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Poll: Donald Trump still leads, Ben Carson in second

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

The race for the GOP nomination

Donald Trump continues to lead the field nationally in the race to become the Republican nominee for president. Twenty-seven percent of Republican primary voters support Trump, giving him a six point lead over his closest competitor, neurosurgeon Ben Carson (21 percent).

The rest of the Republican field is in single digits, with Texas Senator Ted Cruz inching up into third place with nine percent, followed by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio with eight percent. Businesswoman Carly Fiorina and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush follow at six percent each. Former Governor Mike Huckabee has also slipped considerably since the summer, from eight percent in August to just two percent today.

When Republican voters are asked who would be their second choice for the nomination, Ben Carson (20 percent) and Marco Rubio (18 percent) are the most mentioned candidates.

Among Trump supporters, Carson is the top second choice, far ahead of any other candidate.

Seven in ten Republican primary voters would support Trump if he became the party's eventual nominee, though many would have reservations. Twenty-nine percent would support Trump enthusiastically, while 42 percent would support him with reservations, and another eight percent would only support him because he is the party's nominee. One in five Republican primary voters would not support Trump if he became the nominee.

Trump continues to be viewed as the most electable candidate in a general election. Thirty-five percent say Trump has the best chance of winning in November 2016, followed by Ben Carson (18 percent).

Views of the candidates

Carson, Trump, Rubio, and Fiorina are all viewed more favorably than unfavorably among Republican primary voters. At 62 percent, favorable views of Ben Carson are the highest of this group, only seven percent are unfavorable. Fifty-three percent have a favorable view of Donald Trump, and 50 percent have a positive assessment of Marco Rubio. While Trump's unfavorable rating is more than twice that of either Rubio or Fiorina, many don't have an opinion of the latter two candidates. Former Governor Jeb Bush is now viewed more unfavorably (38 percent) than favorably (32 percent) by Republican primary voters.

While the favorable ratings of both Donald Trump and Marco Rubio have risen slightly since August among Republican primary voters, Bush's favorable rating has dropped 11 points.

These Republican candidates are viewed less positively among all registered voters nationwide.

Carson has the highest favorable rating among this broader group of voters, and Fiorina is viewed more favorably than not. Voters divide in their views of Rubio. Many voters overall don't have an opinion of these three contenders.

Fifty-three percent of registered voters overall have an unfavorable opinion of Trump - the highest of the Republicans asked about. Bush is also viewed negatively.

Assessing the "outsiders" on the issues

More Republican primary voters are very confident in Trump than in Carson or Fiorina to handle the economy and immigration. Few Republican primary voters are very confident in the ability of any of the three to handle an international crisis.

CBS News Poll

Still, most Republican primary voters have at least some confidence in the abilities of all three candidates to handle these issues.

Candidate qualities

Republican primary voters choose honesty (39 percent) as the most important quality in their choice of a candidate, though nearly as many pick being a strong leader (36 percent). Far fewer choose caring about people like them (13 percent), having the right experience (eight percent), or being able to win the general election in November (two percent) as most important.

Ben Carson is the top choice of Republican primary voters who most value honesty, while Donald Trump is the top choice of those who value strong leadership.

Most Republican primary voters give Trump, Carson, and Fiorina high marks on many of these candidate qualities, but Ben Carson is perceived as the most honest: Eight-one percent think he is honest and trustworthy, compared to 60 percent for Fiorina and 53 percent for Trump. Thirty-nine percent do not think Trump is honest and trustworthy, far more than either Carson or Fiorina.

Ben Carson is also seen as the candidate who most cares about people like them. Fifty-six percent think he cares a lot, more than twice as many as say the same for Trump or Fiorina.

But Donald Trump is seen as the strongest leader: Eighty-four percent think Trump has strong qualities of leadership, compared to 72 percent for Carson and 60 percent for Fiorina.

Most think both Trump (59 percent) and Carson (53 percent) have the right kind of experience to be president, though they are less sure of Fiorina (43 percent).

As for what the right kind of experience is, most Republican primary voters think it's more important for the next President to have experience in the private sector (55 percent) than in politics or government (10 percent), though 34 percent say it doesn't matter.

More voters are tuning In

Voters are increasingly turning their attention to the presidential campaign. Forty-two percent now say they are paying a lot of attention, up from 36 percent last month. More are paying a lot of attention now, compared to this point in time in the last two presidential election cycles.

In addition, most voters find this campaign interesting. Seven in 10 say they do, including majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents. According to an October 2011 Pew Poll, just 40% of voters described the presidential campaign as interesting.

When voters are asked in an open-ended question, which one issue they would like to hear the presidential candidates discuss, the economy and jobs (24 percent) is the top answer, followed by immigration (11 percent), and foreign policy (10 percent). Health care and guns are also mentioned.

The economy and jobs are the top priority for voters across party lines. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to want the candidates to talk about immigration.

This poll was conducted by telephone October 4-8, 2015 among a random sample of 1,251 adults nationwide, including 1,038 registered voters. Data collection was conducted on behalf of CBS News 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 419 Republican primary voters is 5 percentage points.

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

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