CBS News released a new poll that was conducted before Saturday’s GOP debate which shows Donald Trump with 42 percent support among Republicans, and a massive 22 point lead over second-place candidate Sen. Ted Cruz .
The three top candidates fighting for the “establishment lane” are Jeb Bush, Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Marco Rubio who combine for just 30 percent support.
Rubio is at third with a 15 percent lead ahead of Kasich with 9 percent and of Jeb Bush with 6 percent. Ben Carson also has 6 percent, tied with Jeb Bush for last.
Breitbart reported that Trump leads the field by wide margins among both “moderate” and “conservative” Republican voters. Trump also leads Cruz by 16 points among evangelical voters, 41-25. Cruz edges Donald Trump among “very conservative” voters by 4 points, 37 percent to 33 percent.
One major caveat to this poll is that the number of “very conservative” voters included in the poll sample is very low, compared to prior elections. In both 2008 and 2012, Republican voters who identified themselves as “very conservative” made up roughly 35 percent of the electorate. In this poll, they are just 27 percent of the sample.
That said, Trump’s lead is so large that even if “very conservative” voters turned out in historic numbers, it wouldn’t likely tip the balance that much based on current trends.
It is important to keep in mind that the poll was conducted from Wednesday to Friday, before Saturday’s Republican debate in Charleston.
It was also conducted, obviously, before news of the death of Sumpreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was announced. The possibility of the next President making an immediate Supreme Court appointment raises the stakes of the primary and general even higher.
Only Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are currently ready to be President, according to the poll of South Carolina Republicans. Strong majorities of Republicans, 58 and 57 percent respectively, said Trump and Cruz were ready on day one, while just 28 and 27 percent said they were not.
A slim plurality of Republicans said Bush and Kasich were ready, while a plurality said Marco Rubio was not ready. By an overwhelming 33 point margin, Republican voters said Ben Carson was not ready to be President.
Just less than half of Republicans, 42 percent said they were certain in their candidate decision. Around a quarter, 23 percent, said it was likely they could change their mind still.
In 2012, 56 percent of South Carolina Republicans made their final decision in the last three days of the campaign. In 2008, just 34 percent made a final decision in the last three days.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this latest poll is the terrible headwinds against the three “establishment” candidates, Bush, Kasich and Rubio. Together, they earn just 30 percent support from likely Republican voters.
While the media focuses on which position each will finish, the levels of their actual support are very low. In New Hampshire, the three candidates devoted considerable personal time campaigning and, together, spent well over $60 million in paid advertising. In actual voting, however, the three commanded less than 40 percent of the Republican vote.
Even if their vote were combined in South Carolina, the three would be running 12 points behind current frontrunner Donald Trump.
When asked their opinion of the “Republican establishment,” 45 percent of likely Republican voters said it was a “bad thing.”
Only 11 percent said it was positive. Bush, Kasich and Rubio are battling for the “establishment” lane, but it seems to be a road to nowhere in a Republican primary this year.
More than two-thirds of Republicans, 68 percent, want the next President to stand up to Democrats. Less than one third want a Republican President to “negotiate more effectively” with Democrats. For all their resources, endorsements and attention from national pundits, Bush, Kasich and Rubio may simply be the wrong candidates in 2016.