New WSJ Poll: Trump, Cruz Lead GOP Field; Support for Carson Plummets, Poll Finds

header-hoover-institution-fellows1-1By Janet Hook, WSJ

New Journal/NBC News poll shows Trump has 27% support, taking over top position from Carson

Donald Trump has risen to a new high and Ben Carson’s support has plummeted among Republican primary voters after a tumultuous month of international and domestic terrorism, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds.

Mr. Trump leads the Republican field with 27% support, taking over the top position from Mr. Carson, who led in a late October Journal/NBC News survey.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has vaulted into second place, amid signs that he has picked up former Carson supporters. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida placed third in the survey, but the poll also carried evidence that he stands to benefit most when the big field of GOP candidates is winnowed.

Mr. Carson, the retired neurosurgeon, dropped to fourth place, with 11% support, down from 29% in late October. As terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., heightened attention to national security in the past month, Mr. Carson has stumbled on foreign policy questions, and critics have raised doubts about his mastery of international affairs.

The shifts are a reminder that the large GOP presidential candidate field is still sorting itself out, less than two months before the nominating process begins with the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses.

Mr. Trump’s 27% support was his highest showing in Journal/NBC News polling this year and compares to 23% support in the prior survey, in late October. The results continue to defy the expectations of many political analysts and Trump rivals that the celebrity businessman’s candidacy would fade, or at least hit a ceiling, when its novelty wore off.

The poll suggests a new dynamic has arisen in the race, with Mr. Cruz becoming a formidable force. His spike in support—to 22% of GOP primary voters, up from 10% in late October—catapulted him to the poll’s No. 2 spot for the first time since the 2016 campaign began.

Mr. Cruz has been assiduously courting evangelical voters who had also been drawn to Mr. Carson, and the poll suggests his efforts are reaping benefits. Support for Mr. Cruz among “values voters”—those who most strongly support traditional marriage and oppose abortion rights—increased to 27%, from 14% in October. Meanwhile for Mr. Carson, support among those voters dropped to 14%, from 34% in October.

Similarly, Mr. Cruz’s support among voters who call themselves “very conservative’’ rose by 23 percentage points, while Mr. Carson’s support among that group dropped by 23 points.

“This is a good poll for Ted Cruz,’’ said Fred Yang, a Democratic pollster who helped conduct the survey with GOP pollster Bill McInturff. “He’s been doing things for the last 3-4-5 months that are now paying” off.

The poll offered little ground for cheer for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, long ago considered the party’s front-runner, who like the rest of the field remained stuck with single-digit support.

Mr. Bush was the first choice of 7% of GOP primary voters; former Hewlett-Packard chief Carly Fiorina was first choice of 5%; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie drew 3% each; and Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky each drew 2%.

The poll also tested what would happen if the field narrowed to only five candidates: Messrs. Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Carson and Bush.

The result did not shake up the field’s rank order, as each of the five gained some support in the shakeout. But the candidate who gained the most in a hypothetical five-person field was Mr. Rubio, whose vote share came in at 21%, up 6 percentage points from his support on the full, 10-candidate ballot.

  NA-CI109A_POLLs_16U_20151211220311Mr. McInturff cautioned, based on long experience with GOP presidential campaigns, that it remained too early to predict which candidate would be able to build an enduring coalition and outlast the many other competitors in the field.

“Donald Trump is a front-runner,” Mr. McInturff said. “That doesn’t mean you can translate being a front-runner in a ten-person candidate field into generating a majority coalition across the entire Republican primary spectrum.”

The poll was conducted last Sunday through Wednesday, Dec. 6-9, both before and after Mr. Trump first made his controversial proposal last Monday to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the U.S. In results released late last week, the poll found that 57% of Americans opposed Mr. Trump’s proposal, while GOP voters were more divided over it, with 38% supporting it and 39% opposed.

Some Trump supporters said the proposal was emblematic of what they liked about him.

“We’re in danger,” said Michelle Parker, 50, a registered nurse from Sheridan, Wyoming, who supports Mr. Trump. “We need people to stand up. And you know, Trump is standing up.”

The survey of 1,000 adults has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. Additional interviews on some questions were conducted on an additional sample of past GOP primary voters, in order to increase to 400 the number of Republican primary voters in the survey. Results from that sample have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points. Some questions were added after Mr. Trump on Monday proposed barring Muslims from entry to the U.S. They were answered by 495 respondents on Dec. 8-9 and carry a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

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