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DES MOINES, Iowa – A poll released Wednesday from Iowa State University and WHO-HD shows Ben Carson in the top spot among Republicans seeking their party’s nomination for president.

The poll shows 27.2 percent of Republicans likely to participate in the Iowa Caucuses would support Carson, a former neurosurgeon. With 16.7 percent, Marco Rubio comes in ahead of businessman Donald Trump, who is in third place with 14.7 percent. Ted Cruz comes in fourth with 8.9 percent.

Mack Shelley, Iowa State University professor and chair of political science and professor of statistics, said there is still an ebb and flow of support among the large field of GOP contenders. “That can make a huge difference in that fragmented electorate, where a candidate could ‘win’ the caucuses with only about 20 to 30 percent of the vote.”

Not only is the Republican race fluid, McCormick noted, but the contest in Iowa could solidify quickly if some second-tier Republican candidates drop out of the race.

“As resources dry up for some of these candidates, this remains a distinct possibility over the next several weeks,” he said. “Second, political novices – and Washington outsiders – continue to dominate the Republican field here in Iowa (as in the nation). Carson and Trump certainly fit that category, and Rubio likely wants to portray himself that way, too. Increasingly, Republicans seem to be opting for this kind of a nominee.”

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton, with 49.5 percent support, continues to lead in the three-way race. Bernie Sanders trails with 27.8 percent of respondents saying they would support the Vermont senator. Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley receives 2.7 percent support in the poll.

“The contest for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination delegates in Iowa seems to have settled down to being in Hillary Clinton’s favor, barring some major personal or policy issue arising between now and Feb. 1,” said Shelley.

The poll took place earlier this month before the terrorist attacks in Paris. Following the attacks much of the international conversation has shifted to the fight against terrorism.

Iowans are paying close attention to the campaign

Eighty-one percent of respondents said they were following the presidential campaign either “very closely” (39 percent) or “somewhat closely” (42 percent). Slightly more than half of the respondents said they had “definitely decided” on (21.3 percent) or were “leaning toward” (30.3 percent) a particular candidate. But nearly 47 percent said they were still trying to decide.

Honesty wins

Survey respondents chose “honest and trustworthy” (38 percent) as the leading trait they seek when deciding to support a presidential candidate, followed by “takes strong stands” (20.8 percent), “cares about people” (17 percent) and “has the right experience” (16 percent). The least frequently selected reason for choosing a candidate, other than “don’t know” (3.7 percent) was whether or not the candidate “can win the election” at 10.7 percent.

Issues in the presidential nomination campaign

Respondents were asked to select “the most important problem facing this country today” from a list of topics. The most frequent response was the “economy in general,” cited by 239 respondents (22.2 percent). Respondents with higher levels of education were more likely to cite the economy as the most important problem. Men (27.1 percent) were more likely than women (17.8 percent) to identify the economy as the most pressing issue. Those planning to attend the Republican caucuses were more likely to select the economy as the most important problem than were those planning to attend the Democratic caucuses (25.1 percent vs. 19.9 percent, respectively).
In addition, respondents with annual incomes under $25,000 were least likely to cite the economy as the most important problem (15.5 percent). Respondents earning more than $100,000 were most likely to identify the economy as the most important problem (28.1 percent).


“What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?”

Response Frequency Percent
Economy in general 239 22.2
Education 24 2.3
Health care, health insurance 49 4.6
Gap between rich and poor 67 6.3
Judicial system, courts, laws 1 .1
Terrorism 66 6.2
Environment, pollution 23 2.2
Foreign policy, foreign aid, focus overseas 44 4.1
Dissatisfaction with government, Congress 117 10.9
Race relations, racism 6 0.6
Immigration, illegal aliens 44 4.1
Unemployment, jobs 34 3.2
Morality, ethics, religious issues, family decline, dishonesty 59 5.5
Federal budget deficit, federal debt 107 10.0
Poverty, hunger, homelessness 11 1.1
Crime, violence 8 0.7
Other 117 10.9
DON’T KNOW 56 5.2
Not Applicable 1 0.1
Total 1074 100.0

More than half of all respondents (58.2 percent overall) supported increasing the minimum wage. Support among likely Democratic caucus participants was much stronger (87.1 percent) than among likely Republican caucus participants (32.8 percent).

Among other questions, respondents also were asked whether Iowa should provide incentives to new businesses that provide higher-paying jobs. Overwhelmingly, 79.7 percent of respondents supported government incentives. Likely Democratic caucus attendees (82.5 percent) were more inclined to respond “yes” to this statement than were likely Republican caucus attendees (76.8 percent).

About the Iowa Caucus Poll

The new ISU/WHO-HD poll was compiled through phone interviews with 1,074 registered voters Nov. 2-15. The margin of error is approximately 3 percent. Respondents included 496 Democrats, 518 Republicans and 61 Independents. More women (52.9 percent) than men (47.1 percent) participated in the phone interviews, which averaged 12 minutes. By age, 627 respondents (58.4 percent) were more than 50 years old; 295 (27.5 percent) were ages 30-50, and 152 (14.2 percent) were under 30.

This is the first of two waves of polling Iowa State’s Center for Survey Statistics and Methodology is conducting with WHO-HD, the NBC affiliate in Des Moines. The second wave will be conducted approximately Jan. 2-15, 2016, with as many respondents from the first wave as possible. That will provide an understanding of stability and change in respondents’ preferences and attitudes over time.

Faculty in the Department of Political Science, the Department of Statistics, and the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication are collaborating on the Iowa Caucus Poll. Those departments, plus ISU’s Office of the Vice President for Research, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, as well as WHO-HD, are funding the research.