choose Cruz as their first choice, compared with only 4% of GOP women.
Bush’s relatively weak showing in this week’s poll comes at a time when Republicans seem more attracted to non-politicians than to politicians – with the exception of Marco Rubio. And potential voters are starting to move away from Trump. Not only has his support dropped, but in the last two weeks Trump’s favorable ratings have declined 12 points among Republicans while unfavorable ratings have jumped 13 points.
The larger than usual sample size for the Economist/YouGov Poll provides the ability for greater comparative analysis in the GOP horserace. Several Republicans look better than Trump when it comes to the overall opinion Republicans hold of them. More than six in ten Republicans have favorable opinions of Carson, Fiorina and Rubio. Ratings for Cruz and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee are also somewhat better than the ratings for Trump. Jeb Bush’s ratings are similar to those for Trump this week, but that represents no change for the former Governor from his position in recent months, while Trump’s ratings are dropping.
The old conventional wisdom that Bush would be the inevitable GOP nominee seemed to disappear sometime in August as Trump remained on top in the polls. Today, more than a third of Republicans continue to regard Trump as the party’s likely nominee. Bush is far behind, with nearly as many now calling Rubio the most likely nominee as name Bush. 35% of Republicans select Trump as the likely nomination winner, 13% choose Bush, and 10% name Rubio.
But who might be electable in November against a Democrat? Bush is the only Republican candidate seen by a majority of the public overall as a possible winner next November. 56% of Republicans agree.
But Republicans see others as more electable than Bush. More name Trump, Rubio, Carson, and Fiorina as possible November 2016 winners than say that of Bush. GOP optimism about the election prospects for Fiorina and Rubio has risen dramatically in the last two weeks – 11 points for Rubio and 16 points for Fiorina. While opinions about Carson’s and Bush’s electability have shifted less, Carson’s stock is rising. However, the percentage of Republicans who think Trump can win a general election has dropped ten points in two weeks.
Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.