Iowa poll: Trump still leads, but dented by debate

Susan Page, USA TODAY 4:33 p.m. EDT August 11, 2015

Businessman Donald Trump continues to lead the Republican field in Iowa, a new Suffolk University Poll finds, but his performance in last week's opening debate has dented his standing among GOP partisans and cost him some ground. USA TODAY

(Photo: John Minchillo, AP)

Businessman Donald Trump continues to lead the Republican field in Iowa, a new Suffolk University Poll finds, but his performance in last week's opening debate has dented his standing among GOP partisans and cost him some ground in the state that will hold the first presidential contest next year.

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Also hit: Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who sank to seventh place from third in the RealClearPolitics average of Iowa polls over the past month. He now narrowly trails former CEO Carly Fiorina in the key early state. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio scores the biggest boost, rising from eight to third.

The survey of 500 Iowans likely to participate in the Republican caucuses, taken by landline and cell phone from Friday through Monday, is one of the first quantitative measures of the impact of Thursday night’s debate in Cleveland, hosted by Fox News and Facebook. It comes as the repercussions of the encounter, which drew 24 million viewers nationwide, are still being sorted out in a contest where support is scattered.

Indeed, one in five remain undecided in the new Iowa poll. Among those with a preference, Trump leads the field at 17%, followed by Wisconsin Gov.
Scott Walker at 12% and Rubio at 10%. The survey's margin of error is plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

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The results reflect a dip in support for Trump and Walker, compared to statewide surveys taken over the past month and averaged by That could hearten establishment Republicans who speculate that Trump's tendency toward the inflammatory at some point will stem his unexpected rise to the top of the GOP field.

The Suffolk survey has warning signs for Trump. By 2-1, 55%-23%, those surveyed say watching Trump in the debate made them feel less comfortable rather than more comfortable with him as a candidate for president. A 54% majority also reject Trump’s complaints that he was treated unfairly by the Fox
News anchors who served as moderators; 41% agree with him.

And a third of Iowa Republicans say Trump — enmeshed in a post-debate contretempsover his comments about Fox News anchor
Megyn Kelly — “doesn’t show appropriate respect for women.” A larger number, 46%, side with the real-estate mogul and reality-TV star, saying criticism of his comments about women "are just examples of political correctness."

Then there's this: Trump scores a big lead among those who didn't watch the debate, at 21%, double the standing of retired neurosurgeon
Ben Carson, who finishes second at 10%. But among those who watched the debate, Trump does less well, tied with Walker at 14%. takes a look at some bold statements made during the first Republican presidential debate on Fox News. VPC

In Iowa, nearly two-thirds of those surveyed say they watched the evening debate of the top 10 contenders, and more than four in 10 watched the afternoon debate of seven candidates, including Fiorina. The former chief executive of Hewlett-Packardfared well despite her failure to make the cut for the evening debate. More than nine of 10 say she should be invited to future televised debates of the top-tier contenders.

Among those who watched the afternoon debate, more than eight in 10 say Fiorina impressed them the most.

Among those who watched the evening debate or highlights from it, nearly one in four say Rubio impressed them the most.

Almost many identify Carson as the most impressive.

What moment do they remember most?

In response to an open-ended question, Carson was most often mentioned, both for his closing remarks and his joking comments about brain surgery. Trump's refusal to promise to support the eventual Republican nominee and his interactions with other candidates also were among the most memorable moments. So was the confrontation between New Jersey Gov.
Chris Christie and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul over the balance between national security and personal privacy.

But less than 1% of those surveyed recall a moment involving Bush, and just 2% say he impressed them most during the debate. Support statewide for the former Florida governor is now 5%.

The standings, in order: Trump, Walker, Rubio, Carson (9%), Texas
Sen. Ted Cruz(7%), Fiorina (7%) and Bush. Ohio Gov. John Kasich is at 3%, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Paul and Christie at 2%.

"Thursday's debates breathed life into the campaigns of Rubio, Carson, Fiorina and Cruz," says David Paleologos, director of Suffolk University's Political Research Center. "Prior to the debates, they had little opportunity to compete with Trump's intake of all the political oxygen."

Republican presidential debate. Scott Olson, Getty Images

The contenders who carried the past two presidential caucuses in Iowa had little support to show for it. Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, who won the 2012 caucuses was backed by less than 1% — he was named by just three of those surveyed — and Huckabee, who won in 2008, was at 2%.

When asked for their second choice — a question that helps measure a contender's room to grow as the field winnows — Carson, Rubio and Cruz and Walker were named by at least 10% of those surveyed. Trump was named by 6%.