Donald Trump continues to hold a large lead despite increasing establishment and media attacks on the GOP Frontrunner in the latest CNN/WMUR poll of New Hampshire voters, but other shifts in the field are very evident since last week’s Republican debate.
Trump leads with 26% support among those who say they plan to vote in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary, about the same as in a July WMUR/UNH poll in the state. Second place now goes to businesswoman Carly Fiorina with 16%, third to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio with 9% and fourth to retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson with 8%. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who held second place in the July poll, stands at 7% now, and the candidate who previously held third place, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, has dropped out of the race entirely.
Trump is now seen as both the candidate most likely to win the New Hampshire primary early next year with 40% saying so, up from 25% in July, and as the one with the best chance to win next November’s general election, as 27% say he’s best positioned to carry the electoral college.
Trump’s success in New Hampshire may be dependent on his ability to turn out those who aren’t typically active in politics, however, with his support much greater among those who aren’t regular GOP primary voters. Among those who say they voted in both 2008 and 2012, Trump and Fiorina are tied at the top at 18%, with 11% behind Rubio and 9% each behind Carson and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Eight percent say they’ll back Bush.
That lack of strength among regular primary voters is one of several negative indicators for Bush in the poll. New Hampshire has long been seen as a must-win for the former governor, who has never had much traction in more conservative-leaning early states such as Iowa and South Carolina.
The poll finds Bush’s numbers down slightly overall, from 12% support in July to 7% now, and while his debate performances haven’t shifted public opinion against him, he hasn’t made any gains either. Before the debate, 46% had a positive impression of Bush, and now, 47% do, virtually no change.
Just 17% say Bush is the candidate with the right experience to be president, only 8% see him as most likeable or most conservative, and 16% say that he has the best chance to win the general election.
Eleven percent now say they would not vote for Bush under any circumstance, the most to say so about any candidate save Trump, and only 12% now say they expect Bush to win the New Hampshire primary. In July, 26% said they expected a Bush win.
Fiorina posts the sharpest rise in the poll, following her successful performance at a CNN debate last week. In terms of overall support, she’s up 15 points since July, and the share of GOP voters who have a positive impression of her has increased by 25 points. She is now the best-liked candidate in the field.
Carson and Rubio both improved their favorability ratings following the debates as well, with Carson up 20 points and Rubio up 12. Rubio has made greater gains in overall support, however, rising 6 points since July while Carson’s support rose just 3 points over the same time period, from 5% to 8%.
Kasich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also posted improvements in their favorability ratings since the debate, with Christie’s improvement notable as it’s the first time his favorable rating has hit 50% since July 2013. Neither have improved their standing in the race, though.
Several candidates saw the debates drive their reviews in the opposite direction, with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz losing the most ground. Negative impressions of both senators are up double digits, with Paul flipping from a net positive 44% favorable to 32% unfavorable rating in July to a net negative 31% favorable to 48% unfavorable now. His support in the race for the GOP nomination has dipped to just 3%.
The good news for many of the candidates looking for a way to gain traction: Many voters say their minds aren’t yet made up. About six in 10 New Hampshire Republicans say they’re still trying to decide whom to support, while just 13% say they are firmly decided.
The CNN/WMUR poll was conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center by telephone from Sept. 17 through 23. The poll includes interviews with a random sample of 820 residents of New Hampshire, including 344 who say they plan to vote in the Republican presidential primary. For results among the sample of GOP primary voters, the margin of sampling error is plus or minus 5.3 percentage points.