Though presidential nomination polls have little predictive value at this stage in a cycle, there are a few early trends worth identifying and underscoring. As is often the case, one of them doesn’t at all comport with or resemble the often unwise political wisdom regurgitated by pundits in the D.C. Beltway.
First, the 2016 Republican nomination is poised to be a roller coaster. Whether the candidates’ ups and downs reflect a wide open field for a deep Republican bench is not yet clear. But what is clear is that — even though the Washington Establishment hasn’t taken Sen. Rand Paul (and others) seriously — the American people have.
We reported in April of last year that the GOP donor class was beginning a behind-the-scenes effort to “draft” former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, which prompted Larry Sabato, whom I respect and was utterly shocked by, to rank Bush at the top of the Crystal Ball’s 2016 GOP contender list in March 2014. Then, on April 2, the so-called “mainstream” Republican publication, Cook Political Report, published an article by Amy Walter entitled, “Don’t Call Rand Paul The Frontrunner.”
“Well, if we can’t call Rand Paul the frontrunner, then we definitely cannot call Jeb Bush the frontrunner, either,” I wrote in response. “The prevailing argument for Jeb Bush is an utterly ridiculous, one-tracked argument that generally holds that Jeb Bush is backed by the Establishment’s money, and presidential hopefuls need money.”
I proceeded to argue that “their assessment of how and when a candidate earns the support of the Establishment, as well as their lack of recognition that sometimes they are forced by the voters to get ‘comfortable’ with a nominee they otherwise would not have wanted,” was a flawed analysis.
Sure, it takes money to win a presidential nomination and general election, but juxtaposing the pre-super PAC era to the post-super PAC era very well may prove to be a foolish apples-to-oranges comparison. For now, it’s wise to simply look at the numbers, which consistently show Sen. Rand Paul polls stronger than others against the likely Democratic nominee — Hillary Clinton.
That’s not to say these numbers or the trend won’t change, but Sen. Paul has made serious efforts to reach out to non-traditional GOP voters, and there is at least some evidence to suggest it may be working.
(Note: The aggregate polling below each tab reflects recent polls with the intention to be fair to all candidates, but long-term polling demonstrates the trend even more convincingly.)
[tabs id=”gop-vs-clinton” title=”GOP Hopefuls Vs. Hillary Clinton”] [tab title=”Walker”]
Walker vs. Clinton
|Poll||Date||Sample||Clinton (D)||Walker (R)||Raw Spread|
|PPD Average||2/20 – 3/31||—||49.6||40.9||Clinton +8.7|
|FOX News||3/29 – 3/31||1025 RV||48||42||Clinton +6|
|ABC News/Wash Post||3/26 – 3/29||RV||54||40||Clinton +14|
|CNN/Opinion Research||3/13 – 3/15||1009 A||55||40||Clinton +15|
|McClatchy/Marist||3/1 – 3/4||522 RV||48||44||Clinton +4|
|Quinnipiac||2/26 – 3/2||1286 RV||48||39||Clinton +9|
|Rasmussen Reports||2/28 – 3/1||1000 LV||46||41||Clinton +5|
|PPP (D)||2/20 – 2/22||691 RV||48||40||Clinton +8|
PPD named Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker the most likely “Dark Horse” candidate in our election projection model during his third successful reelection bid in 2014. However, he only gained national attention recently after he won widespread praise for his performance at the Iowa Freedom Summit in late January, resulting in a surge in his support among GOP primary voters.
But Gov. Walker has been both a serious candidate and a serious threat to Hillary Clinton before the media even realized it. As we repeated over and over in our 2014 election projection analysis, his Democratic candidate Mary Burke never really stood a chance, which says quite a bit considering politically motivated prosecutions effectively shutdown a large fundraising arm in support of his campaign.
What is it about Gov. Walker that enabled him to drive back three full-on assaults by the progressive left?
We like to call them… Obama-Walker voters, and you can read more about them and their impact on the Wisconsin governor race.
They are exactly what they sound like they are. These are voters who supported Walker in his three election bids, particularly in the recall and 2014 races, but voted for President Obama over both John McCain and Mitt Romney. They represent roughly 6 – 8 percent of the Wisconsin electorate, and demographically speaking, give Republicans a real chance to turn the battleground state map on its head in 2016.
With Walker as the Republican nominee, Democrats are likely to find themselves defending Midwest states they haven’t defended since President George H.W. Bush defeated Gov. Dukakis in 1988.
Nevertheless, as of now, Americans outside of Republican circles remain largely unfamiliar with Walker, and the head-to-head matchup polling between him and Hillary reflect just that. It is a crucial time for him and other little-known GOP hopefuls, which is why the media are racing to define him before the voters get a chance to know him.
Bush vs. Clinton
|Poll||Date||Sample||MoE||Clinton (D)||Bush (R)||Raw Spread|
|PPD Average||2/20 – 3/31||—||—||48.9||40.9||Clinton +8.0|
|FOX News||3/29 – 3/31||1025 RV||3.0||45||45||Tie|
|ABC News/Wash Post||3/26 – 3/29||RV||4.0||53||41||Clinton +12|
|CNN/Opinion Research||3/13 – 3/15||1009 A||3.0||55||40||Clinton +15|
|McClatchy/Marist||3/1 – 3/4||514 RV||4.3||49||42||Clinton +7|
|Quinnipiac||2/26 – 3/2||1286 RV||2.7||45||42||Clinton +3|
|Rasmussen Reports||2/28 – 3/1||1000 LV||3.0||45||36||Clinton +9|
|PPP (D)||2/20 – 2/22||691 RV||3.7||50||40||Clinton +10|
The same cannot be said of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has substantially higher negatives and name recognition. That’s not to say the brother of the 43rd president cannot change these early numbers, but having “Bush” after your first name with be difficult to overcome in a general election, even if Hillary ends up being the nominee.
Still, as PPD previously examined, the donor class and notoriously inaccurate pollsters may be excited over another Bush running for the White House, but Republican voters aren’t. CNN/Opinion Research, which according to the PPD Pollster Scorecard is in desperate need of retooling, has consistently found Mr. Bush ahead of the crowded 2016 field. But our research suggests another Bush candidacy has the potential to seriously depress voter turnout. Though the most recent ABC News/WaPo Poll indicated the same, the trend has been present since Dec. 2014.
Not surprisingly, despite high unfavorable ratings, Bush’s name recognition has made a head-to-head matchup with Clinton a too-close-to-call race (in some polls).
Paul vs. Clinton
|Poll||Date||Sample||MoE||Clinton (D)||Paul (R)||Raw Spread|
|PPD Average||2/20 – 3/31||—||—||49.2||41.8||Clinton +7.4|
|FOX News||3/29 – 3/31||1025 RV||3.0||47||45||Clinton +2|
|CNN/Opinion Research||3/13 – 3/15||1009 A||3.0||54||43||Clinton +11|
|McClatchy/Marist||3/1 – 3/4||514 RV||4.3||51||40||Clinton +11|
|Quinnipiac||2/26 – 3/2||1286 RV||2.7||47||41||Clinton +6|
|PPP (D)||2/20 – 2/22||691 RV||3.7||47||40||Clinton +7|
Dan Mitchell, a senior fellow at the CATO Institute and near-daily PPD contributor, recently joked that being libertarian is like being the only sober person in the car, who no one lets drive. I found that extremely humorous and, even more so, to be true. But, in the case of Sen. Paul, it may actually not turn out to be applicable.
Unlike previous libertarian and libertarian-leaning candidates, including his father, Sen. Paul has a far better shot at winning the nomination and a general election that other pundits want to admit. PPD first began to report in 2013 that Mr. Paul’s efforts to draw conventional Democratic voters into his camp was proving effective. Even when Sen. Rubio was receiving all of the attention, with Karl Rove and others praising him as the party’s savior, it was only Sen. Paul who was running ahead of her nationwide in 2013.
The same in true of recent battleground state polling in Colorado and New Hampshire, two states where Paul’s stance on civil liberties draws significant support from young voters who might otherwise vote Democratic.
Mr. Bush might be betting everything on the Granite State primary, when large numbers of Democrat and Democrat-leaning voters can flood the primary to put him over the edge, but I remain unconvinced he can put together the same coalition that carried the state for his brother in 2000.
These same voters turned on his brother and backed John Kerry in 2004, and they did so largely because of the issues Mr. Paul champions. These are the issues that may cause younger Liberty Movement voters to stay home in 2016.
The bottom line: Sen. Paul has consistently run stronger than other GOP hopefuls against Hillary Clinton, and has demonstrated the greatest potential to expand the party’s appeal.[/tab]
Cruz vs. Clinton
|Poll||Date||Sample||MoE||Clinton (D)||Cruz (R)||Raw Spread|
|PPD Average||2/20 – 3/31||—||—||51.0||39.6||Clinton +11.4|
|FOX News||3/29 – 3/31||1025 RV||3.0||48||42||Clinton +6|
|ABC News/Wash Post||3/26 – 3/29||RV||4.0||56||39||Clinton +17|
|McClatchy/Marist||3/1 – 3/4||514 RV||4.3||53||39||Clinton +14|
|Quinnipiac||2/26 – 3/2||1286 RV||2.7||48||38||Clinton +10|
|PPP (D)||2/20 – 2/22||691 RV||3.7||50||40||Clinton +10|
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was the first GOP hopeful to officially announce his candidacy for president, and has raised in an impressive amount of money from grassroots donors since the speech. Love him or hate him, no one can deny he is extraordinary talented and articulate.
Most importantly, he is drastically underestimated.
One statement caught my ear over all others during his speech, which referenced the 30-plus out of 80-plus million evangelical Christians that actually vote. He is right, and the party knows he is right, which is why RNC Chair Reince Priebus kicked efforts to increase their turnout into high gear.
There have been two polls since Cruz gave his announcement speech, ABC News/WaPo and FOX News. The former’s final generic ballot poll had a better predictive value than the latter’s, but on average, had an inexplicable Democratic slant in their 2014 state polling. It’s safe to say that the increased support for Cruz in recent weeks is not pollster bias, but rather a genuine gain.
Rubio vs. Clinton
|Poll||Date||Sample||Clinton (D)||Rubio (R)||Raw Spread|
|PPD Average||2/20 – 3/31||—||49.8||41.3||Clinton +8.5|
|FOX News||3/29 – 3/31||1025 RV||47||43||Clinton +4|
|ABC News/Wash Post||3/26 – 3/29||RV||54||39||Clinton +15|
|CNN/Opinion Research||3/13 – 3/15||1009 A||55||42||Clinton +13|
|McClatchy/Marist||3/1 – 3/4||522 RV||49||42||Clinton +7|
|Quinnipiac||2/26 – 3/2||1286 RV||46||41||Clinton +5|
|PPP (D)||2/20 – 2/22||691 RV||48||41||Clinton +7|
Following the loss of Mitt Romney, which was in part due to his abysmal performance among Hispanics, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio soon appeared to many to be the party’s last hope of capturing the White House.
As I stated then and will repeat now, I’ve never subscribed to this theory, largely because the hype over the Hispanic vote was completely overblown. Sure, Republicans must perform better among minorities if they hope to win future presidential elections, but simply being Hispanic doesn’t earn their vote.
That said, even though he drew a large amount of media coverage over his support for immigration and the aforementioned Washington-driven narrative, Rubio still has a long way to go introducing himself to America. Considering his talent, presence and ability to articulate his message, he has significant room to grow.
Huckabee vs. Clinton
|Poll||Date||Sample||MoE||Clinton (D)||Huckabee (R)||Spread|
|RCP Average||2/20 – 3/15||—||—||50.7||40.7||Clinton +10.0|
|CNN/Opinion Research||3/13 – 3/15||1009 A||3.0||55||41||Clinton +14|
|Quinnipiac||2/26 – 3/2||1286 RV||2.7||47||40||Clinton +7|
|PPP (D)||2/20 – 2/22||691 RV||3.7||50||41||Clinton +9|
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was once the frontrunner in the polls, no doubt in large part due to his name recognition. However, strangely, he has also been omitted from many national polls. FOX News had good reason, considering he only recently announced he was leaving his weekend talk show on the network to avoid a conflict of interest.
We will reserve judgement until further polling data is available to examine and digest.
In closing, it is important to note that — regardless of whether Sen. Paul wins the Republican nomination or not — his candidacy will have an enormous impact on the Republican Party. Paul not only won three consecutive CPAC straw polls, but he did so at a time when the conference underwent a dramatic demographic shift.
CPAC 2015 saw a record-breaking 11,344 in attendance, with the straw poll results coming from 3007 participants, a 20 percent increase from the year prior. Over 42 percent in the poll were students who came from all across the country, marking the greatest number of youth voters to ever participate in the CPAC straw poll.
It is certainly true that the conference is comprised of activists and doesn’t necessary reflect the current voter bloc, but it does reflect the future and energy of the party, which bodes bad for the media, big donors and the Establishment.
In January, Paul advanced his unconventional efforts by hiring Chip Englander, the former campaign manager for Illinois Republican Bruce Rauner, who defeated incumbent Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn last November.
The GOP Establishment’s consultant class quietly (and sometimes publicly) mocked Rauner for reaching out to traditional Democratic voters, including inner-city minorities, many of whom endorsed and subsequently voted for him. Rauner, who PPD accurately predicted would win, proved the talking heads wrong.
We shall soon see if Sen. Paul will do the same.