It’s been 11 days since the first debate for Republican presidential candidates, but we haven’t seen much in the way of traditional national polling from major news organizations. Did the widely seen event change the state of the GOP race? And if so, how?
A new Fox News poll was released yesterday, and the results were not altogether expected:
1. Donald Trump: 25% (down one point from two weeks ago)
2. Ben Carson: 12% (up five points)
3. Ted Cruz: 10% (up four points)
4. Jeb Bush: 9% (down six points)
5. Mike Huckabee: 6% (unchanged)
5. Scott Walker: 6% (down three points)
7. Carly Fiorina: 5% (up three points)
8. John Kasich: 4% (up one point)
8. Marco Rubio: 4% (down one point)
10: Chris Christie: 3% (unchanged)
10. Rand Paul: 3% (down two points)
This is, of course, just one poll, so all of the usual caveats apply. But if the Fox poll’s results accurately reflect the state of the race for GOP voters, the post-debate environment isn’t exactly in line with the conventional wisdom.
Trump, for example, was supposed to have done real damage to himself with his confrontation with Fox’s Megyn Kelly – and yet he still leads the Republican pack, still enjoys more than double the support of his next closest rival, and still has more backing than Bush, Walker, and Rubio combined.
Rubio and Kasich won broad praise from pundits following the debate, but both are still below 5% nationally, and the Florida senator actually seems to have lost ground. On the other hand, Carson and Cruz, who seemed like non-factors in the debate, are suddenly surging.
Rand Paul, meanwhile, is seeing his support collapse quickly. As recently as April, a Fox News poll showed the Kentucky senator in third place, reaching double digits. Now, he’s tied for 10th place.
But it’s Jeb Bush’s difficulties that stand out for me.
In the 2012 race for the GOP nomination, several candidates briefly enjoyed “frontrunner” status. It’s a detail polling experts frequently cite while explaining why early national polling should be taken with a grain of salt – Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and even Rick Santorum each led in national Republican polling, for at least a little while, before Mitt Romney eventually won his party’s nomination with relative ease.
Take a moment, however, to revisit this chart showing national GOP polling from that race. You can see the bumps for the also-rans, but notice that Romney – shown in the image with a red line – was consistently a strong second, watching rivals fade in and out of the spotlight, while his support never really faltered.
Now consider Jeb Bush, the new establishment favorite, four years later. The former Florida governor kicked off his exploratory committee in December 2014, and after eight months on the campaign trail, despite all kinds of money and support from the GOP establishment, the new Fox poll shows Jeb falling short of double digits, trailing a retired neurosurgeon with strange conspiracy theories and a former reality-show host who accused Mexican immigrants of being rapists.
It’s obviously not too late, and Bush’s team hasn’t really begun to spend much of the vast resources it’s collected. But the presumed frontrunner no doubt expected to be in far better shape at this point in the race.