Carson Breaks Out, Trump and Rubio Round out Top Three, Loras College Poll Finds

With less than 100 days before the 2016 Iowa Caucuses, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson has surged to a lead over real estate mogul Donald Trump and the rest of the field. Trump stands in second, while Florida Senator Marco Rubio is in third place and is the only other candidate with double-digit support as a first choice candidate.

“Dr. Carson has connected with Iowa Republicans. His stock started to rise late in the summer, and this positive trajectory has continued to this point. Iowa has a new frontrunner,” said Associate Professor of Politics and Director of the Loras College Poll, Christopher Budzisz, Ph.D.  “Over the past week or so, Dr. Carson’s campaign has been officially suspended as he pursues his book tour, but given his tour took him to several places in Iowa, he remained front and center for Iowa Republicans.”

“Dr. Carson has captured the attention of a Republican electorate in Iowa that is very dissatisfied with the direction of the country, President Obama and what they see as the political status quo,” Budzisz continued. “The real test for Dr. Carson and his campaign will be translating this attention and support into votes come February 1.  One hundred days is a long time in caucus politics, especially for someone without much campaign experience. Carson need only look to the slip in the polls by Donald Trump for a reminder of this.”

Beyond the race for the presidential nomination, the Loras College Poll also asked voters their opinion on the direction of the country, state of the economy, presidential job approval, their support or opposition to raising the debt ceiling and their confidence in government to address the issues facing society. In addition, Republican voters were asked to weigh in on what they believe should be the proper course of action by the Republican majorities in Congress as they pursue their policy
agenda—particularly as it relates to the possibility of a government shutdown.

Candidate Preference

Candidate Candidate Support
(as first choice)
Candidate Support
(as first or second choice)
Ben Carson 30.6 percent 49.6 percent
Donald Trump 18.6 percent 27.2 percent
Marco Rubio 10.0 percent 20.0 percent
Jeb Bush 6.8 percent 14.4 percent
Ted Cruz 6.2 percent 13.4 percent
Bobby Jindal 4.6 percent 8.6 percent
Carly Fiorina 2.4 percent 11.2 percent
Chris Christie 1.8 percent 4.4 percent
Rand Paul 1.8 percent 3.6 percent
John Kasich 1.4 percent 3.0 percent
Mike Huckabee 1.2 percent 4.8 percent
Rick Santorum 0.8 percent 2.8 percent
Lindsey Graham 0.4 percent 0.8 percent
George Pataki 0 percent 0.2 percent
Undecided 12.8 percent

Dr. Carson has opened up a lead on the field. These new Loras College Poll results echo recent poll findings by other organizations.

“The field remains very large, and I think that some consolidation will take place as we get closer to February 1. The pressure will mount on campaigns to meet or exceed expectations in Iowa.  It is not always about winning the Iowa Caucuses—for many campaigns the need is to exceed expectations, to simply do well enough to move on to the other states in the nomination calendar,” Budzisz commented.

Differences from Last Loras College Poll
Looking back to the results of the Loras College Poll released on September 1, there have been changes for the current top three of Carson, Trump and Rubio:

Candidate Candidate Support
(August 24-27 poll)
Candidate Support
(October 19-22 poll)
Ben Carson 18.1 percent 30.6 percent +12.5 percent
Donald Trump 24.5 percent 18.6 percent -5.9 percent
Marco Rubio 4.0 percent 10.0 percent +6.0 percent

Net Favorability
The Loras College Poll asked likely voters whether they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the various candidates. The results below indicate the net favorability of the candidates (percentage favorable opinion minus percentage unfavorable opinion). As such, positive numbers indicate a net favorable view, whereas negative numbers indicate a net unfavorable opinion.

Candidate Net Favorability
Carson +78.8
Rubio +55.4
Fiorina +37.8
Jindal +37.2
Huckabee +29.6
Cruz +29.2
Trump +23.4
Santorum +19.2
Bush +12.6
Christie +1.0
Kasich +0.6
Paul -11.6
Pataki -28.2
Graham -29.2

“Dr. Carson’s favorability rating is off-the-charts. It certainly appears from our polling that ‘to know him is to like him.’ Despite recent criticisms of Carson’s manner by Donald Trump, Iowa Republicans clearly think highly of Dr. Carson,” said Budzisz.

This favorable opinion of Carson was also present in the previous Loras College Poll, where he then had a net favorability of +62.7 percent. On the other side of the ledger—those with a negative net rating—South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and former New York Governor George Pataki reprise their positions from previous Loras College Polls and are not well regarded amongst likely Iowa Republican caucus attendees (-29.2 percent and -28.2 percent in the current poll, respectively).

Likely caucus participants were also asked whether or not there was a candidate they absolutely would not vote for. Donald Trump remains the most polarizing, with Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham rounding out the top three. Of those surveyed, 28.2 percent of respondents indicated they would definitely not vote for Trump, 21.8 percent opposed Bush and 19.2 indicated they would absolutely not vote for Graham. These figures for Trump and Bush are similar to those found in the last Loras College Poll released on September 1.

A Closer Look at the Electorate
The support for candidates within subgroups of the Republican electorate is an important thing to consider as the campaigns push through the next three months, appeal to voters and try to consolidate their support. The mood of the electorate is also a critical element to analyze.

Turning to all of those likely voters identifying as evangelical Christians—56.8 percent of the likely Republican caucus voters polled in this survey—Carson captured 35.6 percent of this total group of voters. Dr. Carson’s total doubled the next closest candidate, Donald Trump, who attracted 17.6 percent of the evangelical Christians surveyed.  Sixty-six percent of those supporting Dr. Carson in the current poll identified as evangelical Christians, with 53.8 percent of those supporting Donald Trump identifying as evangelicals. Several other candidates draw significant levels of support from evangelical voters, including Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal.

It is also clear from the poll results that likely participants in the Republican caucus are quite critical of the direction of the country, President Obama, state of the economy and have little confidence in the federal government. There is certainly a disgruntled element to the Republican electorate. Several particular items related to the mood of the likely Republican caucus participants are worthy of note:

  • Of those surveyed, 92.2 percent of Republican respondents said that the country is going in the wrong direction. This compares with just 29.6 percent of likely Democratic Caucus participants saying the country is going in the wrong direction.
  • Republicans also remain critical of President Obama, with 72.6 percent indicating they definitely disapprove of President Obama’s job performance, with another 13.8 somewhat disapproving (for a total of 86.4 percent disapproval). Likely Democratic caucus participants have a much different opinion of President Obama, with 57.8 percent indicating they definitely approve of his job performance and 27 percent indicating they somewhat approve (for a total of 84.8 percent approval).
  • Turning to views on the state of the U.S. economy, 40.8 percent of likely Republican caucus participants believe the state of the economy is poor. That compares to 10.8 percent of likely Democratic caucus participants who think the same.
  • Seventy percent of likely Republican caucus participants indicate they have “not much” or “no” confidence in the federal government to address the issues facing the country.  Only 9.8 percent indicated they have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the federal government.

Opposition to Debt Limit Increase
Without action by Congress and the White House, the federal government will soon reach the limits of its legal borrowing authority. Whether or not to vote for an increase in the country’s debt limit is a question facing Congress. The Loras College Poll asked all respondents, likely Republican and Democratic caucus participants, whether or not they supported an increase in the debt limit.  Seventy percent of Republican voters indicated they oppose an increase in the debt limit, with 64.4 percent of Democratic voters approving of an increase. Only 18 percent of Republicans support an increase in the debt limit.

As it relates to specific candidates, of the top three in the current poll—Carson, Trump and Rubio—overwhelming majorities of their supporters oppose an increase in the debt ceiling (75.8 percent, 73.1 percent and 64.0 percent, respectively).

Limited Appetite for Shutdown
One lingering issue facing Republicans in Congress is how best to approach the party’s policy agenda. As part of the recent leadership struggles in the House of Representatives, there have been calls by some Republicans to take a hard-nosed approach in dealings with the White House.  Such an approach includes efforts that could lead to a possible government shutdown. The Loras College Poll asked likely Republican Caucus participants if they supported a legislative strategy that could lead to a possible government shutdown.

A little more than 37 percent indicated support for a strategy of confrontation with the White House that could lead to a government shutdown, while 53.4 percent indicated Congressional Republicans should adopt a posture avoiding a shutdown. Another 9 percent of respondents were unsure. Only supporters of Texas Senator Ted Cruz were clearly more likely to favor a strategy leading to a possible shutdown than a strategy avoiding one. Trump and Carson supporters were nearly split on the issue.

Support for a possible shutdown is strongest (55.6 percent) amongst those labelling themselves as “very conservative,” but even within that category, roughly a third (34.7 percent) favor avoiding a shutdown.

Other noteworthy results from the poll of Republican caucus electorate include:
Much has been made of the possibility of an independent run for Donald Trump. However, only about a third of Trump supporters (34.4 percent) in this poll indicated that they would support Trump making an independent run if he were not to secure the nomination.

Republicans are not very optimistic regarding the state of the U.S. economy going forward. When asked what they think will be the state of the national economy a year from now, 29.8 percent indicated that the economy will be worse, 48 percent believe it will be about the same as it is now and 13.8 percent believe it will be better.

For toplines and crosstabs related to today’s release, please click here.

Note on Methodology:
The Loras College Poll surveyed 1,000 likely 2016 caucus voters: 500 likely Republican voters and 500 likely Democratic voters. The survey was conducted October 19-22, 2015. Both subsamples of party caucus participants include no-party registrants who passed likely voter screen (see below). Margin of error for full sample results is +/- 3.1 percent, while for the party subsamples the margin of error is +/- 4.4 percent. All results calculated at a 95 percent confidence interval.

  • Survey conducted with a random sample of registered voters, with phone numbers drawn from official Iowa Secretary of State voter files of those who voted in either the 2012 or 2014 general election or who had registered since December 1, 2014.
  • Likely caucus voter was defined as those indicating they were “definitely or very likely” to vote in the 2016 Iowa Caucus. Those indicating they were “somewhat likely” were subjected to further screen question regarding their general interest in politics. Only those indicating they were “very interested” in politics were then accepted within the sample as a likely caucus voter.
  • The statewide sample was balanced for gender and divided evenly across Iowa’s four congressional districts. Age was balanced to approximate past caucus entrance polling.
  • Survey included both landlines and cell phones.
  • The survey was conducted using live operator interviews through a contracted professional call center.
  • Script development and methodology used for the survey received input from Republican campaign consultant Brian Dumas and Democratic campaign consultant Dave Heller.

The Loras College Poll is conducted several times each year. Loras College faculty and student researchers work as part of the survey research team to develop poll questions, analyze and interpret data, and assist with sharing the final results with local, regional and national media.  Surveys are administered by professional, live callers through a contracted call center.

Capitalizing on its location in the politically vital and vibrant state of Iowa, the Iowa Presidential Caucuses serves as a cornerstone of the Loras College Poll, with additional surveys focused on current events, social issues, economic issues, politics and more. For more information, please visit or follow @LorasPoll or @ChrisBudzisz on Twitter.