Trump gets a lift in polls as he taps into terror worries

US presidential candidate Donald Trump posing with a bald eagle during a Time Magazine photo shoot. A survey by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal found that one in four Americans supports the Republican's controversial proposal to bar Muslims from
US presidential candidate Donald Trump posing with a bald eagle during a Time Magazine photo shoot. A survey by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal found that one in four Americans supports the Republican's controversial proposal to bar Muslims from the United States in the wake of the terrorist attacks in California and Paris.PHOTO: REUTERS

Americans now more fearful about the likelihood of another attack than at any other time since Sept 11, 2001

WASHINGTON • The more outrageous Mr Donald Trump is, the more support he gets, especially when critics try to pull him down. That surprising formula is fuelling the businessman's rise to the top of the Republican presidential pack, according to recent surveys.

One survey by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal, released on Thursday, found that one in four Americans supports Mr Trump's controversial proposal to bar Muslims from the United States in the wake of the terror attacks in California and Paris.

Fifty-seven per cent of adults in the US are against the idea while 18 per cent did not know or have no opinion about it.

Among Republicans, the views are mixed: 42 per cent of them back the Muslim ban; 36 per cent oppose it. Three-quarters of Democrats stand opposed.

According to a survey by The New York Times and CBS News, many view the threat of terrorism as the top issue facing the country. A month ago, only 4 per cent of Americans said terrorism was the most important problem; now, 19 per cent say it is.

Mr Trump has been the clear beneficiary of this deep anxiety.

The poll also found 41 per cent of Americans believe Mr Trump's bombastic campaign statements in general are frequently insulting.

But 22 per cent say he is telling it like it is and has the right approach, reported Agence France-Presse.

Another factor that has helped lift Mr Trump to a new high among Republican primary voters is a gnawing sense of dread among Americans, who are now more fearful about the likelihood of another terrorist attack than at any other time since Sept 11, 2001.

According to a survey by The New York Times and CBS News, many view the threat of terrorism as the top issue facing the country. A month ago, only 4 per cent of Americans said terrorism was the most important problem; now, 19 per cent say it is.

Mr Trump has been the clear beneficiary of this deep anxiety.

More than four in 10 Republican primary voters say the quality most important to them in a candidate is strong leadership, which eclipses honesty, empathy, experience or electability. These voters heavily favour Mr Trump.

That survey was largely conducted before his proposal on Monday to temporarily block Muslims from entering the country, but it points to how he has been effectively tapping into voters' worries.

Attacks on the combative candidate also make voters like him more, as seen in one focus group.

The Washington Post said 29 subjects were asked to pick a number between one and 10 to gauge the likelihood that they would support Mr Trump. At the start, just 10 people said they were at nine or 10.

After one hour of mostly negative questions about Mr Trump, 16 said they were that likely to back him.

"I've never seen anything like this," Mr Frank Luntz, the Republican media consultant who put together this focus group, was quoted as saying. "There is no sign of them leaving. He has created or found the magic formula."

Mr Trump has the support of 35 per cent of Republican primary voters, a substantial rise from late October, when he had 22 per cent and was edged out by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, said the NYT/CBS poll.

Should he continue to amass the required number of delegates to become the official Republican nominee, members of the party's establishment say they would be forced to contest his nomination on the convention floor next July. 

The scenario was discussed by party stalwarts on Monday at a dinner held by Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, The Washington Post reported.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2015, with the headline 'Trump gets a lift in polls as he taps into terror worries'. Print Edition | Subscribe