A majority of Republican voters view only four of their party's presidential contenders as potential general election winners, according to an Associated Press/GFK poll that reflects the sustained strength of the GOP's outsider candidates.
Billionaire businessman Donald Trump is viewed as the strongest, with 7 in 10 Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters surveyed saying he could win in November 2016 if he captures his party's nomination; 6 in 10 say the same for retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who, like Trump, has tapped into the powerful wave of anti-establishment anger defining the early phases of the contest.
And 77 percent said they would prefer an outsider candidate, like Trump, Carson or Carly Fiorina, the three contenders who have never held elected office. By contrast, two-thirds of Democratic voters prefer experience in Washington over outsider status.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush tops the field of experienced political leaders on the question of electability. Six in 10 Republicans say Bush could win the general election, followed by 54 percent who view Florida Sen. Marco Rubio as a potential winner. None of the other Republicans candidates are viewed as electable in a general election by more than half those surveyed.
"It's the lifelong establishment politicians on both sides that rub me the wrong way," said registered Republican Joe Selig, a 60-year-old carpenter from Vallejo, California. "I think Trump is more electable. He's strong. We need strength these days."
The poll reflects the sharp contrast between the party's voters and its top professionals regarding Trump's political strength.
He and Carson are considered among the least electable general election candidates by Republican Party professionals, those in the business of helping candidates run campaigns and win elections.
Experienced political strategists note that winning a general election and winning the Republican nomination are often very different tasks, since what appeals to a party's base may not garner enough votes to win a general election.
Republican strategist John Feehery says Trump is considered electable now only because he hasn't yet been the subject of a multimillion-dollar negative ad campaign, which is likely to happen if he maintains his lead in the polls.
"Right now, he serves a valuable purpose as a front-runner, especially for the Democrats," Feehery said. "They would love him to be our nominee."
While Trump and Carson are popular in polls of likely GOP primary voters, both have in recent months used divisive rhetoric that alienated some minorities. Trump called some Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals during his announcement speech, and Carson said he would not support a Muslim presidential candidate.
"Republicans think [Democrat] Hillary [Clinton] is weaker than she is. They are wrong," said GOP operative Katie Packer, who was the deputy campaign manager for 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney. "They think we don't need to win more women or more Hispanics to win. They're wrong."
Among all Americans surveyed, fewer than half view any of the Republican candidates as capable of winning a general election. Bush and Trump are both seen as possible winners by 48 percent of those polled. That's more than for any other Republican candidate but far less than the 75 percent who said Clinton could win the election if she is nominated on the Democratic side.
Among Democratic registered voters, only one-third think Trump could win, and one-quarter think Carson could. Nearly half see Bush as a general election opponent who could emerge victorious.
Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, is a former first lady, secretary of state and senator. Perhaps that helps explain why Democrats prefer experience over outsider status, 67 percent to 32 percent, and experience in office over private sector experience, 66 percent to 33 percent.
The Associated Press