This is, I believe, the first poll of the GOP race since the debate conducted by a major news network using traditional phone calls instead of the Internet, so if you’re looking for reasons to give this one extra credence, there you go.
What’s the biggest story here? Trump’s rise? Ben Carson’s surprising surge, given his low-key debate performance? Or the decline of Scott Walker?
CNN hasn’t polled Iowa recently so there’s no yardstick to measure if Trump gained or lost points since the debate, but most of the other pollsters who’ve surveyed the state lately had him between 17 and 19 points. (Gravis, an apparent outlier, had him at 31.) It may be that he’s picked up a few percent there. Not hard to see why either. Check this out:
That’s not the only metric where Trump does exceptionally well — he also crushes the field when asked who’d do best at handling the economy and terrorism — but if you think “no more business as usual” is the most animating theme among the GOP electorate right now, go figure that the least orthodox pol in the field is the top choice. In fact, as you can see above, three of the top five candidates right now are people who’ve never held office before. Fiorina has cracked the top tier thanks to her excellence in the 5 p.m. debate while Carson has now seemingly emerged as the social-con favorite. That’s less surprising than it might seem at first: Not only were his numbers the second-most improved (behind Fiorina) across several polls after the debate, but when Suffolk asked Iowans a few days ago which moments they remember most vividly from the event, Carson was all over the top of the charts.
If you’re hellbent on finding a candidate from outside the political class and you don’t like Trump because he’s not conservative enough or because he’s too … Trump-y, you’ve got Carson as your protest vote. That’s terrible news for fans of Ted Cruz, who’ve been waiting for Scott Walker to fall off the top of the polls in Iowa only to find now that there’s a double whammy ahead of them. Cruz can’t out-populist Trump and he can’t out-outsider Carson. He’s got to bide his time and hope that gradually Carson, Huckabee, and Walker will all fade, leaving him the clear choice for social conservatives there.
As for Walker, the bad poll news continues. He lost the most ground of anyone at the debate across various polls this week and now he’s slipped to single digits in Iowa, a state where he was polling at around 20 percent and leading the field less than a month ago. Trumpmania and, to a lesser extent, Carsonmania have hurt him, and if Cruz has a breakout debate performance in him (as pretty much everyone assumes), he could end up chasing Cruzmania before too long. His decline is the biggest story of this poll, I think, just because he’s the only top-tier candidate for whom Iowa is a must-win. He was born there, he leads a midwestern state, he’s got sterling evangelical credentials — he should be the favorite. If he disappoints, what other early states does he win?
Exit question: Didn’t Ron Paul take 21 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucuses three years ago? Where’s the “rEVOLution” right now for Rand, who’s limping along with five percent?