This summer has been marked by a relentless drumbeat of bad news for establishment candidates seeking major party presidential nominations. And while the summer may be coming to its unofficial conclusion this weekend, the beat goes on. Top establishment candidates in both parties find themselves trailing far behind upstarts who are pitching more populist, anti-Washington themes.
The NBC Marist University poll released Sunday surveyed voters in the key early voting states of New Hampshire and Iowa. Comparing the new results with a similar poll taken by the same group in July, the differences are stunning.
In the New Hampshire poll back in July, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders trailed former secretary of state Hillary Clinton 47-34, showing a pretty steep hill for the self-professed socialist to climb if he wanted to win the nomination. And climb Sanders did. As of late this weekend, the NBC Marist poll found that the Vermonter has completely flipped the numbers on Clinton and is now leading the race 49-38.
In Iowa, Sanders was so far in Clinton’s rear-view mirror in July that catching her seemed laughable. The mid-summer deficit had Clinton with 55 percent, more than doubling Sanders’ 26. As of early September, Clinton remains in the lead, but has lost significant support, as Sanders has surged. Clinton led 48 to 37.
“Well, I think the evidence is pretty clear,” Sanders said to reporters on Sunday. “We are gaining. I think what the polls seem to indicate is that Hillary Clinton’s support seems to be receding a bit. But we’ve got a long way to go.”
He said that he would continue to run the same sort of campaign that has got him this far, hitting on poverty, the struggling middle class and social policy.
“What the American people want to know is how we reverse the decline of the middle class,” he said. “How do we reverse poverty? Why are we the only major country on earth that doesn’t have a family and medical leave policy? Those are the issues that I’m going to stay on.”
On the Republican side of the battle, the surprise is less about who is winning than about who is losing. Donald Trump has been leading the GOP polls since he announced his candidacy in June, and that held true in the new NBC Marist poll. In July, he led the field in New Hampshire with 21 percent of the vote, trailed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 14 percent. By September, Trump had increased his support to 28 percent, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, at 12 percent, had replaced Bush as the runner-up.
In Iowa, Trump trailed Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker 19-17 in July, but in the most recent poll he leads the field with 29 percent support. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson comes in second with 22 percent, a significant leap from the 8 percent he polled at in July.
Walker, meanwhile, has seen his support in the state, which borders his own, plummet to 5 percent. Walker’s decline in New Hampshire was similar: He went from 12 percent in July to 4 percent in September.
The Wisconsin governor’s precipitous tumble is surprising but not unique. Across the GOP ballot, most of the “establishment” candidates have failed to gain traction.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who polled at 14 percent in New Hampshire in July, had dropped to 8 percent early this month. In Iowa, Bush dropped from 12 percent to 6 percent.
Other candidates looking for the votes of the traditional business-focused heart of the GOP have suffered, generally, through stagnation.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a frontrunner for the nomination at some point in the distant past polled at 6 percent in New Hampshire in July and at 2 percent in Iowa. In September, his respective numbers in the two states were 5 percent and 2 percent.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was at 5 percent in New Hampshire and 4 percent in Iowa in July. By September, it was 3 percent and 4 percent, respectively.
There is a long way to go in the race for both parties’ nominations, but as summer moves toward fall, it seems certain that establishment candidates from both parties are furiously rewriting their campaign scripts in an effort to capture the interest of primary voters who, for now at least, just aren’t interested.