Donald Trump dominates the news, Bernie Sanders draws the biggest crowds and Ben Carson maintains double-digit poll numbers — all despite the fact they continue to run as outsiders, shunting the mainstream.
Trump — the billionaire real-estate mogul who has been leading the Republican field most of the summer — has had a sizable lead in most polls, but an interesting note from the latest Iowa poll, released by The Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics this past weekend, is that Carson is gaining on Trump.
Trump had 23 percent support from likely caucus goers, while Carson is just behind at 18 percent. The rest of the crowded field did not crack 10 percent, with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker the closest at 8 percent.
The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points. It was conducted Aug. 23-26 by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines with 400 Republicans who likely will attend the Feb. 1, 2016, Iowa caucuses.
“If you add together the current numbers for Carly Fiorina, Trump and Carson, almost half of the Republican caucus electorate says they want an outsider,” said Mack Shelley, chairman and professor of political science at Iowa State University.
Even with all the polished candidates who run tightly controlled campaigns and have tens of millions of dollars, why are the outsiders riding high?
“The people who are supporting the outsiders are sending a message: We don’t trust politicians, we don’t like what Congress have been doing and these others won’t come through with what they promise,” Steffen Schmidt, Iowa State University professor of political science, said.
Trump, for example, has broken almost every rule of campaigning for president. He’s attacked all of his party opponents right from the start, has made a series of statements that could have collapsed the campaign of almost anyone else and continues to make headlines almost everywhere he goes.
Ordinarily, he would have dropped in the polls by now because of his statements, Schmidt said. “What’s more likely to happen is that people get tired of hearing the same thing over and over again. Trump does not have a coherent speech and just throws a lot out there.”
While Trump dominates headlines, Carson’s numbers have remained high. Many Republicans who say they will attend a caucus next winter continue to choose him as their first choice, even as he keeps a relatively low profile with his soft-spoken style.
Carson also nets the highest favorability rating in the latest Iowa poll, with 79 percent of those polled saying they have a favorable view of, and 8 percent saying they view him unfavorably. Walker is behind with a 71 percent favorable rating and 15 percent unfavorable, and, by comparison, Trump has a 61 percent favorable rating and a 35 percent unfavorable rating.
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has raised more than $100 million to fight back and gain some interest in his campaign.
“That $100 million hasn’t really bought him much yet,” Shelley said. Shelley said a lot of voters do not view big money in campaigns favorably, with some tying it to special interests that will control the eventual nominee.
On the Democratic side, Sanders — in the U.S. Senate from Vermont as an independent — has been drawing the largest crowds. Tens of thousands have turned out at some events to see the self-described “democratic socialist” speak on economic inequality, money in politics and climate change.
“Bernie Sanders really connects to the people that go to his events,” Schmidt said. “They’re progressive Democrats (who) are really concerned about the growing gap between the middle class and rich people.”
The latest Iowa poll showed Hillary Clinton still with a narrow lead at 37 percent support, while Sanders was at 30 percent. Vice President Joe Biden, who has not decided whether or not to run for president, was at 14 percent.
“It’s really more of a Hillary problem,” Schmidt said about polling on the Democratic side. “When you don’t like somebody, that doesn’t really change over time, and pile on top of that she’s constantly in the news for these emails, which may or may not be a big deal.”
He was referring to the email controversy in which Clinton used a private server for work emails that included some with sensitive national security information. The controversy might not be a problem among Democrats. Among likely Democratic caucus goers, 61 percent said the email situation was not important to them.