Thursday, January 30, 2014

Republicans TIE Hillary Clinton In Latest 2016 Poll, Though Demographics Point To Friendly GOP Electoral Landscape

The topsy-turvy nature of 2012 GOP primary polling looks to be repeating itself in the 2016 cycle. Seemingly out of nowhere, former Governor Mike Huckabee has deposed Chris Christie as the Republican leader to take on Hillary Clinton.

There's good and bad news for both Democrats and Republicans in the new 2016 national survey from the pollster liberals love and conservatives love to hate, the occasionally accurate and always trolling Public Policy Polling.

The bad news for Republicans is their previous standard-bearer, Chris Christie, continues to take a beating in the polls for the "bridgegate" scandal. The New Jersey Governor was a fairly rare political figure for this day and age where everyone seems to hate anyone and anything associated with politics and Washington D.C. He had a double-digit positive favorability rating that stretched across party lines. But over the course of just one month, Christie's favorability rating dropped from the best of the field (43/31%) to THE worst (31/46%; even lightning rod Tea Partier Ted Cruz manages a -10% net rating). Having previously led Hillary Clinton by 3-pts (45-42%), Christie now trails by 2-pts (45-43%).

What's more, the entire Republican field looks pretty unpopular nationally. The most popular potential GOP candidate, Mike Huckabee, could only manage a 37% favorability rating. And even then, his unfavorable rating was slightly higher at 38%. The rest of the field ranges from a net favorability rating of -6% (Paul Ryan) to -15% (Chris Christie).

The good news, however, is that despite all of this, every Republican tested looks like they could be competitive in a national race against Hillary Clinton in 2016. All of them except Ted Cruz poll within the margin of error of Hillary (3.4%). And Christie, the GOP's most unpopular candidate at the moment, leads Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren by significant margins.

The bad news for Democrats is that like the Republicans, their standard bearer has also fallen in the court of public opinion. Hillary Clinton's favorability entered negative territory for the first time in a PPP survey in years. And potential primary competitors Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vice President Joe Biden look particularly weak.

The good news for Democrats isn't readily obvious on the face of the poll. But they can find a little relief by pulling back the curtains and examining the crosstabs, for PPP is finding a much more friendly GOP climate than existed in either the 2012 or 2008 presidential elections. In fact, at least two of their more significant demographic findings (race and age) much more closely resemble the 2010 midterm electorate, when Republicans picked up a nearly unprecedented number of House seats and carried the popular vote handily.

Consider PPP's race findings, in which 3/4 of poll respondents identify as white, the highest amount since the 2004 presidential election. We know from examining every presidential election since 1992 that the white share of the vote has dropped from 4% to 2% per cycle. If that tradition holds in 2016, we could expect the white share of the total electorate to be between 68-70% (it was 72% in 2012). For comparison, CNN exit polls showed that white voters made up 77% of the vote in the 2010 midterm election. Likewise, Hispanic voters have seen their share of the electorate increase in every presidential election since 1992 (between 3% and 1% per cycle). In 2012, they made up 10% of voters. By that standard, you'd expect Hispanics to make up between 11-13% of a 2016 presidential electorate, and not the 9% found by PPP (which is much more similar to the 8% found by exit polls in 2010). The African American and Asian share of the vote hasn't increased in ALL of the presidential cycles, but has been on a general upward trend of late.

So I'd posit that the 75 / 12 / 9 / 4% white/black/Hispanic/Asian-Other finding from PPP's national survey is less reflective of a likely 2016 presidential electorate than, say, a 69 / 13 / 12 / 6% finding. Had this been PPP's racial identification finding, Hillary Clinton's narrow margins over her Republican competitors naturally grows (as Democrats have historically performed stronger with minority than white voters). The chart below documents what the PPP results would have been had they found the more racially diverse electorate described above, all other findings remaining the same:

Not surprisingly, Hillary's standing improves. Her lead over all of the Republican candidates jumps from an average 3 percentage points, to 7 percent.

But PPP's midterm-like racial I.D. finding isn't the only demographic finding that doesn't seem to match-up with recent presidential elections. PPP found young people aged 18 to 29 years old making up only 15% of the 2016 presidential electorate, whereas they made up 19% and 18% in 2012 and 2008, respectively. In the 2010 midterm elections, they made up just 12% of all voters. This group tends to lean heavily towards Democrats in presidential elections, so obviously, the higher their share of the electorate, the better for the Democratic candidate.

Likewise, PPP finds voters over 65 years old make up 21% of the 2016 electorate, the same percentage that turned out to vote in the 2010 midterm election, but five points higher than the percentage that turned out in the 2008 and 2012 presidential election (16%).

The chart below reweights the PPP age identification finding to match the 2012 exit poll finding. Again, Hillary is the benefactor.

Either way you look at it, the likely Republican candidates are highly competitive against the once seemingly invincible Hillary Clinton, IF the 2016 electorate looks similar to the 2010 electorate. But if it looks more like 2012, their hill to climb gets a bit steeper...certainly feasible, but they'll be starting from behind to varying degrees.

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