December Survey Captures the Shifting Mood of American Electorate

December 10, 2015

At the beginning of this week, Donald Trump was holding steady as the leading presidential candidate among likely Republican voters surveyed nationally by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute (http://polls.saintleo.edu). Meanwhile, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continued to outrun significantly her lingering challengers in the Democratic party.

The two also ranked highest among expected voters of both parties when asked about the candidates likely to be most effective at keeping people safe from terror.

The poll was completed before Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” on Monday, December 7—a remark that other Republican candidates have rejected and denounced.

The survey was conducted online from November 29 to December 3, 2015, which put the start time three weeks after the terrorist attacks in Paris. The sampling was largely completed by the time of the December 2 mass shooting in San Bernardino, CA, and so sentiments stemming from that event, now considered a terrorist attack, could not be reflected in the poll results.

Growing concerns about security were already on the minds of the more than 1,000 people who completed the survey. Respondents were asked to select the “most important issue” facing the country today from a list of options, and the general, global category of “terrorism” shot up to the second-place ranking, following “jobs and the economy.” Nearly 17 percent (16.9) said terrorism was the most important issue, which was more than 10 percentage points higher than when the same question was asked in October. Additionally, 15.1 percent said “homeland security and anti-terror policy” (more focused on the domestic United States) was the most important issue, resulting in a third-placed ranking. This meant the two security-minded categories jumped over both “healthcare” and “government spending,” which figured more prominently among Americans’ concerns in previous poll.

Frank Orlando, political science instructor at Saint Leo University, said that if the poll results were collected during the current week, security concerns would have registered even higher. He added that he senses the security issue will linger.

Regarding the candidates, Orlando also commented on the apparent slide of Dr. Ben Carson’s popularity among GOP followers over the course of Saint Leo surveys. Some Republicans were looking at Carson as an alternative to Trump earlier on, Orlando said, but, in a pattern that can affect candidates from beyond traditional political circles, some of those Republican voters are now considering other GOP candidates.

Among the Democrats, Orlando said security concerns and foreign affairs are not a strong suit of the campaign of Clinton challenger Bernie Sanders, the U.S. senator from Vermont. Clinton has not only performed well to date, he said. Clinton’s career credentials make her a strong Democratic option for voters wanting a candidate strong on security, as the survey showed.

For more detailed poll results and news releases, see http://polls.saintleo.edu.