Carson, Fiorina, Sanders Gain Ground in Their Parties’ Primary Races, Poll Shows

WSJBy Patrick O’Connor

Carson is preferred pick of 20% of GOP primary voters, while 21% favor Donald Trump

Republicans Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina and Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders have gained significant ground in their parties’ presidential primary races in recent weeks, the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and real-estate developer Donald Trump continue to lead the fields for their parties’ nominations. But Mr. Trump is now essentially tied with Mr. Carson, and significant movement has occurred among candidates just behind them. Mr. Carson is backed by 20% of GOP primary voters, compared with 21% for Mr. Trump. Mrs. Fiorina and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, both have 11% support. Other Republicans register single-digit support.

In the prior Journal/NBC News poll, conducted in mid-July, Mr. Carson had only 10% support, compared with 19% for Mr. Trump. The retired neurosurgeon overtakes Mr. Trump in the new survey, conducted Sept. 20-24, when voters’ first choice is combined with their second.

No candidate in the race has enjoyed a swifter ascent than Mrs. Fiorina, who barely registered in the July survey. She has since taken the spotlight in the GOP race after a strong performance in a televised Sept. 16 candidate debate.

Some 28% of Republican primary voters picked her as their first or second choice in the September survey, up from 2% in the July poll.

By contrast, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush lost the most altitude since the prior Journal/NBC News survey.

Some 7% of Republican primary voters named Mr. Bush as their top pick for the GOP nomination, down from 14% in July and 22% in June.

Like Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Bush was an early front-runner whose pedigree and famous last name is proving to be as much of a liability as an asset. The former Florida governor boasts the biggest war chest in the field, but his continued slippage has donors nervous at a time when candidates with little or no experience in politics have stolen the spotlight.

Mr. Bush, however, said on Fox News Sunday that he remains confident he’ll win in New Hampshire, the state that holds the first primary in February. He noted his campaign just began an advertising offensive.

“It is a marathon,” he said. “These polls really don’t matter.”

Mr. Rubio enjoyed a rebound of sorts from his own poor performance in the July survey. His 11% support compares with a 5% showing in the prior survey. The Florida senator turned in what many judged a solid debate performance and continues to benefit from a positive image among Republicans across the ideological spectrum.

The poll was conducted after Mr. Carson said a Muslim shouldn’t be president. He later amended his initial statement to say he would want any Muslim to renounce Sharia law before assuming the presidency.

The stronger poll numbers reflect the “enormous enthusiasm” Mr. Carson has seen on the campaign trail, he said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” It means voters are “not necessarily listening to the pundits—that they’re starting to think for themselves,” he said.

In the Democratic primary race, Mrs. Clinton leads Mr. Sanders 53% to 38% among primary voters. In July, she had led by 34 points. Other announced Democratic candidates register 1% support or less. The Democratic race tightens if Vice President Joe Biden is added to the mix, and he seems to draw the bulk of his support directly from Mrs. Clinton. Mrs. Clinton’s lead over Mr. Sanders falls to 7 percentage points if the ballot includes Mr. Biden, who places third.

Some 17% of Democratic primary voters list Mr. Biden as their preferred pick, and Mrs. Clinton’s support falls from 53% to 42% when the vice president is added to the list of candidates vying for the nomination. Mr. Sanders’s support remains largely unchanged at 35% with Mr. Biden in the race, compared with 38% when he’s not in the mix.

The vice president is still weighing a bidand has not given an explicit indication of whether he will run.

Mrs. Clinton continues to slip in the polls as she faces questions about her use of a private email server as secretary of state and increased scrutiny about the strengths of her campaign. Even when Mr. Biden is not included in the survey, the share of Democratic primary voters who list her as their top choice for the nomination dropped to 53% from 59% in July and 75% in June.

The Democratic race still turns on a sharp divide between white and nonwhite voters. Half of all white Democratic primary voters favor Mr. Sanders, compared with the 41% who prefer Mrs. Clinton.

But three-in-four nonwhite Democrats list the former secretary of state as their top pick for the nomination. A quarter of those nonwhite voters prefer Mr. Biden when he is included in the poll, and Mrs. Clinton’s support drops to 59%.

The poll surveyed 1,000 adults, including 230 who said they would vote in a GOP primary and 256 who said they would vote in a Democratic primary in the five days ending Thursday. The margin of error among GOP primary voters was plus or minus 6.46 percentage points; among Democratic primary voters it was 6.13 percentage points.

The full results of the Journal/NBC poll will be released Monday at 5 p.m. ET.

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