This month’s survey took place in the days after the second GOP debate, and respondents clearly liked what they saw in former Hewlett-Packard CEO Fiorina. She more than doubled her first-choice votes from last month and edged Rubio as the most popular second-choice candidate—the first time anyone has topped Rubio in either category so far in this survey. In total, 40 percent of respondents named her as either their first or second choice, up from 25 percent last month and 15 percent in July.
“Her command of the issues, her tenacity, her policy positions, and her life story all make her a very appealing candidate,” said survey participant Kay Coles James, president of The Gloucester Institute and a Heritage Foundation board member.
Rubio also picked up support, rising to a combined 57 percent of first and second choices among respondents, up from 53 percent last month. Thirty-seven percent said the senator from Florida is their top choice, easily besting Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, whom almost 20 percent said was their first choice.
Survey participant Eric Teetsel, executive director of the Manhattan Declaration, said the results reflect that evangelicals are savvier than they used to be.
“While the success of Pat Robertson, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum demonstrates the significant influence of the evangelical faction of GOP primary voters, it also proves its limitations,” he said. “Rubio’s sincere faith and record of leadership on the issues of life, marriage, and religious liberty—combined with his charisma and communication skills—have captivated evangelicals hungry for a win.”
Results from a new question posed this month seem to back Teetsel’s analysis: Almost 44 percent of respondents believe Rubio is the Republican with the best chance of defeating the Democratic nominee for president in 2016. Fiorina came in second with 22 percent.
Almost all participants indicated they would consider voting for Rubio (97 percent) and Fiorina (96 percent)—far better than the rest of the field.
Fiorina’s low negatives are particularly notable, since survey participants heavily factor social issues, and she is on record supporting civil unions for same-sex couples. Teetsel said the issue could temper her evangelical support as she faces a new level of scrutiny, but her “inspiring defense of the unborn” and support for religious liberty protections may overcome it.
Cruz and others
Although Cruz dropped to third place overall, his combined support ticked up to 31 percent from 28 percent in August’s survey. Former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida remained in fourth, but he also added support (26 percent combined), as respondents consolidated around their top candidates.
Once again, businessman Donald Trump, who leads the GOP field in national polls, received very little support (2 percent combined). He finished 1 percentage point behind Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, whose plummeting support led him to bow out of the race on Monday. Kay Coles James attributed Trump’s lack of support to his policy positions that “are not consistent with a biblical worldview.”
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who ranks second in most national GOP polls, also had little support in the survey, but his numbers are increasing: After garnering only 2 percent combined first and second choices in July and 3 percent in August, Carson finished with 11 percent combined support in September.
Among the Democratic candidates, former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia picked up a combined 3 percent of support from evangelical insiders, finishing ahead of his Democratic rivals (former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Vice President Joe Biden, who received one write-in vote as a second choice), Trump, and GOP hopefuls Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Insiders again identified domestic religious freedom and abortion as the top two policy concerns they will consider when selecting a candidate. Foreign policy came in third and appears to be increasing in importance. Twenty-eight percent identified it as a top three issue, in addition to 18 percent who selected national security/terrorism.