WASHINGTON -- Donald Trump is holding on to his lead in the polls despite continued controversy surrounding his candidacy. He placed first in the most recent poll conducted in the early primary state of New Hampshire. The real estate mogul and former reality television star holds a double-digit lead over the second-place candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
A Monmouth University poll showed Trump is favored by 24 percent of likely Republican votes and Bush by 12 percent. Surging to the top tier of candidates to take third place was Ohio Gov. John Kasich, at 7 percent, even though he announced his candidacy only last week. When those surveyed were asked for their second choice, it became clear that Trump is taking votes from all of the rest of the Republican field, the poll found, with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie the biggest loser.
The poll was conducted between last Thursday and Sunday, meaning it was done long after news circulated about Trump’s remarks that Sen. John McCain wasn’t a war hero because he was captured. Strategists often warn it can take a full week for a negative news story to influence polls, but Trump seems to be paying no price in the polls for his remarks about McCain.
“The controversy over comments about John McCain’s war service do not appear to have slowed the Trump steamroller,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.
The poll found that Trump is doing better among independents and those likely to be first-time primary voters. New Hampshire doesn’t require voters to register with a party before participating in its Feb. 9 primary.
On the ideological spectrum, Trump wins both “very conservative” and “conservative” voters. Bush leads among moderate and liberal Republicans, with 22 percent compared to Trump’s 18 percent with that cross section of voters.
If Trump were no longer in the race, the poll found that Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz would likely each gain 3 or 4 percentage points. And Christie appears set to have a big influence. More voters in New Hampshire reported having met with Christie or seen him in person than any other candidate.
“Despite spending much of his time there, Christie does much better as a second choice rather than the first pick in New Hampshire,” Murray said. “It seems that Trump has stolen the New Jersey governor’s ‘telling it like it is’ thunder.”
The poll also asked Republican voters to name their top issue in picking a candidate. National security placed at the top of the list with 25 percent, followed by the economy at 23 percent. Republicans have hoped to make the general election about national security, which often benefits the GOP. But historically, general election voters have identified the economy and jobs -- even in times of turbulent foreign policy issues -- as their biggest concern.