Outsiders continue to rule in the Republican presidential primary but outsiders might also have an edge in the 2016 general election. In the latest Quinnipiac poll Donald Trump and Ben Carson are in a dead heat. Trump holds on to a one percent advantage beating Carson 24 percent to 23 percent. Marco Rubio is rising in the polls, but he still trails the front runners by double digits. Somewhat surprising, however, is that Ben Carson beats Hillary Clinton in a head-to-head matchup. Carson tops Clinton 50 percent to 40 percent in the Quinnipiac poll.
The meteoric rise of Ben Carson has surprised pundits who continue to view the 2016 presidential race in the context of previous elections. What pundits and the establishment Republicans continue to miss is that 2016 is not a normal election. The mood of Americans has radically changed. There is anger among the populace but more importantly, there is a general feeling that many Americans, mostly Republicans and independent voters, feel out of place in their own country.
The latest NBC/WSJ poll, released Monday, discovered that 71 percent of GOP primary voters said they felt “out of place” in their own country and are uneasy about widespread illegal immigration, the shrinking role of religion in public life and the growing acceptance of gay and lesbian rights. Among these GOP voters, 45 percent strongly agreed with that view. By contrast, only 12 percent of Democratic primary voters had that view.
This explains why so many Republican voters are backing candidates like Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz. The voters who feel out of place in today’s America identify with these candidates for two reasons. First, they are angry that the political establishment has allowed these social changes to happen and therefore they want to punish those politicians. Secondly, they identify with the rhetoric of these outsider candidates on issues like immigrants, Muslims, gays, and secularists.
There is anger on the Democratic side also. That anger, however, is aimed mostly at the very wealthy and Wall Street bankers who they feel are causing the great inequality of wealth and income in America. About 75 percent of Democrats feel proud of America for becoming a more tolerant nation. Republicans agree that Wall Street greed and money in politics is hurting the nation, but they are much more uncomfortable with societal changes. This is what is driving the Republican anger whereas Democratic anger is more based on inequality and corporate greed.
Carson and Trump appeal to the same Republican anger, as does Ted Cruz. Carson, however, is climbing in the polls because of a growing support among Republican women and Evangelical Christians. He also tops Clinton among women 45 percent to 44 percent in a general election matchup. Women went for Obama over John McCain and Mitt Romney by huge margins. Those were different times, however.
It seems that voters, particularly Republican voters, are willing to forgive Carson for things that seemed unforgivable previously. Social Security and Medicare have long been considered to be a third rail in presidential politics. Carson initially said that he would get rid of Medicare. Then, after being attacked by his fellow Republicans for that position, he changed his view, but his new plan is short on details and fuzzy at best. Nevertheless, Carson continues to rise in the polls.
Fact checkers have not been kind to Carson. Most of his statements have been rated as either false, half true, or sometimes given the “pants-on-fire” designation. This does not seem to matter to voters.
It is still early, but it the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary are getting closer. Thus far, anger and resentment seem to rule among Republican voters. We will see if that wanes after the first of the year.