Trump and Carson on Top, Loras College Poll Finds

DUBUQUE, Iowa— With five months to go before the 2016 Iowa Caucuses, a pair of unconventional candidates top the large Republican field. For the 502 likely Republican caucus-goers polled statewide, billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson are leading the field by a relatively wide margin. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is in a distant third place, and is the only other candidate with double-digit support as a first choice candidate.

“I have heard Donald Trump himself say that it is the ‘summer of Trump,’ and our latest poll seems to confirm that here in Iowa,” said Associate Professor of Politics and Director of the Loras College Poll, Christopher Budzisz, Ph.D. “Beyond Trump’s meteoric rise, the climb of another unconventional candidate, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, is every bit as noteworthy,” Budzisz further remarked.

“Iowa has historically been receptive to those outside the typical mold of ‘politician,’ and we may be seeing a repeat of that this year. But, time is not always kind to the summer frontrunners,” Budzisz noted.

Beyond the race for the presidential nomination, the new Loras College Poll also asked voters their opinion on the direction of the country, state of the economy, presidential job approval, as well as perceptions of the impact of elections on public policy.

“We will find out more about the staying power of Trump and Carson as the election draws nearer and the other campaigns direct energy and resources against them. Super PACs will also play a huge role in all of this, as the groups supporting other Republicans in the race saturate television, radio and internet. No doubt many of these messages will be negative. There are several more debates to come, and they could also serve as opportunities to clarify or shake up the race for voters,” said Budzisz. “Bottom line is that we are in for plenty of twists and turns until the caucuses in February.”

Candidate Preference
Results among likely Republican caucus attendees are as follows:

Candidate Support
(as first choice)
Candidate Support
(as first or second choice)
Donald Trump         24.5 percent Ben Carson                   34.0 percent
Ben Carson              18.1 percent Donald Trump              33.7 percent
Jeb Bush                  10.4 percent Jeb Bush                       20.2 percent
Ted Cruz                  6.6 percent Scott Walker                 13.6 percent
Scott Walker             6.2 percent Marco Rubio                 12.4 percent
Carly Fiorina            5.2 percent Ted Cruz                       12.2 percent
Mike Huckabee        4.4 percent Carly Fiorina                11.2 percent
Marco Rubio            4.0 percent Mike Huckabee              8.8 percent
John Kasich              3.2 percent Rand Paul                       6.4 percent
Chris Christie           2.4 percent John Kasich                    6.0 percent
Rand Paul                 2.2 percent Chris Christie                 5.8 percent
Bobby Jindal            1.4 percent Bobby Jindal                  4.0 percent
Rick Perry                1.2 percent Rick Perry                      3.0 percent
Rick Santorum         1.0 percent Rick Santorum               3.0 percent
Lindsay Graham      0.2 percent Lindsay Graham            1.0 percent
George Pataki          0.0 percent George Pataki                0.8 percent
Undecided               7.2 percent

Differences from April Loras College Poll
Looking back to the spring Loras College Poll, fortunes have certainly changed for many of the candidates. Of the top three in that earlier poll, in terms of first choice of voters (Walker, Rubio, and Bush), only Bush has retained his level of support. Both Scott Walker and Marco Rubio have seen their support diminish, with Walker losing roughly half his support as a first choice candidate and Rubio losing even more. Donald Trump has seen the largest increase, with nearly an eight-fold increase in support.

April 21-23 Poll
(First Choice)
August 24-27 Poll
(First Choice)
Percentage Point Change
Scott Walker 12.6 percent 6.2 percent – 6.4
Marco Rubio 10.0 percent 4.0 percent – 6.0
Jeb Bush 9.6 percent 10.4 percent + 0.8
Ben Carson 6.3 percent 18.1 percent + 11.8
Donald Trump 3.1 percent 24.5 percent + 21.4

The Loras Poll asked respondents whether they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the candidates. Ben Carson is very highly thought of by likely Republican caucus participants, with 72.9 percent of respondents having a favorable opinion of him—the highest favorability rating within the Republican field. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham has the highest unfavorable rating, at 47.2 percent. The top five favorable/unfavorable are:

Top Five Favorable Top Five Unfavorable
Ben Carson 72.9 percent Lindsey Graham 47.2 percent
Mike Huckabee 60.8 percent Chris Christie 45.4 percent
Marco Rubio 59.8 percent Rand Paul 39.0 percent
Scott Walker 57.4 percent Jeb Bush 38.4 percent
Carly Fiorina 55.2 percent Donald Trump 35.1 percent

Trump is viewed favorably by a majority of all likely Republican caucus participants (51.8 percent).

Likely caucus participants were also asked whether or not there was a candidate they absolutely would not vote for. Donald Trump and Jeb Bush appear more polarizing than the other Republicans in the field. Only Trump and Bush registered any noticeable level of dissatisfaction, with 23.3 percent saying they would absolutely not vote for Trump and 22.3 percent saying they would absolutely not vote for Bush.

Trump and Carson Supporters
One of the key questions raised with the rise of Donald Trump and Ben Carson is where they draw their support. Donald Trump does well with voters of various categories, including across economic demographics. He also receives nearly as much of his support from women as men. In contrast, Ben Carson does particularly well with female voters, with 61.5 percent of his support coming from women. Carson also does very well with self-identified evangelical Christians—with 63.7 percent of his support coming from Evangelicals—while exactly half of those choosing Trump as their first choice candidate identify themselves as Evangelicals.

In terms of ideology, those voters labelling themselves as very conservative or conservative tend to think favorably of Carson (77.6 percent favorable) and Trump (54.7 percent favorable).  In a testament to Carson’s appeal within the Republican electorate, 62.2 percent of identified moderates think favorably of the retired neurosurgeon as well. In all, Carson captured the first choice of 21.5 percent of those labeling themselves as very conservative, with Trump capturing 20.0 percent. Senator Ted Cruz was the only other candidate to capture double-digit support from this category (13.1 percent). Widening the ideological lens out to include very conservative and conservative voters, Trump and Carson again lead the field (Trump at 23.2 percent and Carson with 19.9 percent).

Beyond the identification of various groups supporting Trump or Carson, the mood of the electorate is making a difference, as well. Looking closely at the poll, 95.6 percent of those choosing Ben Carson as their first choice candidate said that the country is heading in the wrong direction, while 92.7 percent of people choosing Trump as their first choice said that. In contrast, only 80.8 percent of those choosing Bush said the same. Overall, 89.8 percent of the Republican electorate says the country is moving in the wrong direction.

The Republican electorate is clearly restive, with 63.3 percent agreeing to the statement “I don’t like what national Republican leaders are doing, and we need to change the party leadership.”  This sentiment is on display on the campaign trail.

“There is a significant part of the electorate that is critical of the party establishment as our poll shows, and it may be that part of the Trump and Carson support is fueled by that anti-establishment sentiment,” Budzisz remarked. “You do hear people say they are tired of politics as usual, and I would say that having Donald Trump as the party frontrunner is certainly unusual.”

In an interesting twist, of those choosing Trump as their first choice, Ben Carson was the most popular second choice (23.5 percent) and Jeb Bush was next (11.3 percent). However, among those identifying Carson as their first choice, Carly Fiorina was the most popular second choice (16.4 percent), followed again by Jeb Bush (13.2 percent). It should be noted that Ben Carson was also the most popular second choice across all the candidates.

A few other noteworthy results from the poll of Republican caucus electorate include:

  • The Republican electorate is skeptical of the federal government, with 59 percent indicating they have little to no confidence in the federal government to address issues facing the country.
  • While the electorate is skeptical of the federal government, they do believe that elections matter, as 67.3 percent indicated that they believe elections have a great deal or fair amount of impact on public policy.
  • Republicans remain critical of President Obama, with 74.1 percent indicating they definitely disapprove of President Obama’s job performance.
  • The Republican electorate is pessimistic about the direction of the country, with 89.8 percent of respondents saying that the country is on the wrong track.
  • When asked about the state of the economy, the Republican electorate is mixed, with 42.6 percent saying the state of the economy is fair, 41.8 percent saying poor, with 14.1 percent saying it was either good or excellent. Thinking about the economy a year from now, the electorate is pessimistic as well, with only 14.3 percent saying it will improve (with 48.0 percent saying it will stay the same and 31.1 percent saying it will be worse).
  • When asked to consider the own personal financial situation a year from now, voters tend to see their situations remaining about the same (66.7 percent).

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

Note on Methodology:
The Loras College Poll surveyed 1,004 likely 2016 caucus voters (502 likely Republicans, 502 likely Democrats). The survey was conducted August 24-27, 2015. All results calculated at a 95 percent confidence interval. 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 +/- 3.09 percent, while for the party subsamples, the margin of error is +/- 4.37 percent.

  • Survey conducted with a random sample of registered voters (drawn from official Iowa Secretary of State official voter file) 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 match past caucus entrance polling.
  • Survey included both landlines and cell phones (approximately 70 percent and 30 percent, respectively).
  • 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.