Patrick O’ConnorThe Wall Street JournalCANCEL
Updated Nov. 3, 2015 12:15 a.m. ET
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson overtook businessman Donald Trump as the top pick of GOP presidential primary voters, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey found, as Republicans continued to turn to nontraditional candidates who they believe can channel their anger with Washington.
WSJ/NBC News Polls: 2016 Election and More
The finding marked the first time since June that a Republican other than Mr. Trump led the GOP field. Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, who have cast themselves as a new generation of Republicans eager to challenge party leadership, ranked third and fourth, respectively, as the top pick of 11% and 10% of GOP primary voters.
In the ultimate sign of dissatisfaction with more established Republicans, the poll found former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush continuing to struggle among GOP voters. For the first time since the race began, more Republicans said they wouldn’t consider voting for Mr. Bush than those who said they could, 52% to 45%.
In the Democratic presidential race, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has solidified her lead, building a 31-point advantage over Sen. Bernie Sanders, up from 25 points a few weeks earlier.
- Full Results of Latest WSJ/NBC News Poll
The poll shows that Republicans and Democrats are split on what attributes they want in the next commander in chief. Republican primary voters, by a two-to-one margin, want the next president to stick to his or her convictions, while 63% of Democrats and 56% of independents want the 45th president to bridge differences in the country.
“We are a country greatly divided by partisan lines, and nowhere is this more evident than when we asked what kind of president we are seeking,” said Democratic pollster Fred Yang, who conducted the poll with Republican Bill McInturff. “Democratic primary voters want common ground…Republican voters go the other way.”
With Election Day a year away, the GOP’s image remains decidedly negative, with 44% of Americans holding unfavorable views of the party and 29% viewing it positively, a contrast to the image of the Democratic Party that is almost evenly divided between positive and negative views.
Chris Goodney/Bloomberg News
But the Republican Party still finds itself better positioned than it was eight years ago at this time, notching a one-percentage-point lead on the question of which party voters want to control the White House, a vast improvement from a 10-point deficit in November 2007.
The Journal survey was conducted Oct. 25-29 before and after the most recent Republican presidential debate.
No candidate in either field has a more favorable image than Mr. Carson, a political newcomer who wears his inexperience as a badge of honor. Among Republicans, 77% said they would consider supporting him for president, 17 percentage points higher than Mr. Trump, his next-closest rival. Just 18% said they couldn’t see themselves supporting Mr. Carson.
“He seems to be a little more down to earth,’’ said Randy Miller, 61 years old, of Lenox, Tenn., who ranked Mr. Carson ahead of the other Republicans hopefuls. “I’m impressed because he’s not a politician. He’s there for the people.”
Only five Republican candidates scored net positive ratings when GOP primary voters were asked which they could see themselves supporting, regardless of who was their top pick. They were Messrs. Carson, Trump, Rubio, Cruz and former Hewlett-Packard Co. Chief Executive Carly Fiorina.
Roughly three-fourths of GOP primary voters give Mr. Trump strong marks for “being effective and getting things done,” almost twice the share of Republicans who rendered the same judgment about Mr. Bush, a two-term governor of Florida. But the silver lining for Mr. Bush is that opinions about him remain relatively unformed, potentially giving him an opportunity to reintroduce himself.
Mr. Trump didn’t fare as well when GOP primary voters were asked to rate whether he is “knowledgeable and experienced enough to handle the presidency,” “easygoing and likable” or has “the right temperament.”
Mrs. Clinton has reasserted herself as the likely Democratic nominee, following a well-received debate performance, her Benghazi testimony, and Vice President Joe Biden ’s decision not to run. Some 62% of Democratic primary voters rank her as their top pick for the nomination, up from 53% in September.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, her next closest rival, seems to have plateaued as the preferred pick of 31% of Democratic primary voters. Some 85% of Democrats expressed a willingness to support Mrs. Clinton for the nomination. More than 80% predicted she would be the next nominee and said she would give Democrats their best chance to retain the White House next November. “She’s had a very good October, and that very good October is reflected through these numbers,” Mr. McInturff said.
Her appearance before the Benghazi panel seemed to reassure Democrats who were starting to question her strength as the nominee. “She stood her ground,” said George Joly, 63, a swing voter from Newport, Va., who is leaning toward supporting Mrs. Clinton next fall.
Evan Vucci/Associated Press
Mrs. Clinton would enter the general election with at least one clear-cut advantage: 55% of Americans rate the former secretary of state, U.S. senator and first lady highly for possessing the knowledge and experience to be president, compared with the 26% who don’t.
But she remains a polarizing figure with well-defined liabilities, as well. For starters, more Americans view her negatively than positively, 47% to 40%. Some 53% give her low marks for being “honest and straightforward,” compared with the 27% who give her high marks. And she scores poorly on questions of moral authority and whether she would be an “inspirational and exciting choice for president.”
“It’s time to say the Democrats have a candidate challenge, and the Republicans have a party problem,” said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, another member of the Journal polling team.
Write to Patrick O’Connor at [email protected]
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