Clinton and Trump Each Appeal to Voters as Strong on Security

Billionaire businessman Donald Trump has held steady as the leading presidential candidate among likely Republican voters surveyed nationally by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continues to outrun significantly her lingering challengers in the party with the nation’s likely Democratic voters, and appears poised to lock the Democratic nomination, the poll suggests.

The two also ranked highest among likely voters of both parties when asked about the candidates likely to be most effective at keeping people safe from terror.

The poll was conducted November 29 to December 3, 2015, starting three weeks after the terrorist attacks in Paris. The sampling was largely completed by the time of the December 2 mass shooting in San Bernardino, CA, and so sentiments stemming from that event, now considered a terrorist attack, are not reflected in the poll results. More than 1,000 adults participated in this quarterly poll, and responses from likely voters among that base were examined for the best political insights. Some results below are compared to the analogous results gathered in the poll conducted October 17 to October 22, 2015, by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute.

Trump, Rubio, Bush, and Cruz Gain Support; Carson Declines

When Republican likely voters in the national the survey (who numbered 220 of the 1,007 respondents) were asked to name the candidate they would support if the Republican primary was held today:

  • Donald Trump gathered 29.1 percent, compared to 22.7 percent in the October survey.
  • Ben Carson’s support of 13.6 percent was a decline from the October political survey, when it was 22.2 percent.
  • S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida was selected by 11.4 percent, about the same as the October result of 11.1 percent.
  • Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was named by 10.5 percent, compared to 8.4 percent in October.
  • S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas was just behind at 9.1 percent, up from 4.0 percent in October.
  • Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina slid to 1.4 percent, from 5.8 percent in October.

The margin of error for the recent answers from the above subgroup is plus or minus 7 percentage points.

“Donald Trump continues to dominate the daily news cycles,” said Frank Orlando, instructor of political science at Saint Leo University. “He’s a master of creating and controlling content – his tweets become news. He’s a media personality who captures the attention of those who both support his beliefs and vehemently disagree with him.”

Carson is another political outsider who initially flew under the radar and was the Republican frontrunner for a brief period. “Carson followed the conventional pattern of an outsider candidate. After his background was scrutinized, he fell out of favor, and now has started his decline,” said Orlando.

Clinton Maintains Strong Lead with Democrats

When Democratic likely voters in the national survey (who numbered 270 of the 1,007 respondents) were asked to name the candidate they would support if the Democratic primary was held today:

  • Hillary Clinton gathered 58.9 percent, compared to 54.8 percent in the October survey.
  • S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont was selected by 23.7 percent, up from 12 percent in October.

The matching October 2015 poll question included as an option Vice President Joe Biden, who garnered 15.8 percent. Biden was not included in the December 2015 survey, given his late October announcement that he decided against running, which may have helped Sanders in the more recent poll results.

“Hillary Clinton has consolidated her support and continues to dominate her party,” said Saint Leo’s Orlando. Despite Bernie Sanders’ slight surge from the October poll he continues to significantly trail Clinton. “There is nothing in the numbers to indicate that Sanders will make a big charge,” continued Orlando.

The margin of error for answers from the above subgroup is plus or minus 6 percentage points.

Trump and Clinton, Tough on Terror

In addition, all respondents were asked: “Despite your own preference for our next president, based on all you know or have heard, which one of the following Democratic and Republican candidates would likely mount the strongest and most effective effort against terrorists worldwide while protecting Americans at home?” The leading responses among the 746 likely voters included:

  • Trump, 24.0 percent
  • Clinton, 23.2 percent
  • Unsure or none, 13.7 percent
  • Sanders, 8.1 percent
  • Cruz, 5.9 percent
  • Carson, 4.7 percent
  • Rubio, 4.5 percent
  • Bush, 4.5 percent

“Trump has made security and immigration his primary campaign issues. “While we would expect to see his polling numbers fade as we approach Iowa, the recent terrorism events actually feed into his narrative and stoke populist discontent,” commented Orlando.

Clinton, with her foreign policy experience, touts her ability to manage national security issues. “The Democrats feel she (Clinton) is the strongest person to handle security and safety issues. With her background as Secretary of State, she is far more comfortable discussing foreign affairs than Senator Sanders,” remarked Orlando.

The margin of error for questions answered by 746 likely voters is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Projections with Clinton vs. Opponents in a Two-Party Race

In a question that suggested possible head-to-head, two-party contests to 746 likely voters nationwide, Clinton surpassed Bush, Fiorina, Carson, Rubio, and Trump. The results, shown in descending order on the GOP side, looked like this:

  • Clinton, 51.1 percent; Carson 38.2 percent
  • Clinton, 48.5 percent; Rubio, 37.8 percent
  • Clinton, 50.7 percent; Trump, 37.2 percent
  • Clinton, 51.7 percent; Cruz, 35.8 percent
  • Clinton, 49.1 percent; Bush, 35.3 percent
  • Clinton, 51.3 percent; Fiorina, 31.9 percent

Projections with Clinton vs. Opponents in a Three-Person Race

The poll also asked likely-voter respondents to consider their options if Trump were to break ranks with the GOP and run as an independent, and the GOP nominated another person to run and to face both Clinton and Trump. The three-candidate scenario left Clinton with an extraordinary advantage, shown here, in descending order of Clinton’s projected results.

  • Clinton, 45.4 percent; Cruz, 19.9 percent; Trump, 26.1 percent
  • Clinton, 44.8 percent; Fiorina, 14.9 percent; Trump, 29.6 percent
  • Clinton, 44 percent; Carson, 20.1 percent; Trump, 25.7 percent
  • Clinton, 43.3 percent, Rubio, 21.8 percent; Trump, 25.9 percent
  • Clinton, 43.3 percent; Bush, 19.6 percent; Trump, 29.5 percent

ABOUT THE POLL: The poll was conducted by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute ( Polling by the institute is conducted on a regular basis and may also include spontaneous polling on occurring events. The poll sampled opinions of 1,007 adults, approximately proportional to state population contribution nationwide. The survey was conducted November 29 to December 3, 2015. All surveys were conducted using an online survey instrument. The poll has a +/- 3.0 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level on a composite basis.

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 or (352) 588-7233/(717) 798-1508 or Jo-Ann Johnston, academic communications manager, at or (352) 588-8237/(352) 467-0843.