Tightening of Democratic Field Helps Already-Strong Clinton; Any Break-Away Move by Trump from the GOP Field Would Boost Clinton’s Advantage

Retired pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson has basically tied with billionaire businessman Donald Trump as the leading presidential candidate among likely Republican voters surveyed nationally by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute.

Meanwhile on the Democratic side, likely voters nationally again put Hillary Clinton in the lead. Just as the poll was being completed, Vice President Joe Biden announced he will not run for the Democratic nomination.

The poll was conducted October 17-22, 2015, after the Republican debates on August 6 and September 16, and the first Democratic debate which occurred on October 13. In all, Saint Leo surveyed more than 1,000 adults. The number of likely Republican voters nationally who completed the poll was 225, yielding a margin of error of plus or minus 6 percentage points on results. Democratic likely voters included nationally numbered 259, also yielding a margin of error of plus or minus 6 percentage points on the results.

Carson Makes Impressive Show in Crowded National Field

Among likely Republican voters nationwide, those polled said their favored candidate was: Donald Trump (22.7 percent); retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson (22.2 percent); U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, (11.1 percent); former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (8.4 percent); former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina (5.8 percent); and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas (4.0 percent).

“We’re starting to see some ‘Trump fatigue’ setting in,” said Frank Orlando, instructor of political science at Saint Leo University. “Donald Trump thrives on the media attention. With the lull between debates and his upcoming ‘Saturday Night Live’ appearance (November 7), the soft-spoken, ‘anti-Trump’ candidate Ben Carson, has emerged as a viable candidate,” said Orlando.

Interestingly, Orlando noted, when support for Carson, Trump, and Fiorina are combined, 51 percent of the national likely Republicans voters support non-politicians. Orlando interpreted the collective sentiment as a signal that: “These voters would rather have people with no specific plans than people who they are afraid would let them down.”

Democratic Politics Continue to Favor Clinton

Among the likely Democratic voters nationwide, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton drew 54.8 percent of the respondents’ support. Since Vice President Joe Biden announced on October 21 that he will not run for president, the 15.8 percent of Democratic likely voters who favored him will likely become Clinton supporters, Orlando said. U.S. Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders was selected by 12 percent of the likely Democratic voters.

“Hillary’s still the horse in the Democratic race, and I think that [Vice President] Biden’s support will now gravitate to her,” stated Saint Leo’s Orlando. “It (Biden’s support) won’t jump to Bernie Sanders as he’s more of an anti-establishment candidate. At the same time, Sanders needs to be more aggressive in his attack on Clinton and increase his rhetoric.”

Head-to-Head Match-Ups Show Clinton as the Winner

The survey also asked 764 likely voters whom they would select for president given a variety of Republican candidates opposing Hillary Clinton. The results showed Clinton surpassed the leading Republicans. The margin of error for responses is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Democratic Candidate Percent Republican Candidate Percent
Hillary Clinton 47.0 Donald Trump 37.9
Hillary Clinton 45.8 Ben Carson 41.5
Hillary Clinton 45.8 Marco Rubio 39.1
Hillary Clinton 44.7 Jeb Bush 34.2
Hillary Clinton 47.4 Carly Fiorina 36.4


This set of numbers will shift with time, Orlando said. “Hillary Clinton has already begun to consolidate support among Democrats, so this lead over her Republican challengers makes sense. Once the GOP settles on a candidate, you can expect that candidate’s numbers to increase as well.”

Three-Way Contest Would Divide GOP Vote to Clinton’s Advantage

The survey went on to ask 764 likely voters nationally whom they would support if Donald Trump should decide to run as an independent candidate, creating a three-way field. (Trump signed a pledge in September saying he would not make such a run, but the polling institute wanted to gauge public sentiment along these lines). Results showed Hillary Clinton would clearly be in an extraordinary position to win the presidency. The margin of error for responses to this question is also plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Democratic Candidate Percent Republican Candidate Percent Independent Candidate Percent
Hillary Clinton 42.7 Jeb Bush 22.8 Donald Trump 24.2
Hillary Clinton 43.7 Carly Fiorina 22.6 Donald Trump 23.8
Hillary Clinton 43.1 Ben Carson 27.9 Donald Trump 20.2
Hillary Clinton 43.7 Marco Rubio 24.6 Donald Trump 22.9
Hillary Clinton 44.9 Ted Cruz 18.6 Donald Trump 24.1


“Donald Trump’s hard core support is locked up. The 25 percent of voters who support him will back him even if he doesn’t have the GOP label, said Saint Leo’s Orlando. “However, for the 75 percent who aren’t supporting Trump, he may not be their second choice if he were to run as an Independent.”

Florida Results Surprising

Among Florida likely Republican voters, Donald Trump is first (25.8 percent). Trump was followed in Florida by Senator Rubio (21.5 percent); then former Governor Jeb Bush (15.3 percent); and then Carson (14.7 percent). The margin of error was 7 percentage points, based on a sample of 163 respondents.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has a substantial lead (50.9 percent). Senator Sanders pulled 13.3 percent. (Vice President Biden had 15.2 percent.) The margin of error for this question was plus or minus 7 percentage points, based on a sample of 165 likely Democratic voters in the state.

Below are the results in tabular form.

Republican Candidates Florida Likely Voters Percent
Businessman Donald Trump 25.8
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida 21.5
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush 15.3
Dr. Ben Carson 14.7
Unsure / Don’t Know 5.5


Democratic Candidates Florida Likely Voters Percent
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 50.9
Vice President Joe Biden 15.2
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont 13.3
Unsure/Don’t’ Know 8.5


“Donald Trump is also leading in Florida, but more surprisingly, Jeb Bush is way down by 10 percent vs. Trump,” remarked Orlando. “Amazingly, he’s not even second with Marco Rubio ahead of him by 6 points. For someone [Bush] who was the governor of the state and still maintains his home here, that is pretty telling about his campaign.” (Rubio, Trump, and Carson all have ties to the Sunshine State with residences and/or property in Florida, Orlando noted).

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey results about national and Florida politics, public policy issues, Pope Francis’ popularity, and other topics, can be found here: http://polls.saintleo.edu. You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.

About the Saint Leo University Polling Institute/Methodology

This Saint Leo University poll sampled opinions of 1,005 adults approximately proportional to state population contribution nationwide. The survey was conducted between October 17 and 22, 2015 using an online survey instrument. The margin of error on political questions (of likely voters only) is approximately 3 percent +/- with a 95 percent confidence level on a composite basis. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. The sample is drawn from large online panels, which allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantage of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed that is convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive—usually $1 dollar deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account—for their participation.

About Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University is a regionally accredited, liberal-arts-based institution known for an inclusive Catholic heritage, enduring values, and capacity for innovation. The school was chartered in 1889 by Catholic Benedictine monks in rural Pasco County, FL, making Saint Leo the first Catholic college in the state. Saint Leo provides access to education to people of all faiths, emphasizing the Benedictine philosophy of balanced growth of mind, body, and spirit.

The university welcomes learners from all generations and backgrounds, from civilian occupations and the armed forces, and from across the country and more than 60 nations around the world. Saint Leo’s nearly 16,000 undergraduate and graduate students may elect to study at the beautiful University Campus in Florida, at more than 40 teaching locations in seven states, or online from any location. The university’s degree programs range from the associate to the doctorate. Through these rich offerings, Saint Leo develops principled leaders for a challenging world.

Saint Leo University boasts nearly 80,000 alumni in all 50 states, Washington, DC, five U.S. territories, and 72 countries.

Media Contacts: Kim Payne, staff writer and media coordinator, at kim.payne@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-7233/(717) 798-1508 or Jo-Ann Johnston, academic communications manager, at jo-ann.johnston@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-8237/(352) 467-0843.