Donald Trump’s so-far durable support in the Republican race for the presidential nomination rests largely on widespread dissatisfaction with Washington, and has been bolstered by his vocal criticism of the country’s immigration policies.
A new CNN/ORC Poll finds that just 30% of registered voters nationwide say they feel their views are well represented by the government in Washington, while 40% say they are not represented well at all. That figure spikes among Republican and Republican-leaning voters. Among GOP voters, 53% say they don’t feel their views are well represented in Washington at all, nearly double the 27% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who feel the same way.
And these Republican voters who say their views are not represented at all by the government in Washington are far more likely than other Republicans to back Trump’s run for the White House. Among this group, Trump holds a broad lead: 24% support him vs. 13% behind former Florida governor Jeb Bush, with the rest of the field at 8% or less. These disaffected voters are more likely to say they want Trump to stay in the race (58% vs. 45% among other Republicans) and more likely to think he will ultimately win the party’s nomination: 27% say Trump will, 29% Bush. Among other Republican registered voters, those figures are 34% Bush and 18% Trump.
The disaffected are slightly more likely to cite illegal immigration as their top issue in deciding whom to support for president next year (14% compared with 7% among other Republicans), but in both groups, the economy is the dominant issue, cited as tops by more than 4 in 10 voters.
Although these voters say they feel left out of Washington’s political process, they are more likely than other Republicans to say they are “extremely enthusiastic” about voting for president next year, 31% compared with 23% among other Republican registered voters. They are also slightly less satisfied with the field of Republican candidates (29% say they are dissatisfied compared with 22% among other Republican voters).
When they assess the traits they’re looking for in the next president, those feeling disconnected from Washington are just as likely as other Republicans to say they want a candidate who stands up for his or her beliefs, but they are less likely to prioritize empathy or compromise, and are more likely to be looking for someone who’s not a typical politician and who wants to change the way Washington works.
Interest in a candidate to change Washington
Those attributes correspond well with Trump’s strengths. Among those Republican voters who say it’s extremely important that the next president stand up for his or her beliefs even in the face of criticism, Trump is practically a runaway winner: 25% back him compared with 11% behind Bush and 10% backing Walker. He carries similarly broad advantages among those who say it’s key that the president is not a typical politician (23% vs. 14% for Bush and 13% Walker) and wants to change the way Washington works (23% Trump, 16% Bush, 10% Walker).
Bush and Trump are tied among those who say it’s extremely important for the next president to be able to compromise to get things done, 16% support each, 13% are behind Walker.
Immigration and GOP voters
The poll also finds Trump’s positions on immigration are at odds with those of most Americans, but may be providing him a boost in the Republican nomination contest. Overall, 56% say that U.S. policies on immigration should largely focus on developing a plan that would allow illegal immigrants with jobs to become legal residents, while 42% prioritize stopping the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. and deporting those already here. That’s a significant increase on the side of allowing immigrants living the U.S. illegally to become legal residents, up from 49% in February.
Among the majority who say U.S. policy should focus on a path to legal residency, 72% say they have an unfavorable opinion of Trump, that dips to 41% among those who think the focus ought to be on border security.
Still, few see illegal immigration as a puzzle that’s been solved. The poll shows 69% of Americans think the number of immigrants coming to the United States illegally has increased in the last few years, just 25% think it’s decreased. That’s in contrast with a recent analysis from the Pew Research Center, which found the number of unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. has stabilized, partly due to a “slowdown in new illegal immigration since the Great Recession.” According to Pew, most immigrants living the U.S. illegally have been in the country for a decade or more.
The CNN/ORC poll reveals massive partisan divides in opinions on immigration, however, with Trump’s campaign capitalizing on the imbalance in his bid for the Republican nomination. Nearly three quarters of Democratic registered voters (72%) say the country’s immigration policies should focus on allowing immigrants in the country illegally to become legal residents, while just 38% of Republican registered voters agree.
This issue sharply divides Republican preferences in the race for the party’s nomination. Among those Republican registered voters who say that the focus of immigration policy should be helping illegal residents become legal ones, 19% back Jeb Bush for the party’s presidential nomination, 13% support Trump. Among those who say the focus should be border security and deportation, 23% support Trump, 13% Bush.
Those who think the government’s focus ought to be on border security are more likely to call it a top issue in deciding their vote for president. Sixteen percent of such Republican voters call immigration their top issue, compared with 4% among those who think the focus should be on helping illegal immigrants gain legal status.
Immigration not top voter issue
Still, illegal immigration is not the most important issue for the Republican field. Just 11% call it key to their decision about whom to support in next year’s presidential election. That’s about on par with foreign policy (13%), health care and terrorism (15%) and all rank well below the economy (44% call that their top consideration).
The economy is a dominant issue for Democrats as well, 45% of whom call it their top issue. And the poll suggests it may be boosting independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders as he seeks to topple Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton in the race for that party’s presidential nomination.
Although Clinton has focused recently on rolling out her proposed economic policies, she loses significant ground to Bernie Sanders among Democratic voters who call the economy their top issue. Among economy voters, a narrow majority of 51% say they back Clinton, while 24% support Sanders. Among those Democratic voters who cite a different issue as their main concern, 61% back Clinton, while 15% favor Vice President Joe Biden and 14% back Sanders.
The CNN/ORC International Poll was conducted July 22-25 among a random national sample of 1,017 adults, including 898 registered voters. Results for all registered voters have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The registered voter sample included 419 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents as well as 392 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents.