POLITICS

Republicans Support Outsider Presidential Candidates Over The Establishment, Polls Show

Republicans are fed up with their party. Is it enough to sour them on the politicians campaigning to lead it?

Non-politicians are having a moment in the Republican primary.

It's not just Donald Trump. Since July, two other candidates have seen their numbers rise significantly in national polls: retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former CEO Carly Fiorina, neither of whom have held public office in the past.

Historical precedent goes against them. Virtually every presidential nominee since the 1900s has held a previous elected office, or, more rarely, another high-level government position, not to mention the backing of their party establishment. The exception to the rule, businessman Wendell Willkie, was soundly defeated by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1940.

But Trump, Carson and Fiorina combined currently hold nearly 46 percent of the primary electorate in HuffPost Pollster's aggregate of national surveys. Add in Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who has repeatedly aligned himself with Trump, and that total rises to nearly 52 percent.

In comparison, the nine former and current governors running for the GOP nomination, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, take just about 27 percent combined. The four senators besides Cruz total about 11 percent, with most of that going to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

With months still to go before the first primary or caucus, outsider candidates' strong polling numbers don't say much about their chances of actually winning. And they aren't necessarily gaining support solely because of their backgrounds -- Fiorina's performance in the first Republican debate, and her subsequent campaign to be included in the next round, have kept her on air recently even though Carson, despite his post-debate bump in the polls, has so far garnered relatively little media attention. 

But their current success comes against a backdrop of widespread disenchantment with the political system.

A Quinnipiac poll released Monday poll found that just 2 percent of Americans consider themselves very satisfied with the way things are going in the country, feel enthusiastic about the way the federal government works or say that they almost always trust the government in Washington to do the right thing. (Or, to quote Quinnipiac's Tim Malloy: "Most American voters sing sadly, along with The Rolling Stones, that they are unable to find any satisfaction with the way things are going in the nation or with the federal government.")

That sense of unhappiness is neither new nor necessarily intensifying. Americans have been saying for at least the past seven years that the country is on the wrong track, and Congress' current 13 percent job approval rating, while godawful, is actually a bit higher than it's been in recent years. 

The share of Americans who are unhappy with both political parties, though, is at a more than 20-year high, according to Pew Research, in large part because a significant fraction of Republicans are currently unhappy with their own party.

Nearly three quarters of Republican voters, but only 18 percent of Democrats, told Quinnipiac they'd prefer a Washington outsider to someone with Washington experience. An April HuffPost/YouGov survey found that just 38 percent of Republican voters thought their party did a good or excellent job of picking the best candidates to run for office, in contrast with 51 percent of Democratic voters who said the same.

Still, while GOP voters' unhappiness may be fueling their support for candidates who made their names outside of the political sphere, they don't actually dislike most of the career politicians in the race.

In the latest YouGov/Economist survey, Republicans gave 13 of their 17 candidates a positive favorability rating. The exceptions face bigger hurdles to the nomination than their credibility with the political establishment: Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) is relatively moderate on climate change and immigration, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie continues to be plagued by the fallout from Bridgegate and neither former New York Gov. George Pataki nor former Sen. Jim Gilmore (R-Va.) is a household name. 

If there's one part of the political system Republicans feel good about, it might be their slate for 2016. A full 80 percent of voters say they're enthusiastic about or satisfied with their current field of candidates, which is 14 points higher than the portion of Democratic voters who are similarly upbeat about their own choices.

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