The Slatest

Trump’s Long Reign in the Iowa Polls Is Over

Ben Carson looks on during church services at Maple Street Missionary Baptist Church on Aug. 16, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

There’s now one place Donald Trump is no longer the GOP front-runner: Iowa.

A new Des Moines Register/Bloomberg state poll out Friday has Ben Carson out in front of the billionaire businessman by 9 points, 28 percent to 19 percent. That’s a 14-point swing from the same survey taken in late August that found Trump up by 5 points, 23 percent to 18 percent.

The poll is the second in as many days to show Carson surging past Trump in the Hawkeye State. In a Quinnipiac survey released Thursday, the former neurosurgeon led the real estate tycoon by 8 points, 28 percent to 20 percent—a near-complete reversal from the same poll last month when Trump was up 6 points, 27 percent to 21 percent. Thanks in large part to those results, Carson now leads the latest RealClearPolitics state average 25 percent to Trump’s 21 percent. (Marco Rubio is in a distant third place at a 9 percent.)

The polls were the first major surveys in the state that Trump has not led outright since mid-June. The only other two candidates besides Trump and now Carson to top the RCP rolling state average this year have been Scott Walker, who led for much of the spring but is no longer in the race, and Mike Huckabee, the January favorite who now sits in ninth place in the state with 3.3 percent.

Carson appears to have plenty of more room to grow in Iowa. In the Register survey, he was the second-choice candidate of 19 percent of Republican respondents—suggesting that he’d be widely acceptable to nearly half of likely caucus goers. Meanwhile, only 10 percent of respondents said they could “never” vote for him, by far the lowest in the field.

Trump can—and will—soothe his considerable ego by touting his standing in national GOP surveys, which he’s been leading since the middle of June. But the Donald’s falling numbers in Iowa won’t be so easy to dismiss—and not just because Trump (or, depending on whom you believe, Trump’s intern) reacted to the latest Quinnipiac results by retweeting a supporter who suggested Iowans’ judgment was impaired by consuming too much genetically modified corn. As I’ve noted before, Trump’s candidacy is predicated on the very idea that he’s winning. He will win, he says, because he is winning—and if his victory is inevitable then there’s no reason he has to engage with those “losers” who want to quibble with his politics or policies.

The Iowa polls, though, don’t just pose a short-term threat to his hold on the GOP front-runner honorific behind that logic; they also portend danger when the actual nominating contests begin. Winning Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus has never been a prerequisite to stay in the race, and that will be no different for Trump. But it would be awfully difficult for him to sail into New Hampshire and South Carolina on his “I’m a winner” bluster if he opens 2016 with a loss.

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the 2016 campaign.