WASHINGTON – Following his proposal to temporarily bar Muslims from entering the country, Donald Trump has increased his lead in the Republican primary to its largest margin yet, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
The results are the latest sign that Trump’s outspoken comments on immigration and terrorism continue to find an audience among rank-and-file Republicans in spite of sharp condemnation from Democrats, GOP leaders, some of Trump’s rivals and a chorus of world leaders.
The survey puts Trump’s support at 38 percent among registered Republicans and GOP-leaning independents, six points higher than in October and November. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who also is running an anti-establishment campaign, has surged into second place with 15 percent, effectively doubling his support since last month.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ben Carson are tied for third, with 12 percent each. Carson, who with Trump was at the top of the field earlier this fall, saw his support cut roughly in half over the past month. No other candidate in the new poll registers in double digits. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush stands at 5 percent among registered Republicans.
At this point in the campaign, even with the first votes fewer than 50 days away, national polls are not always the reliable predictors of where presidential nominating contests are heading. At this time four years ago, former congressman Newt Gingrich was tied with eventual nominee Mitt Romney on the Republican side. Eight years ago, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani led the GOP field, while Hillary Clinton held a wide lead over then-Sen. Barack Obama among Democrats. Giuliani and Clinton eventually lost.
National surveys can change quickly and sometimes dramatically after voters in the early states begin to register their preferences.
In Iowa, which kicks off the nominating season with caucuses on Feb. 1, Trump trailed Cruz in a Des Moines Register-Bloomberg Politics poll released over the weekend. Trump continues to lead in New Hampshire, which holds the first primary on Feb. 9, but that race has shown fluidity in recent weeks amid jockeying by a group of Republican candidates battling for establishment support.
The Post-ABC survey isn’t all good news for Trump. In a hypothetical general-election race, Trump trails Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, by 53 percent to 40 percent among all adults and 50 percent to 44 percent among registered voters.
Beyond that, 69 percent of adults nationally say they would feel anxious with Trump as president, with 49 percent saying the would feel “strongly” so. That compares with just 29 percent of Americans who say they would feel comfortable. In contrast, 51 percent say they would feel anxious with Clinton in the Oval Office, compared with 47 percent who say they would feel comfortable.
Regardless of how attitudes may change in the coming weeks, the survey underscores the degree to which Trump has dominated the GOP race in virtually all respects this year. He has skillfully used a megaphone through the media to spread his views on immigration and terrorism. He has tapped a vein of anger on the right, and he has been a relentless critic of any opponent who appears ready to challenge him.
The new poll was taken in the days immediately after Trump came under perhaps the heaviest criticism of the campaign. Early last week, he called for a ban on the entry of Muslims into the United States until U.S. officials could guarantee a more reliable process for screening out potential terrorists.
As in other cases when he has made controversial or questionable statements, however, the widespread criticism of the billionaire reality TV star that followed did not result in any diminishment in his support among Republicans. That is in large part because 59 percent of Republicans agree with his proposed ban, even as 60 percent of all adults say it is the wrong thing to do.
Trump’s dominance over his GOP rivals nationally is seen throughout the poll. He enjoys huge leads over the other top candidates as to whom Republicans see as the strongest leader in the field, who is most likely to bring change to Washington and who among the field has the best chance of winning a general election.
On who is the strongest leader, 54 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents cite Trump. On the question of who can best shake up Washington, 51 percent name Trump. On the question of who has the best chance of winning in the general election, 47 percent pick Trump. He enjoys 4-to-1 leads over the nearest candidate on strength and changing Washington and a 3-to-1 advantage on who can win.
On two other attributes – honesty and personality – Trump is either first or second, but with only about a quarter of Republicans citing him. He is bunched closely with the four others – Cruz, Rubio, Carson and Bush – who make up the top five.
After major terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, Republicans see terrorism as the most important issue in the election by a wide margin; it is cited by 38 percent, compared with 29 percent who name the economy and just 6 percent who highlight immigration. (Democrats rank the economy as the top issue.)
Asked to choose which candidate among the top five they would trust most to deal with threats of terrorism, half of Republicans cite Trump. Half also say they would trust him to deal with immigration.
The poll underscores the desire for change and the appeal of outsiders among Republican rank-and-file that has been a staple of this political year – though not among all Americans.
Nationally, 57 percent of adults say they prefer someone with experience in the political system as the next president, while 37 percent say they prefer someone from outside the system. Among all Republicans, however, 58 percent say they want an outsider more than someone with political experience. Trump is the overwhelming choice for the nomination among this group.
Trump leads among every demographic and ideological group of Republicans in the survey, but he has significantly greater support among those with less education and lower incomes and among men.
He has the support of 46 percent of white Republicans without college degrees, compared with 29 percent among those with college degrees. Similarly, he does far better among GOP voters whose household incomes are below $50,000 than with those at $50,000 and above. Men are far more likely to say they support Trump than are women, with the gender gap larger than in previous surveys.
Beneath Trump, the shifts in support suggest that many Republican voters are still weighing their options. Cruz’s rise to second in the Post-ABC poll parallels his even more dramatic surge in the Iowa poll. Carson’s decline, which has come amid questions about his foreign policy capabilities, has been reflected in state polls as well. Meanwhile, Rubio has held steady in Post-ABC polls over the past two months.
The Post-ABC poll was conducted Dec. 10-13 among a random national sample of 1,002 adults reached on conventional and cellular telephones. Overall results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The error margin is plus or minus six points among the sample of 362 Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters.