While Donald Trump, understandably, sucks all the media oxygen out of the 2016 nomination contest, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson continues to post impressive numbers in both national and early state polling.
A new Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll finds Carson closing the gap with frontrunner Trump. Carson has 18 percent support among likely caucus-goers, while Trump has 23 percent support. Combining the first and second choices of voters shows the two men tied at 32 percent.
Combing first and second choices is more relevant in Iowa than other states, because of the Hawkeye State’s caucus system. Voters don’t cast a secret ballot in private, but show their support in public after a round of pitches from supporters of each candidate. In some precincts, the voting may extend to multiple “ballots” of candidates.
Following Trump and Carson are, in order, Ted Cruz, Scott Walker and Carly Fiorina. Marco Rubio is in sixth place with 14 percent while Jeb Bush is in seventh place with 10 percent support.
This latest poll ought to be a siren for Scott Walker, who, as Governor of a neighboring state, had long dominated polling in Iowa. He is currently polling fourth, despite the fact that he is very well known in the state.
The Bloomberg poll was conducted by Iowa polling legend Ann Selzer, who has accurately gauged sentiment of caucus voters in the state for decades. Her eponymous Selzer Index shows outsider candidates Trump, Carson, Cruz and Fiorina gaining strength among Iowa voters, while more traditional candidates like Walker, Rubio, Bush and the others slipping.
The performance of all the candidates in the poll, especially Carson, show that the GOP primary race is not exclusively a Trump reality show, but a more general, and visceral, GOP voter frustration with the national party.
Even candidates whom had been expected to do well in the state because of past performances are floundering. Rick Santorum, who edged Romney in the caucus in 2012, is polling around 1 percent. Mike Huckabee, who has a strong Evangelical following and won the caucus in 2008, is trailing in eighth place. Rand Paul, whose father placed a strong 3rd in 2012–but actually won the most delegates–is in ninth, barely ahead of Bobby Jindal and John Kasich.
The curse facing these three candidates may be simply that they’ve been on the ballot, or in Rand’s case, near it, before and represent more of the status quo today.
It is perhaps easy for establishment pundits to dismiss Trump’s poll lead to factors particular to him. The strong showing by all of the candidates who can generally be viewed as outsiders is evidence that the voter unrest goes far beyond Trump.
In fact, Carson has clear leads over Trump with two voting blocks that are critical to the caucus vote. Carson wins seniors by 11 points and has a 7-point edge over Trump among Christian conservatives. He may be the first candidate to edge Trump with sizable blocks of voters in an early state.
Almost all of the political class in D.C. has a bet on when the Trump phenomenon will implode. Most of these wagers have probably already expired. Still, a Trump implosion may not end the establishment’s political nightmare. Carson, and the other political outsiders, are on the march as well.