Why Donald Trump is surging in the polls

Story highlights

  • New poll puts Donald Trump at the top of the GOP presidential contenders
  • New Hampshire voter: 'Donald just says it like it is'

Laconia, New Hampshire (CNN)Donald Trump, surging in the polls, arrived at this lakeside enclave and trained his ire on perhaps the only target that aggravates his supporters as much as the Obama Administration: Republicans.

"They're all talk, they're no action," Trump said, revving up his fiery takedown of politicians.
    "I'm more disappointed in many ways with the Republicans," Trump said. "They have this great indignation, whether it's Benghazi or the emails... nothing ever happens."
    Trump is enjoying a summer surge as he takes the lead in a poll of Republican presidential contenders released on Friday. The billionaire businessman is offending Hispanics and irking his GOP competitors but it's clear that his in-your-face demeanor and willingness to take on President Barack Obama -- then just as quickly turn his sharp tongue toward members of his own party -- is winning over Republican voters.
    "Even though I'm a Republican and I'm obviously voting that way, I'm very disappointed in the Republicans in the House. There's weakness there," said Julie Pagliarulo, a 56-year-old resident of Belmont, New Hampshire, who arrived hours early to see Trump speak. "Donald just says it like it is. I love it."
    Friday's Fox News poll found Trump leading with support from 18% of Republican primary voters nationwide, compared to 15% for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and 14% for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Statistically speaking, the top three candidates are within the margin of error, and therefore tied -- a point Trump tends to leave out of his speeches.
    Belknap County, nestled in New Hampshire's picturesque southeastern lakes region, is home to 60,000 predominantly white residents. They tend to be middle class, with a median household income of nearly $59,000, according to Census data. The unemployment rate in May stood at a modest 3.3%, well below the 5.5% national rate that month.
    Each summer, Laconia -- where Trump held his rally -- plays host to one of the nation's largest gatherings of motorcyclists. The town is more than 2,000 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border.

    Grievances

    On a recent muggy summer evening, residents here were angry about everything from border security and the economy to Benghazi, Obamacare and more. Trump was speaking to their grievances, an approach that helps explain his rise in the polls.
    Bert Hansen, 74 years old, joined hundreds of voters jammed into an overheated community center in Laconia waiting to see Trump. The soft-spoken veteran believes Obama is "incompetent" and bristles when recalling a relative who once said he was racist because he doesn't like the president. In fact, Hansen said, he's a big fan of GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson, who is black.
    "There's some pent up frustration in the population right now that's ready to explode," Hansen said said. "That's why Trump's doing so well."
    New Hampshire voters said Trump spoke to their broad range of concerns. But his greatest appeal may be that they see him as authentic and unfiltered. The opposite, voters said, of even the Republicans they elected to serve them in Congress.
    "When he talks, he talks like them. He has the same frustrations they do," said Craig Robinson, a GOP activist in Iowa and editor of The Iowa Republican website. "They still want someone who's just going to turn Washington on its head."
    Brenda Connolly, a 73-year-old independent voter, said she's disillusioned by politics these days.
    "I don't think they're standing up to the president," she said of Republicans in Washington. "I voted for them as an independent and I expected them to do a lot more."
    As for Trump, "I'm not even saying he's going to be the president, but I think he makes Republicans aware of what middle America wants," she said.
    It appears voters' views of Trump are not yet set in stone even though he's well known. Some polls show his favorability numbers climbing among Republicans. The majority of Republicans -- 57% -- had a favorable view of Trump and 40% had an unfavorable view or him in the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll. That's a big shift from late May, when the same poll found 65% of Republicans had an unfavorable view of Trump.

    Limits to Trump's appeal

    There are limits to the billionaire's appeal in the context of a potential general election. More than six in 10 Americans viewed Trump negatively in the Post/ABC poll. And despite Trump's vow to win the Hispanic vote, his controversial comments about illegal immigration and America's relationship with Mexico are tarnishing him in the eyes of Latinos. More than seven out of 10 registered Hispanic voters said they had an unfavorable view of Trump, according to a Univision News poll. Univision recently cut ties with Trump and abandoned plans to air his Miss Universe Pageant.
    The former "Apprentice" star's media savvy has helped his bid as well. Trump has pounced on a number of recent news events -- the San Francisco killing of Kate Steinle by an undocumented immigrant and drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's escape from the most secure prison in Mexico -- to bolster his argument that the U.S. needs to secure the border and take a tougher line in its relationship with Mexico.
    Meanwhile, other GOP presidential contenders are trying to reclaim the mantle of Beltway outsider. Bush plans to deliver a speech Monday on how to reform Washington. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has tried to pitch himself as the straight talker in the field.
    Christie's performance so far hasn't impressed Bill Borrebach, a 68-year-old resident of Sandwich, New Hampshire, who makes it his business to see as many candidates as he can in this first-in-the-nation primary state.
    "I don't know if he has the wherewithal to go to Mrs. Clinton and say we're tired of all her stuff," he said of Christie.
    Borrebach flashed a Trump bumper sticker he had tucked into the pocket of his floral shirt. Breaking into a smile, he added, "it's going to drive my neighbors nuts."