Author: Steven Rosenfeld
A new national poll released Tuesday has found that a majority of the Republican Party is living in a strange and dangerous political fantasyland.
“Our new poll finds that [Donald] Trump is benefiting from a GOP electorate that thinks Barack Obama is a Muslim and was born in another country,” Public Policy Polling’s analysis said. “Sixty-six percent of Trump’s supporters believe that Obama is a Muslim to just 12 percent that grant he’s a Christian. Sixty-one percent think Obama was not born in the United States to only 21 percent who accept that he was.”
Not only did PPP’s analysis find that Trump’s lead was growing—it is now 29 percent—it also found that the second most popular Republican is one who has not criticized other candidates: retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who has 15 percent. The rest of the pack is all under 10 percent: Jeb Bush (9 percent), Carly Fiorina (8 percent), Marco Rubio (7 percent), Ted Cruz and John Kasich (6 percent), Scott Walker and Mike Huckabee (5 percent). Walker has fallen the most, compared to last winter when he was leading.
The biggest takeaway from the PPP pollis that a majority of the Republican Party’s base is living in a right-wing bubble where facts don’t matter—and it has become increasingly acceptable to publicly voice racist positions because the leading presidential candidate is modeling that behavior.
Not only did PPP find that a majority of Republicans believe the birther lie—that Obama was not actually born in Hawaii—but 51 percent of all Republicans polled want to amend the Constitution to eliminate birthright citizenship, which is granted to any person born on U.S. soil. Of Trump’s supporters, 63 percent want to eliminate that right, and a majority said undocumented children should be deported.
“I’m not terribly surprised by the birther numbers or the numbers about Obama’s religion,” said Tom Jensen, PPP director. He said the numbers are consistent with what he’s seen in GOP polls in recent years, and matched another new poll from Iowa where about 35 percent of the state’s GOP electorate are “birthers.”
But what is surprising to Jensen is how Trump’s candidacy has made Republicans more willing to publicly admit their xenophobic or racist positions.
“Trump has sent a message that it’s okay to be racist,” he said. “So maybe some racist attitudes you previously held, or were not allowed to say in public, now one of the leading presidential candidates is saying them and not apologizing at all.”
The PPP poll also found that Trump was winning his war of words with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, the on-air host who challenged him in the GOP’s first presidential debate for his history of sexist remarks about women.
“Trump is winning his fight with Megyn Kelly,” the poll’s analysis said. “When we last polled her in December of 2013 her favorability with Republicans nationally was 44/9. Her favorability is in a similar place now at 42% but her negatives have shot up to 20 percent, largely because she’s at 20/43 with Trump’s supporters.”
The poll also found that Carly Fiorina and John Kasich have become more popular with GOP voters. Since their July survey, Fiorina, the ex-Hewlett Packard CEO, has “gone from 4 percent to 8 percent, and her 53/23 favorability rating makes her the most popular GOP candidate other than Carson and Trump,” their analysis said. “Kasich’s gone from 3 percent to 6 percent and is all the way up to double digits at 10 percent with moderate voters, putting him in third place overall with that group.”
The Republican who has fallen the furthest is Scott Walker, “who was in second place at 17 percent last month and is now down all the way to a tie for eighth place at 5 percent. There is a little bit of silver lining for Walker. He’s one of only three Republicans to hit double digits when it comes to voters’ second-place choice.”
Bush is struggling for a variety of reasons, Jensen said. He’s not passionate enough, compared to Trump. His past positions embracing federal education standards and immigration reform rankle right-wing Republicans. And in an anti-establishment year, being a Bush [or a Clinton] is as mainstream and establishment as it gets.
Bernie and Hillary
On the Democratic side, PPP found that Bernie Sanders has a very long way to go to catch up with Hillary Clinton in national polling.
“Last month Hillary Clinton led Bernie Sanders by 35 points and this month she leads him by 35 points again—she’s at 55 percent to 20 pecent for Bernie Sanders, 4 percent for Martin O’Malley, 3 percent for Jim Webb, and 1 percent each for Lincoln Chafee and Lawrence Lessig,” the poll’s analysis said.
This is a striking contrast with Sanders’ numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire, where another PPP poll just last week found he was ahead of Clinton by 7 points. However, looking past those first two contests to the next states, Jensen said that Sanders hasn’t yet made inroads into communities of color.
“I think it’s quite possible he may do very well in Iowa and New Hampshire and not do well anywhere else,” Jensen said. “We found Hillary down in New Hampshire but not nationally.”
However, Jensen said he was “done making predictions” about what was likely to unfold on the GOP side. “There is nothing about this presidential race that anyone has seen before. Most experts expected things to become more normal by now.”
But things have not become normal. As one respected legal blogger wrote Monday, there is a path to the GOP nomination for Trump if he maintains his current standing in the polls, because of the arcane ways Republicans will be allocating delegates in their 2016 primaries.
Meanwhile, the PPP poll confirms that the modern Republican Party has a majority of members who live in a racist political fantasyland: they believe Obama wasn’t born in America, and is a Muslim, not a Christian; and they would revoke the birthright citizenship of the children of undocumented immigrants, and deport them as well.
“Trump’s beliefs represent the consensus among the GOP electorate,” their analysis said. “Fifty-one percent overall want to eliminate birthright citizenship. Fifty-four percent think President Obama is a Muslim. And only 29 percent grant that President Obama was born in the United States. That’s less than the 40 percent who think Canadian-born Ted Cruz was born in the United States.”