Donald Trump’s divisive plan for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S. sure isn’t hurting his prospects in New Hampshire.
A new WBUR poll (topline, crosstabs) shows him with his strongest lead yet among likely New Hampshire GOP primary voters, with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie building momentum in the race’s second tier.
And while the Republican contenders show a fairly united front against new gun control measures, their potential New Hampshire constituents are much more open on the issue.
A Steady Climb
Trump has climbed pretty steadily now in a series of New Hampshire surveys conducted for WBUR by The MassINC Polling Group. And pollster Steve Koczela says Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. is not slowing the trend.
"The question that people have been asking this week is whether the comments that Donald Trump made earlier this week would hurt him," Koczela said. "And what this poll shows is that in New Hampshire that certainly was not the case.”
National polls this week show similar results. Trump’s Monday announcement came midway through WBUR’s three-day New Hampshire survey, which started Sunday. And after he made it, his support remained higher than any of the other GOP candidates.
Support for Trump now stands at 27 percent among likely Republican primary voters. Kozcela says the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have put ISIS and terrorism at the top of most GOP voters’ concerns, turning this into the first "security election" since the post-9/11 race in 2004.
"The difference this time is that Donald Trump is focusing on it and talking about it in a way that we really have never heard before," Koczela said. "But voters are really responding positively to it.”
Voters like Londonderry resident Donald Sullivan.
“I don’t think Muslims is a religion at all," Sullivan said. "I think it’s a cult."
Islam is the second largest religion in the world, and the fastest growing.
Sullivan says to get around constitutional protections for freedom of religion, Trump should tweak his plan to bar Muslims from entering the U.S.
“If you say ‘religion’ that will be blocked by the Constitution," Sullivan said. "But if you say, ‘you are no longer coming in from Syria or Iraq or Iran or Afghanistan,’ then you’re stopping them from coming in and you’re not using religion. He’ll just have to think about it a little bit.”
Movement Among Second-Tier Candidates
Trump beats all other GOP candidates by 15 percentage points or more in the most recent WBUR survey, and it’s due significantly to one voting bloc: men. More than a third of men give Trump the nod. Among women it’s a different story.
“I tell you who I don’t favor. I don’t favor Trump. I think he’s a radical,” Manchester resident Debi Rapson said at a recent Jeb Bush event, where she was candidate-shopping. “And I think America is made up of a melting pot of people and you can’t close them out just because of their religion. Otherwise none of us would be here.”
Rapson is not alone. The WBUR poll found that among likely female GOP voters, Trump is only a few points ahead of the second-tier candidates — Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and, now, Chris Christie.
Christie’s support has doubled since WBUR’s November poll, to 12 percent — which vaults him into second place, just ahead of Rubio at 11 percent. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz maintains a position in the second tier as well with 10 percent support, signaling a three-way race for runner-up.
“It’s a very noisy environment right now for New Hampshire Republican voters, and it’s only going to get noisier as we get closer,” said Dante Scala, a University of New Hampshire political scholar who just published a book titled “The Four Faces of the Republican Party."
He notes Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina are dropping fast in the polls, with anti-establishment voters coalescing around Trump. Christie’s surge, he says, adds a new dynamic in the race to be the un-Trump.
“The presence of Christie I think makes things more complicated for, let alone Jeb Bush and John Kasich, but also Marco Rubio emerging as the Trump alternative," Scala said. "And that’s a key question: One, will the Trump vote be there in the end? And two, will the so-called establishment vote split half a dozen different ways?”
Christie’s been getting new attention in part because of the polls. And with attention comes scrutiny. One New Hampshire gun rights group is slamming him as “anti-gun." Yet the WBUR poll indicates such characterizations might not hurt Christie.
While many of the GOP candidates are staunchly pro-gun rights, many New Hampshire GOP primary voters support some new gun control measures. The WBUR poll finds 75 percent of them support universal background checks for gun purchases and 85 percent support barring those on the federal terror watch list from being able to buy a gun.
And that includes a substantial majority of those whose household includes a gun owner, such as skeet-shooter Andrea Aldrovandi, of Meredith. "Guns don’t kill people, people kill people," Aldrovandi said. "But do I believe in the background checks? Yes."
Aldrovandi leans toward Christie. But she added that the candidates’ gun control positions won’t have much effect on her ultimate choice.
As with the vast majority of respondents to the WBUR poll, even those who support some gun control, she says new gun laws will be ineffective against mass shootings. And in this phase of the Republican presidential contest it seems clear protection against mass violence — particularly by ISIS-inspired terrorists — is paramount.
This segment aired on December 11, 2015.