Election 2016

Carson Best-Liked of All Presidential Candidates

by Andrew Dugan

Story Highlights

  • Carson enjoys highest net favorability with all U.S. adults
  • Democrats view Carson more favorably than other GOP candidates
  • About as many blacks who know Carson like as dislike him

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Political novice Ben Carson retains his formidable edge in popularity over his Republican presidential rivals, with a net favorable score of +59 among Republicans nationwide. But Carson is popular not only with Republicans, he also has a net favorable score of +21 among national adults -- the highest of any candidate from either party.

Major-Party Candidate Images for Selected GOP and Democratic Candidates

The public gives other prominent presidential candidates either a lukewarm or an unfavorable reception, including Marco Rubio (+5), Jeb Bush (-2), Hillary Clinton (-6) and Donald Trump (-22). These results are based on Gallup Daily tracking from Oct. 19-Nov. 1, a period that spanned the third Republican debate.

But as might be expected for a first-time presidential candidate with a limited national profile prior to mounting a campaign, Carson is not as well-known as other candidates. Carson's overall "familiarity" score -- the total percentage of Americans with a favorable or unfavorable view of him -- is 63%, well behind Clinton (92%), Trump (90%) and Bush (76%).

Ben Carson's Net Favorability Among U.S. Adults, Oct. 19-Nov. 1, 2015

While those candidates were already reasonably well-known as the race began, Carson was in no such position. For the period of July 8-21, when Gallup began regularly tracking presidential candidates, Carson's overall familiarity score among national adults was 36%. Few candidates who are still in the field were less well-known at that time, including Republicans John Kasich (29%) and Carly Fiorina (30%), and Democrat Martin O'Malley (22%). But Carson, at least partly aided by his debate performances, has seen the most growth on this measure. And he now is about as well-known as national political figures such as Rubio, Chris Christie and Ted Cruz.

Carson is well-known among Republicans; three in four are familiar with him. And of the three-quarters of Republicans who know him, only a sliver have an unfavorable view of him (8%). Republicans' nearly universal appreciation for Carson is an important reason for his robust popularity nationally. More than four in 10 (42%) U.S. adults identify as or lean Republican, meaning Carson receives high marks from about two-fifths of the country.

GOP Candidate Images Among Republicans

Although He Has a Net-Negative Image, Carson Rates Relatively Well Among Democrats

Carson records a -13 net favorable rating among Democrats and independents who lean Democratic, better than most of his Republican rivals and significantly better than the more widely known Rubio, Christie, Cruz, Mike Huckabee and especially Trump. At the same time, Carson is not very well-known among Democrats, leaving open the very real possibility that as more Democrats come to know him, they will dislike him, bringing down his net favorable.

GOP Candidate Images Among Democrats

Carson Unknown to Most Black Americans

As the sole black candidate running for president in either party, Carson is relatively popular with blacks compared with his GOP rivals. But given the heavy Democratic tilt of black adults, Carson will likely hit a low ceiling on his overall popularity score with this group. At a net favorable of -1, Carson is liked by about as many U.S. black adults as disliked, though the majority (52%) have no opinion of him.

GOP Candidate Images Among Black Adults Nationwide

Bottom Line

For the moment, Carson is the most popular major-party candidate -- and by a wide margin. While this fact might suggest Carson has a rare bipartisan appeal that the other presidential candidates lack, his popularity is chiefly driven by his extremely positive image among Republicans. Democrats who have an opinion of Carson see him in less negative terms than they see other Republican candidates, but ultimately, about four in 10 Democrats -- a group prone to view any GOP candidate unfavorably because of that candidate's politics -- do not currently know Carson.

And that is the situation Carson faces. He enjoys a high familiarity rating among Republicans, but if he is to become a better-known figure nationally, he will have to "introduce" himself to Democrats. If normal political forces prevail, though, it is likely that expanded familiarity will come at the cost of lower popularity. If more Democrats do come to know him -- even if they decide they don't like him -- it is a sign that his once-improbable campaign is becoming much less so.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Oct. 19-Nov. 1, 2015, on the Gallup U.S. Daily survey, with a random sample of 7,121 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Each candidate was rated by a random subset of respondents during this period, with the sample sizes rating each candidate ranging from 1,884 to 2,014. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

For results based on the total sample of 3,180 of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, aged 18 and older, with about 800 adults, on average, rating each candidate, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

For results based on the total sample of 2,900 of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, aged 18 and older, with about 800 adults, on average, rating each candidate, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

For results based on the total sample of 685 black adults, aged 18 and older, with about 200 adults, on average, rating each candidate, the margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

Learn more about how Gallup Daily tracking works.

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