New poll of South Carolina has Ben Carson leading Trump for the first time

Not only has Trump led steadily since Trumpmania took off this summer, he’s led big. From late July through mid-October, he topped eight straight polls of South Carolina by no less than 13 points and by as many as 23. In seven of those eight polls, he topped 30 percent; in the one in which he didn’t, he was at 29. As recently as October 22nd, CBS had him at 40 percent, 17 points ahead of Carson.

But then something changed. The last poll of the state before today’s came from Clemson and put Trump’s lead at just four points, 23/19. Was that an outlier or evidence that the race is tightening? Here’s your (apparent) answer via Monmouth:


Interestingly, no one’s dropped terribly much since the August poll. Even Trump is mostly steady. Carson’s built his lead, it seems, by pulling handfuls of votes from a bunch of rivals — a few from Trump, a few from Fiorina, a few from Scott Walker, a few undecideds. And a few, perhaps, from Lindsey Graham, whose favorable rating is now down to 30/53 … in his home state. That’s curious given that Graham’s maintained a low profile on the trail apart from his performances at the undercard debates, which have been fairly well received. What is this guy doing to annoy people so much?

Carson’s and Trump’s respective bases are exactly what you’d expect:

Carson has improved his standing across the ideological spectrum since August, with increased support among voters who call themselves very conservative (up 10 points to 31%), somewhat conservative (up 14 to 27%), and moderate (up 14 to 24%). Trump has lost support among very conservatives (down 11 points to 22%), stayed steady among somewhat conservatives (down 2 to 29%), and gained support among moderates (up 8 points to 31%)

Carson (33%) leads Trump (24%) among the nearly two-thirds of voters who call themselves evangelical Christians. Three months ago, Trump (33%) led Carson (18%) with this group…

Carson leads the field among voters under 50 years old at 38% support compared to 24% for Trump, 7% for Cruz, 7% for Bush, and 5% for Rubio. Among those age 65 and older, Trump (26%) has a narrow lead, followed closely by Rubio (19%), Carson (17%), Cruz (10%), and Bush (8%).

Carson is consolidating conservatives while Trump is building on his base of moderates. That being so, I wonder if Ted Cruz still thinks that his path to victory runs through picking up Trump voters with “outsider” appeal. Seems to me it’s more likely to run through picking up Carson voters and then smashing Trump. Monmouth actually polled a hypothetical all-outsider race between Trump, Carson, Cruz, and Fiorina for this survey and found Carson winning with 39 percent, Trump next at 30, and Cruz a distant third at 15 percent. The good news for Cruz is that he’s well positioned to inherit Carson’s evangelical voters if/when Carson fades; the bad news is that his favorable rating isn’t stellar. It’s a respectable 52/21, but that’s almost identical to Carly Fiorina’s and Cruz has years of high-profile conservative firebrand cred to his record. Trump’s favorables, by comparison, are 58/29. Carson’s are 76/12(!). Cruz is counting on a lot of voters deserting better-liked candidates for him.

As for age, I don’t know what to make of the fact that Carson is the runaway leader for the moment among younger (i.e. under 50) voters. He’s polling 10 points better with them than with South Carolinian Republicans overall. Maybe that’s evidence of how far “outside” younger conservatives are looking for an “outsider” candidate, or maybe it’s an artifact of a smallish subsample. It’s no surprise, though, to find Rubio doing much better among senior citizens than he does with voters under 50. I noted that quirk just last week: For a guy who’s pitching himself as having “youth appeal,” Rubio frequently polls more strongly among much older Republicans than with younger ones. I think “youth appeal” is something he’s counting on in the general election, not the primary. In theory, the optics of a handsome young Latino senator opposite Hillary Clinton will get him a second look from undecided young adults that someone with a more traditional old/white Republican background, like Jeb Bush, wouldn’t get. In the primaries, though, it’s grandma and grandpa to the rescue for Rubio.

Incidentally, a grand total of 17 percent of South Carolinians polled here have completely decided on their vote, which means the results in Iowa and New Hampshire will totally upend these numbers in due time. Poll fever — catch it!