Hard on the heels of yesterday’s Quinnipiac poll comes a survey from the Des Moines Register that confirms Ben Carson is now the leading Republican candidate in Iowa, with Donald Trump slipping into second place, and Senator Ted Cruz nudging ahead of Senator Marco Rubio for third.
The Des Moines Register’s results are very similar to Quinnipiac: Carson 28, Trump 19, Cruz 10, Rubio 9. That’s a 10 point jump for Carson since the last poll in August, and a four-point slide for Trump.
The second tier is a tie for fifth place, with five points apiece, between Jeb Bush and Senator Rand Paul. Carly Fiorina is next with 4 percent, then Mike Huckabee with 3. No one else reached 3 percent in the poll.
“Even Carson’s most controversial comments — about Muslims, Hitler and slavery — are attractive to likely Republican caucusgoers,” the Register writes. “The poll shows just two perceived weaknesses: his lack of foreign policy experience and his research using fetal tissue during his medical career.”
Another way to put that is that most normal people agree with Carson on those subjects, or find his comments debatable more than controversial. Our political media culture really needs to learn the difference between argument and controversy.
The Register goes on to postulate that Trump’s support is “firmer” than Carson’s, based on the number of respondents supporting Trump who said their mind was firmly made up (32 percent) versus the number of Carson supporters who said so (15 percent). It seems a bit early in the race to be putting great stock in these “firm” support numbers, especially for outsider candidates, whose support tends to be more volatile.
Also, the Register found Trump was the candidate most respondents wanted to drop out of the race – 25 percent among caucusgoers, 36 percent among the curiously specific subset of “moderates and caucusgoers ages 44 and under.”
Another good sign for Carson is that he enjoyed high approval even among the respondents who didn’t choose him as their top candidate, which suggests he has room for growth among Iowans, especially since he’s a relatively low-key candidate voters are curious to learn more about.
Ted Cruz is said to enjoy a similar overall position, with favorable ratings much higher than his share of direct support, but it is speculated that Trump and Carson are blocking his path to the Iowa caucuses like semi trucks running side-by-side and blocking a freeway on-ramp. Trump is eating up the populist energy, while Carson has the social-conservative support.
Interestingly, while the Register article includes speculation that Carson is winning a “morality vote,” the actual voters quoted in the piece, and other articles about Carson, tend to mention his intelligence and accomplishments as a surgeon first.
We might speculate that what really has voters excited is the prospect of a candidate who speaks powerfully about social issues, but cannot be caricatured by the media as either a hypocrite or a dunce. They just took their best shot at stapling a dunce cap to Dr. Carson’s head, and it didn’t work.