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CBS/NYT Poll: GOP race - Donald Trump maintains lead, but Ben Carson gains

By Anthony Salvanto, Jennifer De Pinto, Sarah Dutton and Fred Backus

The Republican Race

At 27 percent, nationally Donald Trump maintains his frontrunner status among Republican primary voters, but Ben Carson is now closely behind him. Carson's support has risen significantly since early August, when he polled at six percent. Carson is now at 23 percent, putting him in second place.

John Kasich and Carly Fiorina have also seen their support rise in this poll, although both remain in single digits.

Some candidates have not fared as well, losing support since August. Jeb Bush (six percent) and Scott Walker (two percent) have now dropped into single digits in this poll. Rick Perry, who announced he was withdrawing his candidacy while the poll was in progress, receives just one percent of Republican primary voters' backing.


But the race remains extremely fluid. Just under two thirds of Republican primary voters say it is too early to say for sure whether their mind is made about which candidate they will support. Trump supporters are firmer in their candidate choice. More than half of Trump voters say their minds are made up about which candidate to back, compared to 29 percent of those who support a different candidate.

Candidate Qualities

Trump, Carson and Bush bring different strengths to the race. Carson and Bush are widely viewed as honest and trustworthy, while Trump is seen as a strong leader. Most Republican primary voters think Trump and Carson's views on the issues are about right; but 40 percent think Bush's positions are not conservative enough (a similar percentage says his views are about right).


Trump is viewed as the most electable candidate in a general election, even more so than last month. At this early stage of the campaign, 39 percent say Trump has the best chance of winning in November 2016, up from 26 percent. Carson has risen on this measure as well: 18 percent say Carson is most electable, up from just one percent last month. Jeb Bush has lost ground; just 11 percent choose him as most electable now.

But electability may not be the most important criteria for voters in this election cycle. By a large margin, Republican primary voters (60 percent) say that positions on the issues matter more to them than electability (at 35 percent).

When voters are asked why they support Donald Trump, the leading candidate, they most often mention his outspokenness, that he is not a politician, and that he is a strong leader.

Full, extended Donald Trump interview 08:37

While he has maintained his lead in this poll, Trump (23 percent) also remains the candidate some Republicans would be most dissatisfied with as the party's nominee for president, followed by Bush (15 percent) and Christie (11 percent).

Just a third of these voters would enthusiastically support Trump if he becomes their party's nominee. Another 36 percent would support him with reservations, and 12 percent would support him because he is their party's nominee.

Trump and Carson's strong positions in this poll reflect these voters' desire for a candidate from outside the political arena. At this early stage of the campaign, many Republican primary voters are looking for a political outsider: 48 percent say they prefer a candidate who has experience in business or the private sector. Forty-one percent say it doesn't matter to them. Just 9 percent want a candidate with experience in politics.

Demographic Groups

Trump appeals to many different types of Republican primary voters - but Ben Carson is now a strong challenger among these groups of voters as well. Trump has a slight edge among the most conservative voters, with 27 percent compared to Carson's 23 percent. The race is close among women and Tea Party supporters. Trump holds a seven percentage point lead among men and a 10 percentage point lead among white evangelical voters. And while Trump leads Carson among voters who have not graduated from college, Carson leads Trump among college graduates.


Fifty-eight percent of Americans think most illegal immigrants in the U.S. should be allowed to stay in this country and apply for citizenship, and another 10 percent think they should be allowed to stay but not allowed to apply. Twenty-seven percent think they should be required to leave the country. These percentages have changed little over the last year or so.

Among Republicans, however, just under half think illegal immigrants should be required to leave the U.S.


Americans are divided when asked about a policy that would send illegal immigrants back to the country they came from, but some could legally be allowed back into the U.S. on a faster track than other immigrants. Republicans tend to favor such a policy, while slightly more Democrats oppose rather than favor it.

Same-Sex Marriage

A majority of Americans (55 percent) continue to say it should be legal for same-sex couples to marry. Public opinion is similar to what it was in June, just before a U.S. Supreme Court ruling effectively legalized marriage between same-sex couples.

Majorities of Democrats and independents support the legalization of same-sex marriage, while most Republicans remain opposed.

This poll was conducted by telephone September 9-13, 2015 among a random sample of 1,261 adults nationwide, including 1,021 registered voters. Data collection was conducted on behalf of CBS News and The New York Times by SSRS of Media, PA. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones.

The poll employed a random digit dial methodology. For the landline sample, a respondent was randomly selected from all adults in the household. For the cell sample, interviews were conducted with the person who answered the phone.

Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish using live interviewers.

The data have been weighted to reflect U.S. Census figures on demographic variables.

The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups may be higher and is available by request. The margin of error includes the effects of standard weighting procedures which enlarge sampling error slightly.

The margin of error for the sample of 376 Republican primary voters is 6 percentage points.

This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

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