If all you’re interested in is the topline then this is the best poll for Trump in weeks. Only once since the second GOP debate had he reached as high as 26 percent in a national poll — until today. He’s still 10 points better than his closest competitor here. And although he’s dropped two points, from 29 percent to 27, since PPP published its last national poll on September 1st, no one else except for Marco Rubio has gained more than two points in that time either. Rubio picked up six points to move from fifth place to third this time, another sign that he’s emerging as a center-right alternative to Jeb but not as some sort of juggernaut who threatens Trump. Yet.
As I say, that’s the good news for Trump fans. The other news in today’s poll is … not so good:
He’s had a 14 point drop in his net favorability rating over the last month from +26 at 56/30 to now just +12 at 50/38. And he’s lost ground in head to head match ups with the other leading GOP contenders. The only one he leads is Bush by 20 points at 56/36, although even that is down from his 25 point advantage at 59/34 last time. Last month he led Rubio (50/42) and Fiorina (48/41) in head to heads, now he trails them 50/43 and 47/45 respectively. And what was already a 49/43 deficit to Carson one on one has now grown to 52/41. But perhaps the worst blow for Trump may be that GOP voters don’t think he’s as rich as he says is. Only 30% believe his net worth is over even 5 billion dollars to 55% who think it’s below that threshold. For the most part people aren’t buying his 10 billion dollar claim.
I’ve been watching his numbers in PPP’s head-to-head contests for weeks on the theory that they probably tell us more about Trump’s real strength in the race than even the topline numbers do. At some point the primaries will in fact become a two- or three-candidate race and voters who are backing other candidates right now or are otherwise undecided will have to make a choice. If forced to choose between Trump and Rubio or Trump and Fiorina, will they stick with the guy who’s currently leading the polls? A PPP poll of North Carolina in August showed Trump trailing numerous Republican rivals head-to-head even though he led the overall field at the time. But then, a few weeks later, things had changed: Trump actually led various competitors head to head in PPP’s national poll of September 1st, suggesting that GOP voters really were starting to think of him as a viable nominee even after the field inevitably winnowed. Today’s poll turns all of that around, placing Trump behind Carson, Rubio, and Fiorina, with only sad-sack Jeb Bush still less attractive to GOP voters than Trump is when given a binary choice.
What’s more, if you scroll down to page 12 of the crosstabs, you’ll find that supporters of nearly every other GOP candidate reliably break against Trump when he’s pitted against Carson, Fiorina, or Rubio. The only exceptions are Rand Paul’s and Rick Santorum’s supporters, and they might be hard to gauge accurately given how small those samples are. Supporters of Ted Cruz, who’s spent months complimenting Trump, prefer Carson to Trump by a margin of 75/17, prefer Fiorina by a margin of 71/24, and prefer Rubio by a margin of 59/30. Even Trump’s ostentatious hawkishness on immigration can’t woo Cruz fans away from Rubio, in other words. The suggestion here is that there’s strong “Anyone But Trump” sentiment among the majority of voters who aren’t already supporting him, exceeded only by “Anyone But Bush” sentiment. (Jeb’s favorable rating is a gruesome 34/49 among Republicans generally and 26/56 among “very conservative” Republicans.) Trump either needs to turn those numbers around or he needs to hope that the field stays unexpectedly large throughout the early primaries, allowing him to win as the majority splinters among other candidates and he builds up irresistible momentum. Any early shrinking of the field to just a few credible alternatives and he’s got a problem, at least if today’s trend holds.
Worth noting, by the way: Chris Christie has turned his own gruesome favorable rating among Republicans in September (28/54) into a semi-respectable 43/38 rating now. That’s what a pretty good debate can do for someone. Three weeks and counting until the next one.