An exclusive Newsmax poll released Tuesday shows businessman Donald Trump sweeping to a commanding lead among Republican presidential candidates across the South, with retired pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson surging in popularity.
Trump, who has led in the polls since his campaign began on June 16, finished with 28 points in the exclusive Newsmax-Southern Political Report Survey conducted by OpinionSavvy.
The billionaire developer leads all other candidates from the region, including former southern Govs. Jeb Bush (Florida) and Mike Huckabee (Arkansas), current Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Sens. Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), Ted Cruz (Texas) and Marco Rubio (Florida) and Rand Paul (Kentucky).
The Atlanta-based OpinionSavvy
research firm surveyed 5,728 adults in 12 Southern states on Sunday and Monday, and its results have a margin of error of 1.3 percent.
Bush finished in a familiar second place with 18 percent. Carson is third with 10 percent. The remaining 14 GOP contenders ended in single digits.
The Newsmax poll results contrasts with Trump's national showing of 24 percent in the Real Clear Politics average
of polls, versus 13 percent for Bush and 11 percent for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
In that ranking, Carson is tied with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at 7 percent each.
"This is not a pretend candidacy," Matt Towery, the pollster and CEO of InsiderAdvantage, which owns OpinionSavvy, said of Trump's White House run. "This is not something to be mocked.
"This guy is for real. He has hit something big time in this region of the country," Towery said. "I've not seen anyone have this sort of effect — to be quite blunt — since Ronald Reagan."
Towery worked a U.S. Senate campaign during Reagan's 1980 run and conducted surveys for both the 2008 and 2012 presidential contests.
"I don’t recall anyone having a lead this far out," he told Newsmax. "It was building, not simply sitting there — particularly that was so regionally strong."
The exclusive Newsmax poll results come as Trump leads the field heading into the first Republican presidential debate
on Thursday at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. Seven others will square off in a one-hour forum to be held before the prime-time event.
The debate is sponsored by Fox News Channel and the Republican National Committee. Fox averaged five national polls of GOP primary voters, including Real Clear Politics, to make its selection.
"Many of the upper-tier candidates are from the South, yet Donald Trump is doing better in this poll of the South than he is doing nationally," Towery said.
Here are the other GOP candidates fared in the Newsmax poll:
- Cruz: 9 percent
- Huckabee and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker: 6 percent
- Rubio: 4 percent
- Ohio Gov. John Kasich: 3 percent
- Jindal, Paul, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and former Hewlett-Packard Co. CEO Carly Fiorina: 2 percent
- Graham, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry: 1 percent
- Former New York Gov. George Pataki finished below 1 percent
In addition, 2 percent responded that they would vote for someone else, while 3 percent said they were undecided.
The Newsmax results reflected poor name recognition for Walker in the South, Towery said.
The second-term governor has regularly followed Trump and Bush in national polls — and he won a match-up against Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire last month, according to a Dartmouth College poll
And only last week did Trump supplant Walker in Iowa in a Gravis Marketing survey for the One American News Network
. Iowa holds its caucuses on Feb. 1, in the first contest of the 2016 presidential cycle.
"He's not well known — and a lot of this has to do with name ID right now," Towery told Newsmax of the Badger State governor. "He's known to people who are active in political circles, but to the average voter in a Republican primary in these Southern states, they've hardly ever heard of Scott Walker.
"He has a long way to go — and with Trump dominating the headlines, he's not able to get much traction," the pollster added. "It doesn't mean that Walker couldn't have stronger numbers down the road, it's simply not being able to get his name known enough right now."
While Iowa and New Hampshire are also critical for Trump, victories in the South could send him sailing into the Florida primary on March 15 if he doesn’t win in those states, Towery said.
"If Trump can just stay in the game in Iowa and New Hampshire, then he goes into South Carolina and some of the other states and he keeps moving, he would be competitive with Bush and Carson."
The Southern states are especially critical in this Republican presidential season, as many will hold their primaries before Florida's. In the past, Florida held its primary earlier in the season.
This cycle, however, 14 mostly Southern states will hold primaries between South Carolina's, on Feb. 20, and Florida's.
They are Arkansas, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Louisiana, Alabama, Idaho, Mississippi, and Michigan. Colorado and Hawaii will hold caucuses during the period.
Seven of those Southern primaries are part of the first "Super Tuesday"
on March 1.
The change will have a huge effect on the race, most likely favoring popular candidates over establishment choices. Florida also has held a "winner-take-all" primary, with all of its 99 delegates going to the winner.
A Trump win in the Sunshine State could readily sink the Bush and Rubio campaigns, since they would be losing in their home state, Towery told Newsmax.
But this strong Southern showing poses two challenges for the businessman, he said.
"If Trump can hold or build on that lead in the South, he is going to go to the big dance, as they say in 'March Madness' terms," Towery said.
Also, "can he transfer this popularity to non-Southern states where he is running a little bit lower, like Iowa and New Hampshire? If he can get his numbers up to the mid-30s, then he can really blow the doors off this thing.
"Trump's running in the mid-20s nationally, 30s and above in a lot of these Southern states," Towery concluded. "He's the winner right now in the first run for the heart and soul of the South.
"I'm sure that if anyone told Donald Trump years ago that Mr. New York City would be so popular in Alabama, he would've believed it. I wouldn't."
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