Ben Carson jumped ahead in North Carolina in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, according to a poll published by Elon University for Oct. 29 through Nov. 2.
The poll, which included both landline and cell phone calls, surveyed 1,234 residents of North Carolina who were either Republicans, Democrats or independents — of which 1,040 said they will vote in the presidential primary.
Carson leads the next highest polling Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump by 12 points, according to the poll.
But Jason Roberts, a UNC political science associate professor who has conducted research on parties and procedures in the U.S. Congress and congressional elections, said these polls are not an indication of the winner for the primaries, delegates or the Republican nomination.
“At this point in 2012, Herman Cain was leading the polls. In 2008, it was Rudy Giuliani. Neither of these people came close to winning the Republican nomination,” he said.
Recent polls show about two-thirds of Republican voters are looking for candidates outside of Washington's dysfunction, said David McLennan, a visiting political science professor at Meredith College.
"Among the disaffected Republicans, Carson represents an alternative to Donald Trump, especially among some evangelical voters and those who think Trump is too controversial," he said.
Roberts said despite what analysts viewed as a poor performance in the debates, Carson is attracting voters with how he speaks, not what he speaks.
“It is hard to say exactly, but Carson stands out from the others because he presents himself in a calm, soft-spoken manner," Roberts said. "Poll respondents may be focusing on how he is speaking rather than the specifics of what he is saying.”
According to Michael Cobb, an associate professor of political science at North Carolina State University, Carson's popularity is likely to be a surge.
“Something is clearly going on with Carson — he is attracting support. But it is likely a momentary phase that will dissipate," he said. "No major party has nominated a candidate for president in the modern era that wasn't a sitting president, a vice president, senator or governor."
Tanner Glenn, a UNC sophomore and participant in the U.S. Senate Youth Program who interned at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., said Carson's persona has attracted voters.
“Carson's soothing, soft-spoken demeanor coupled with his status as an outsider draw the support of grass-roots Republicans, regardless of his policy stances many consider to be extreme,” he said. “On top of that, his strong Christian faith — even materializing in policy proposals such as his tithe-based tax plan — garners huge support from evangelicals.”
With numerous polls predicting both the Republican and Democratic nominee, it is difficult to tell which one to listen to, if any.
“In what has turned out to be a wild and unpredictable election cycle with such a large field of candidates, it would be unwise to cite any single poll or group of polls as predictive,” Glenn said.
The North Carolina primaries will take place in March 2016, which still gives time for other candidates to gain, or lose, support.
“Carson is attracting support not for his policy positions, I don't think, but for his style and personality. He is calm, yet says things that by most standards would be considered inflammatory," Cobb said. "He is poking Democrats/liberals in the eye, and that plays well. My guess is his days are numbered, though I can't say when his number will be called."
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