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Poll: Carson and Trump Lead the GOP Field

After leading the crowded Republican field since July, Donald Trump finds Ben Carson pulling even with him in the latest national NBC News online poll
Image: Donald Trump and Ben Carson CNBC debate
Donald Trump and Ben Carson are both threatening to boycott the next Republican presidential debate if CNBC, who is hosting the event, and the Republican National Committee do not change the stated format of the event.Reuters/Getty Images, file

After leading the crowded Republican field since July, Donald Trump finds Ben Carson pulling even with him in the latest national NBC News online poll conducted by SurveyMonkey, beginning Tuesday before the debate through Thursday.

Among Republican or Republican-leaning registered voters, Carson and Trump each have 26% support – taking up more than half of all the vote preference. Republican leaned voters who watched the debate gave highest marks to Ted Cruz, but Trump is seen as best at leading the U.S. economy.

While the top two candidates are head and shoulders above the rest of the field, Ted Cruz has climbed into third place with 10% support, the first time he has hit double-digits since after the first Republican debate this summer. His performance in the debate is likely boosting his standing in the poll; among those leaned Republican voters who watched or followed the debate coverage, Cruz gets 17% support, while Trump and Carson get 25% and 24%, respectively.

After a strong performance in the August debate, Cruz’s numbers fell back to single digits. It will be interesting to watch during this typically volatile time in primary polling to see if his numbers hold — or grow — going forward.

Among all leaned Republican voters, Marco Rubio has 9% support, nearly even with Cruz (the difference between the two is well within the plus or minus 2.3 percentage point error estimate). Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina come next in order, with 5% and 4% support.

Subtracting the negative performance debate scores from the positive scores, Donald Trump’s debate performance ranked fourth among the candidates. However, 41% said that from what they heard about or saw in the debate, Trump would be the best candidate to lead the U.S. economy. Another 14% named Ted Cruz and 11% named Ben Carson as best able to handle the nation’s economy. Overall, Jeb Bush fared worst in Wednesday’s debate, scoring a -36 for his debate performance, and just 4% saying he would handle the economy best.

That Trump and Carson, branded as outsider candidates, are together getting majority support isn’t all that surprising when you look at Republican voters’ frustration with Washington. Forty-six percent of Republican leaned voters say they are dissatisfied with the way the federal government works, and 48% express downright anger. Just 6 percent are satisfied (5%) or enthusiastic (1%). Trump and Carson split the angry voters, and Carson does slightly better among those who are merely dissatisfied, not angry. Cruz gets 16% of the anger vote, while Rubio gets about 1 in 10 of both angry and dissatisfied Republican leaned voters. A candidate like Jeb Bush, with a background and family steeped in government and politics, gets just 2% backing among those who are angry with the federal government.

Ben Carson continues to pull support from white evangelical voters, and is now outperforming Donald Trump among Republican leaned voters who describe their views as “very conservative.” Carson has also steadily made gains among both men and women, and now has a 6-point advantage over Trump among women.

Hannah Hartig, Stephanie Psyllos, and Josh Clinton contributed reporting.

The NBC News Online Poll was conducted online by SurveyMonkey from October 27-29, 2015 among a national sample of 8,706 adults aged 18 and over. The questions about the Republican debate were asked of 3,154 registered voters immediately following the debate, including 1,226 who identified as Republican or independents who lean Republican. Respondents for this non-probability survey were selected from the nearly three million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. Overall results have an error estimate of plus or minus 1.5 percentage points. A full description of our methodology and the poll can be found here.

The poll was produced by the Data Analytics Lab of NBC News in conjunction with Penn’s Program on Opinion Research and Election Studies with data collection and tabulation conducted by SurveyMonkey.