The latest poll from ABC News and the Washington Post has Donald Trump still firmly in the lead at 33 percent, Ben Carson ticking up a bit in second place at 22 percent, and Senator Marco Rubio likewise edging up a few points for third place at 10 percent.
The second tier consists of Jeb Bush at 7, Senator Ted Cruz at 6, and Carly Fiorina coming out of a remarkable post-debate nose dive to land at 5 percent. None of the other candidates drew more than 3 percent in the poll.
“The current gap between Trump and Carson at the top and the rest of a field comprised mostly of elected and former elected officials underscores again the unusual nature of the Republican presidential race and a conservative electorate registering its disapproval with status quo politics and politically experienced insiders,” opines the Washington Post, noting that a majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents expressed a preference for an outsider candidate.
Like the rest of the mainstream media, the Post concedes that facile conventional-wisdom predictions about Trump’s certain flameout after the first lap of the presidential primary were wrong: “Trump has kept his lead for more than three months, amid predictions that his provocations, insults and barbed comments about his rivals would eventually cause him to fall.”
Both the Washington Post and ABC News spotlight Trump’s strong showing in the question about who respondents think will ultimately win the nomination. 42 percent said Trump, which is much higher than his actual support in the polls. 15 percent said Carson, which is considerably lower than his 22 percent support, suggesting he has work to do on making himself seem like a plausible winner who can go the distance, even among people who support his bid for the Oval Office. Jeb Bush came in third on the expectations question with 12 percent, well above the 7 percent support for his bid – the fading embers of the once-bright “inevitable Jeb” flames.
ABC notes that expectations for which Republican would win the nomination tracked almost exactly with respondents’ expectations for who had the best chance to win the general election, so clearly these poll respondents find Trump and Carson much more electable than the pundit class does.
“Trump also fares well on many key attributes,” ABC observes. “Nearly half of leaned Republicans – 47 percent – view him as the strongest leader; 39 percent think he’d be best able to handle immigration; 32 percent feel he is closest to them on the issues; and 29 percent say he ‘best understands the problems of people like you.’ In each case he leads the other top-five contenders for the nomination, Carson, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina.”
This drives home one of the things many political pundits can’t seem to grasp about Trump’s appeal, because he’s so flamboyant and ostentatious in his wealth: people identify with him. They think he understands their anxieties and ambitions. They feel the same sense of identification with Carson, even though very few Americans have a groundbreaking pediatric neurosurgeon in their lives. Identification with the middle class is not solely achieved by pretending to be a member of it.
ABC points out a few of Trump’s vulnerabilities in the poll: respondents thought Carson was more honest and trustworthy, and had a better “personality and temperament,” although Trump scored substantially higher than every other Republican candidate in those categories. It is also noted that Carson does better with voters as they learn more about him, while Trump and Bush tend to fare worse. This phenomenon is even more pronounced with Bush, which is bad news for someone struggling to break double digits in the polls. As for Carson, a whopping 64 percent said they liked him better the more they learned about him, while only 18 percent said they liked him less.
What happened to Carly Fiorina?
She did very well in the second debate, built up a huge wave of interest… and then seems to have dropped off the political map. The last thing voters remember hearing about her was a string of precisely-timed negative stories about her tenure as CEO of Hewlett-Packard. She was running a great game going into the second debate, but somehow dribbled the ball right off the court and disappeared after her big slam-dunk.
ABC makes much of how support for Trump and Carson appears to be “flattening” – they’re still on top, but their numbers are freezing. So are everyone else’s, though. It looks like supporters have made camp for the winter, with a few of the early candidates shaken out, and the third-tier players appearing incapable of significantly improving their positions.