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Marco Rubio the top GOP choice among rich: CNBC survey

Sen. Marco Rubio has quickly become the favorite GOP candidate of the wealthy, vaulting past Jeb Bush and Donald Trump among millionaire voters, and scoring big endorsements among billionaire hedge funders in recent days.

The CNBC Millionaire Survey, which polled voters with at least $1 million in investable assets, found that among Republican voters, 26 percent supported Rubio. That compares to 16 percent who support Ben Carson, and 15 percent who prefer Trump.

Bush, who led among Republican millionaire voters in CNBC's April Millionaire Survey, saw his support plummet from 37 percent to 11 percent.

Among Independent millionaire voters, Rubio more than doubled his support to 11 percent, while Bush's support fell by two-thirds, to 6 percent.

Among all millionaire voters surveyed — Democrats, Republicans and independents — Hillary Clinton is still the overall favorite. Clinton was the top candidate among 34 percent of total respondents, followed by Rubio with 13 percent. Trump and Carson tied for third, with 9 percent.

The poll shows that millionaire voters differ dramatically from the broader population, especially among Republicans. While national polls still show Trump out front among the GOP candidates, he failed to break into the top two slots among millionaires.

The poll was conducted before the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, and before the candidate's recent comments on preventing Muslims from entering the U.S.

"What surprised me was where Trump is among these voters," said George Walper, president of Spectrem Group, the nonpartisan wealth research firm that conducted the survey. "They're wealthy but don't see Trump as one of them."

Granted, the wealthy are often a poor barometer for election results: Mitt Romney was their favorite candidate in 2012. What's more, being seen as the favorite candidate of the rich could ultimately be seen as a liability in an especially populist election cycle.

Yet because the wealthy now play an outsized role in campaign financing, the poll could signal a wave of cash moving toward Rubio and away from others on the Republican side.

The survey is also the latest evidence that the wealthy are quickly coalescing around Rubio as their favorite candidate. This week, billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin and Art Pope, owner of Variety Wholesalers, publicly endorsed Rubio. Both are major donors to the Republican Party.

Paul Singer, another hedge fund billionaire, is also backing Rubio, and billionaire Florida car magnate Norman Braman has been a longtime supporter.

In their endorsements, Rubio's rich backers say they like his experience, up-by-the-bootstraps life story and his vision for the country, which includes lower taxes, smaller government and a tougher American posture overseas.

"If Rubio starts getting more of this money, that could swing things his way and bring him a lot more awareness," Walper said.

Clinton still has a commanding lead among Democrats, yet she too has lost a bit of support, especially among independents. Fully 76 percent of Democratic millionaires back Clinton, while 13 percent back Sen. Bernie Sanders. Among independents, Clinton's support has fallen from 37 percent to 27 percent.

Compared to the broader population, millionaire voters tend to place a larger emphasis on taxes and less of an emphasis on jobs. When asked which election issue was most important to them, the largest number — 26 percent — said taxes and government spending.

One in 5 said political gridlock was the top issue, while 19 percent said foreign policy/world leadership/combating terrorism. Only 17 percent said the economy and unemployment were the top election issue.

Yet their responses vary widely by party. Among millionaire Democrats, the top election issue is political gridlock (27 percent) followed by foreign policy/world leadership/combating terrorism, and the economy/unemployment, both at 20 percent.

Among Republicans, the overwhelming top issue is taxes and government spending (38 percent), followed by the economy and unemployment at 19 percent.

The results suggest that a voter's party affiliation seems to matter as much or more than their wealth when it comes to their political priorities.

"What's striking is how divided this group is," Walper said. "It's so much based on parties."

The poll surveyed 750 respondents with investable assets of $1 million or more. Of the group, roughly one-third were Republicans, one-third were Democrats and one-third were independent. It was conducted between Oct. 20 and Nov. 12.