COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Donald Trump has emerged as the front-runner for the GOP nomination by winning over roughly a third of Republicans in the early voting states and in preference polls, packing his rallies with men and women, evangelical Christians and military veterans, blue-collar workers and wealthy retirees.

His critics have argued for months he’ll never be able to grow that wide-but-only-so-deep coalition by clashing with Pope Francis, attacking former President George W. Bush and skipping debates like he did once in Iowa. His negatives, they say, are just too high.

But a new AP-GfK poll finds registered Republicans and GOP-leaning voters put Trump at the top of the still-unwieldy GOP field when it comes to which candidate fits best with their stand on the issues. They give Trump the best marks for competence and decisiveness.
 Far more Republicans than not say they’d vote for Trump in the general election, and 86 percent of Republican voters think he can win in November — giving him a 15 percentage point advantage over his nearest rival.
 If the number of Republican candidates shrinks as expected after Saturday’s primary in South Carolina, Tuesday’s Nevada caucuses and on Super Tuesday on March 1, the Trump coalition, it would appear, has plenty of room to grow.

“He understands what the problems are and he conveys that in a way that attracts blacks, whites and Democrats and Jews and Christians and independents and a lot of conservatives and a lot of evangelicals,” said Ed McMullen, a Trump co-chairman in South Carolina. “When you really assess the base of who’s out there for Mr. Trump and why it’s there, it’s there because he’s got the message that they’re looking for.”

Predictions of Trump’s inevitable political demise have arrived almost daily since the brash real estate mogul jumped into the White House race. They came again after last weekend’s GOP debate, when Trump aggressively went after Bush as a president who failed to protect the country from terrorism. “The World Trade Center came down during the reign of George Bush,” he said. “He kept us safe? That is not safe.”

Barry Wynn, a national fundraising leader for Bush’s brother, Trump rival Jeb Bush, said the moment “crystallized that if you’re for Trump, you’re still for Trump.”

“But it also raised negatives among everybody else,” he said. “Eventually you have to pay for that.”

Indeed, only 42 percent of Republicans consider Trump likable and only 32 percent consider him compassionate. The AP-GfK poll found Trump and Jeb Bush are nearly tied as the candidates with the highest unfavorable ratings within their own party, with only 4 in 10 GOP voters seeing Trump in a positive light.

By comparison, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio leads the field in terms of favorability and likability. But he’s yet to come close to the top of the pack, perhaps because those same voters put “likability” at the bottom of their list of priorities, with just half of GOP respondents calling it important.

Competence and decisiveness, the measures on which Trump dominates, were important to more than 9 out of 10 Republican voters.

Joan Brewer, a 70-year-old retiree from Garden City, South Carolina, is an evangelical Christian voter leaning toward casting her ballot on Saturday for Trump. She acknowledged “that mouth may get him into trouble,” but she may be willing to look past his penchant for controversy to get the leader she thinks the country needs.

“This country is in trouble,” Brewer said. “I want it to be Trump. We need it to be Trump.”

McMullen rejected the impression that Trump’s supporters are only a bunch of “lower-income, angry white men” and “rednecks,” pointing to a series of campaign events in recent days at exclusive golf resorts and gated communities in South Carolina that attracted wealthy retirees and business leaders.

“The moment he started having events that brought 5,000 or 10,000 people in a room, you had African-Americans, you had independents,” he said. “I mean, it was always 50-50 men-women.”

While the AP-GfK poll suggests Trump can broaden his support to win the nomination, it also suggests his coalition has some limits.

Among all registered voters nationally, 6 in 10 say they have an unfavorable opinion of Trump and 54 percent say they wouldn’t even consider voting for him in a general election. Perhaps most troubling for Trump is that he finishes at the bottom of the GOP field among Americans who are Hispanic, with just 16 percent viewing him favorably.

Those numbers will almost surely have to improve for Trump to be a competitive general election candidate. Hispanic voters are expected to grow to close to 12 percent of the electorate in November.

Trump’s most ardent backers, however, have faith he will expand his appeal.

“I don’t think he represents a particular side of the aisle,” said Susan Simon, a resident of the Sun City retirement community in Bluffton, South Carolina, and a Democrat who intends to vote for Trump on Saturday. “I hope he can get rid of that gridlock and get things accomplished and not fighting that it has to be a Republican win or a Democratic win. It should be a U.S.A. win.”

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,033 adults, including 345 Republican or Republican leaning registered voters, was conducted online Feb. 11-15, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points, and is plus or minus 5.8 percentage points for Republican voters.

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Associated Press news survey specialist Emily Swanson contributed to this report from Washington.

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Online:

http://ap-gfkpoll.com

AP-GfK Poll: Most believe allegations about Trump and women
WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump’s behavior has long grated on Carolyn Miller, but the allegations he sexually assaulted women was one factor that helped her decide in the last week to cast her ballot for Hillary Clinton.
“I don’t think she’s a bad person. Trump, I think, is a bad person,” the 70-year-old Fort Myers, Florida, resident said. As for Trump’s accusers, Miller added, “I believe them.” And she said her vote for Clinton is “a default.”

Miller is among the more than 7 in 10 Americans who say in a new Associated Press-GfK poll that they believe the women who say the Republican presidential candidate kissed or groped them without their consent, a verdict that may have turned off enough voters, including some Republicans, to add to his challenges in the presidential race.

 Forty-two percent of Republican voters and 35 percent of Trump’s own supporters think the accusations are probably true. Men and women are about equally likely to think so.

While the poll suggests the wave of allegations about Trump’s treatment of women may blunt the impact of voters’ concerns about Clinton, it was taken before Friday’s news that the FBI will investigate whether there is classified information in newly uncovered emails related to its probe of her private server. Those emails were not from her server, according to a U.S. official who was not authorized to discuss details publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Before the development, the poll found that about half of voters say her use of the private server while she was secretary of state makes them less likely to vote for her. But they were more likely to say that Trump’s comments about women bother them a lot than to say the same about Clinton’s email server, 51 percent to 43 percent.

Since September, Clinton seems to have consolidated her support within her own party and drawn undecided voters such as Miller to her campaign, or at least pushed them away from Trump. The billionaire’s recent trouble with women seems to be one factor preventing him from doing the same.

He feuded with former Miss Universe Alicia Machado after Clinton noted he’d called her “Miss Piggy” for gaining weight while she wore the crown. Days later, a 2005 recording surfaced in which Trump can be heard describing himself sexually assaulting women in a conversation with Billy Bush, then the host of “Access Hollywood.”

Several women have since publicly accused Trump of groping and kissing them without permission, including a People magazine reporter who said Trump attacked her when his wife, Melania, was out of the room.

Trump called his remarks on the video “locker room talk,” dismissed the accusations as “fiction” and said of several accusers that they aren’t attractive enough to merit his attention.

Asked Thursday on Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor” whether he thinks he would be ahead were it not for the “Access Hollywood” video, Trump replied, “I just don’t know. I think it was very negative.”

A majority of voters, 52 percent, say allegations about the way Trump treats women make them less likely to vote for him, including a fifth of Republican likely voters. And within that group, only about a third say they will vote for him, with about a third supporting Clinton and the remainder supporting third party candidates.

That may help explain why just 79 percent of Republican in the poll said they’re supporting Trump compared with 90 percent of Democrats supporting Clinton. Trump needs to close that gap to have any shot at victory.

Trump has tried to equate the accusations against him with charges of infidelity and sexual assault leveled for years against his rival’s husband, former President Bill Clinton. Trump has paraded the former president’s accusers before the cameras and accused Hillary Clinton of undermining her husband’s accusers.

The poll shows a majority of voters don’t buy Trump’s attempt at equivalence. Six in 10 say the allegations against the Clintons have no impact on their vote. That’s despite the fact that 63 percent think Hillary Clinton has probably threatened or undermined women who have accused her husband of sexual misconduct.

“The vote will be about Hillary Clinton, not her husband,” said Ryan Otteson, 33, of Salt Lake City, who’s voting for a third-party candidate, conservative independent Evan McMullin.

Valori Waggoner, a 26-year-old from Belton, Texas, said she believes Hillary Clinton probably did intimidate her husband’s accusers, but she said it makes no difference to how Waggoner is voting.

Waggoner was not going to vote for Clinton anyway, because as a doctor, Waggoner said she sees firsthand the inefficiency of the national health care plan that Clinton supports. But the alleged wrongdoing by Trump made her less likely to vote for the Republican. Instead, she’s backing Libertarian Gary Johnson.

The degree of alleged wrongdoing by the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates, Waggoner said, “are not equal.”

Most likely voters in the poll say they think Trump has little to no respect for women, with female voters especially likely to say he has none at all.

Clinton leads female likely voters by a 22 point margin in the poll, and even has a slight 5 point lead among men. In September’s AP-GfK poll, Clinton led women by a 17 point margin and trailed slightly by 6 points among men.

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,546 adults, including 1,212 likely voters, was conducted online Oct. 20-24, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 2.75 percentage points, and for likely voters is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using telephone or mail survey methods and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t have access to the internet were provided access for free.

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Online:

Poll results: http://ap-gfkpoll.com


AP-GfK poll: Most Trump supporters doubt election legitimacy

By Jonathan Lemire and Emily Swanson

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Donald Trump’s dubious claims the presidential election is “rigged” have taken root among most of his supporters, who say they will have serious doubts about the legitimacy of the election’s outcome if Hillary Clinton wins, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

Just 35 percent of Trump’s supporters say they will most likely accept the results of the election as legitimate if Clinton wins, while 64 percent say they’re more likely to have serious doubts about the accuracy of the vote count if the Republican nominee is not the victor.

“Of course I believe it’s rigged, and of course I won’t accept the results,” said Mike Cannilla, 53, a Trump supporter from the New York borough of Staten Island. “It’s from the top: Obama is trying to take over the country, he’s covering up all of Hillary’s crimes and he’s controlling the media trying to make Trump lose.”

“Our only chance on Nov. 9 is if the military develops a conscience and takes matters into its own hands,” Cannilla said.

By contrast, 69 percent of Clinton’s supporters say they’ll accept the outcome if Trump wins. Only 30 percent of the Democratic nominee’s backers express a reluctance to accept the results if the former secretary of state loses on Election Day.

Overall, 77 percent of likely voters say they’ll accept the legitimacy of the results if Trump wins, while 70 percent say the same of a Clinton win.

In the final weeks of the campaign, Trump has made doubts about the integrity of the U.S. election system a cornerstone of his closing argument. Asked directly at the final presidential debate if he would accept the election results, Trump refused, saying: “I will keep you in suspense.”

That extraordinary statement, with its potential to challenge the peaceful transition of power that is a hallmark of the American democracy, did little to harm him with his base of supporters. The poll found that 44 percent of all likely voters say Trump’s stance makes them less likely to support him, but the vast majority of his supporters say it doesn’t make a difference.

“He should fight it all the way,” said George Smith, 51, a Trump supporter from Roswell, Georgia. “Spend weeks in court if he has to. He can’t let it be taken from him. That’s his right.”

Trump has also repeated inaccurate claims that vote fraud is a widespread problem, and the poll finds that most of Trump’s supporters share that concern. Fifty-six percent think there’s a great deal of voter fraud, 36 percent believe there is some, and 6 percent say there’s hardly any.

Most Clinton supporters, 64 percent, think there’s hardly any voter fraud. Overall, just 27 percent of likely voters think there’s a great deal of fraud. A third of voters overall believe there is at least some, while 38 percent say there is hardly any.

While there have been isolated cases of voter fraud in the U.S., there is no evidence of it being a widespread problem. In one study, a Loyola Law School professor found 31 instances involving allegations of voter impersonation out of 1 billion votes cast in U.S. elections between 2000 and 2014.

Beyond allegations of fraud, 40 percent of Trump supporters say they have little to no confidence that votes in the election will be counted accurately. Another 34 percent say they have only a moderate amount of confidence, and just 24 percent say they have a great deal or quite a bit of confidence in the vote count.

Among Clinton supporters, 79 percent say they have a great deal or quite a bit of confidence in the vote count’s accuracy. Many believe Trump should voice support for the electoral system even in defeat.

“Be an adult. Accept the results,” said Shavone Danzy-Kinloch, 37, a Clinton supporter from Farmingville, New York. “If the shoe was on the other foot, he’d expect Hillary to do the same.”

Trump’s supporters are also more likely than others to say they are concerned about hackers interfering with the election. Forty-six percent of them are extremely or very concerned and 37 percent somewhat concerned. Overall, 32 percent of voters say they’re extremely to very concerned and 39 percent somewhat concerned. Among Clinton supporters, 60 percent are at least somewhat concerned.

Although the poll shows many Trump supporters would have doubts about a Clinton win, the poll shows relatively little acute concern that claims of inaccuracy and voter fraud could prevent Americans overall from accepting the results. Just 30 percent of likely voters are extremely or very concerned about that, while another 40 percent are somewhat concerned.

Twenty-nine percent say they’re not very or not at all concerned.

“If she wins, we’re all going to have live with it,” said Daniel Ricco, 76, a Trump supporter from Milford, Connecticut. “It won’t be good for the country, but there’s nothing we can do.”

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,546 adults, including 1,212 likely voters, was conducted online Oct. 20-24, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 2.75 percentage points, and for likely voters is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using telephone or mail survey methods and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t have access to the internet were provided access for free.

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Online:

Poll results: http://ap-gfkpoll.com

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Swanson reported from Washington.

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Follow Jonathan Lemire and AP Polling Editor Emily Swanson on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/JonLemire and http://twitter.com/El_Swan