Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Newsflash: Donald Trump's Poll Numbers Are Brutal, But That's Nothing New

Donald Trump peaked in 2011 national GOP primary polling at 26%. His best performance this year is 16%. Photo courtesy of Charlie Leight/2015 Getty Images.

Much to the chagrin of a large number of right-leaning political pundits, business mogul Donald Trump is polling well enough nationally among Republican primary voters to land himself in the top tier of candidates, whether the so-called "Establishment" likes it or not.

Yes. With one of the most crowded primary fields in history, as well as one of the most hyped, it's the notoriously bombastic and combative Donald Trump who is surging among the GOP.  And as surprising as it may seem, it shouldn't be. After all, we've been down this road before.

Very little has changed in the last 30 years since The Donald first gave serious consideration to a presidential run. Everything is there: the ego, the far-fetched policy prescriptions, the exceedingly wild accusations and insults hurled against his opponents, the erratic behavior, but most relevant to this piece, his poor standing in American public opinion throughout the years.

Polling data from Trump's presidential flirtations before 2011 is hard to come by. Though the limited amount I could retrieve indicated America's patience with Trump was only slightly higher than it is today.

As a result, the focus of this piece will be the comparison between Trump's polling performance in the first half of 2011, versus his performance so far this year. Spoiler alert: from a GOP horse-race perspective, Trump is looking very similar to how he did four years ago. His standing has worsened, however, from three different perspectives: 1) he's less popular with the general public, 2) he's less popular with primary voters, and 3) his general election standing looks worse.

No Love For Trump From The American Public

Since the start of this year, Trump has averaged a 27% favorability rating across nine state and national polls, with 62% saying they view him unfavorably. In national polling alone, he fairs even worse, averaging a 25/65% rating. An ABC/Washington Post survey taken shortly after Trump revealed he would be making a major campaign announcement on June 16 found an astounding 76% of registered voters saying they viewed Trump unfavorably. The same poll found that only 13% of voters could bring themselves to say they view Trump favorably, despite his near universal name recognition. His unfavorable rating exceeds his favorable rating in every poll of adults taken this year, by anywhere from 19-63 percentage points.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Rise of Non-White Voters: Why The Racial Composition Of National 2016 Election Polls May Be Missing The Mark

Exit polling indicates that the non-white share of the electorate has increased by 2-4% in every presidential election since 1992. Picture courtesy of Jacquelyn Martin/A.P.

The Cook Political Report's Political Analyst David Wasserman recently tweeted the message below, regarding the likely racial make-up of the 2016 presidential election:

Wasserman's tweet revives a point made very shortly following the 2012 election, when I posited that based on demographic shifts since 1992, white voters could expect to make up anywhere between 68-70% of the 2016 electorate.  Why? Because the white share of the presidential vote has dropped between two and four points every cycle since 1992.

Well, the prognosticators at The Cook Political Report have spoken. And given their level of expertise in these matters, I'll happily give them the benefit of the doubt and go with their estimate - the 2016 electorate should be roughly 70% white, and 30% non-white.

Based on Wasserman's analysis, it might be a bit surprising to learn that the racial composition of some pollsters' surveys looks little like his assumption of the 2016 electorate. Democratic firm Public Policy Polling's most recent national survey found likely voters identifying as 74% white, and 26% non-white. If PPP's past success boils down to, what their director Tom Jensen called in 2013 "... a well informed but still not entirely empirical hunch," you have to wonder what less-than-empirical hunch led them to peg the 2016 electorate at 74% white, 26% nonwhite. These figures represent an even LESS racially diverse electorate than the one that showed up in the 2012 presidential election. And as I've already noted, the electorate has become MORE racially diverse in every presidential election since 1992. In other words, for the 2016 electorate to resemble PPP's racial composition, a major reversal of precedent is required.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Jeb vs. George: A Comparison Of The Bush Brothers' Pre-Primary Polling

Barbara Bush recently quipped that Jeb was not her favorite son. If pre-primary polling is any indication, he isn't America's favorite Bush, either. Photo courtesy of Eric Draper/AP.

Jeb Bush received welcome news last week from an NBC/WSJ poll finding him not only sitting atop the 2016 field in the Republican Primary, but the candidate most Republicans can see themselves supporting in the nominating contest. He's the strongest of three Republicans tested in a general election battle against likely opponent Hillary Clinton.

Great news for Bush diehards, right? Eh, it depends on who you are comparing him to. And if it's his brother, the news isn't so great.

George W. Bush led his likely Democratic opponent in the June 1999 NBC/WSJ poll by a significant 51-35% margin (according to Roper's iPoll database). Jeb actually trails his likely Democratic opponent 48-40%.

George W. also led his Republican primary opponents with a Hillary-esque 61% of the vote in the June 1999 NBC/WSJ poll. Elizabeth Dole was in a distant second at 11%. Jeb Bush attracts just 22%, and is within the margin of error of the second, third, and fourth place finishers.

Other pollsters during the same time period found George W. Bush hugely popular not just with Republicans, but with the general public overall. Jeb Bush is viewed unfavorably by more American adults than view him favorably, not to mention his relatively tepid ratings among members of the Republican base:

*YouGov/Economist poll numbers represent a monthly average of their weekly tracking poll.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Silent Center: How Republican Moderates Have Come To Dominate Recent Presidential Primaries

Rick Santorum was the runner-up to the Republican nomination in 2012, as was Mike Huckabee in 2008. But if either contest had been limited to 'very conservative' primary voters only, they likely would have been the Republican nominees for President in their respective races. Photo is courtesy of Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Jeb Bush raised a few eyebrows last December when he stated that the eventual Republican nominee would have "to lose the primary to win the general without violating your principles." The seemingly paradoxical statement is an acknowledgement by Bush of the prevailing conventional wisdom in Republican presidential primaries - that Republican candidates damage their general election prospects by running right of mainstream America during the nominating contest. But more important, at least for the purpose of this article, was the implication that Republican candidates must beef up their conservative bona fides to win.

This second notion is popular among political pundits, making its way into piece after piece examining the historically large crop of potential 2016 GOP candidates for president. And it's nothing new. Mitt Romney perpetuated the notion with his "severely conservative" remark at the 2012 CPAC conference. John McCain's apparent insufficient conservatism was noted many times by pundits during the 2008 primary campaign. 

The inclination to jump on the "too moderate to win the primary" bandwagon feels almost instinctual, especially for a party with as vocal of a strongly conservative faction as the Republicans. Yet an analysis of exit poll results from the 2012 and 2008 Republican primaries demands a different conclusion. No - the overall Republican primary electorate is not averse to an admittedly moderate candidate. Far from it, in fact.

Why? Because exit polling has indicated that self-identified moderates/liberals and 'somewhat conservative' voters greatly outnumber the far-right of the primary electorate.

By combining the results of the twenty states to feature an exit poll in the 2012 Republican primary, we find that self-described moderates and/or liberals comprised 33.3% of the national electorate, 33.1% identified as 'somewhat conservative,' and 33.5% identified as 'very conservative.' In other words, the GOP's self-described ideology fits very nicely into thirds.

Red cells highlight states where self-identified moderates/liberals made up a plurality of the Republican primary electorate. Data in the table is courtesy of Dave Leip's US Election Atlas and NBC News 2012 Republican Primary Exit Poll Results.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Polling Update: Hillary Clinton's Image Dinged In Wake of Email Scandal, Though The Injuries Are Minor

Photo courtesy of Yana Paskova/Getty Images

In the seemingly never-ending spectacle that is the modern day presidential campaign, the month of March 2015 will likely be remembered for the New York Times story revealing Hillary Clinton skirted State Department rules requiring work-related email retention. The fact that the former New York Senator was conducting government business over a private, in-home family email server dominated 2016 news for days afterwards. Naturally, three weeks into this story, the headlines and questions have taken a toll on Clinton's image.

The days of soaring, rockstar-like favorability ratings have come to an end for Mrs. Clinton (though this trend was emerging even before 'emailgate'). In fact, her post-scandal numbers more closely resemble the contentious days of the 2008 Democratic Primary than the lofty highs from her stint as Secretary of State.

Of the nine surveys to measure Clinton's favorability rating before and after the email scandal broke, all but one found her net favorable rating had dropped in its aftermath. The one that did not was conducted March 1-5, even though the email story broke late in the day on March 2, and didn't reach peak media fervor until days later. The poll was also completed five days before Hillary's largely-panned press conference on March 10.

Beyond the NBC/WSJ poll, Clinton's net favorable rating dropped anywhere from six to twenty-four points before and after the story broke. Economist/YouGov has taken two polls since the Clinton scandal broke, and has measured the smallest drop (from 52/44% on July 7-10, 2014, to an average 48/46% post-controversy).

The post-controversy Economist/YouGov numbers represent an average of two surveys, one conducted on March 14-16 and March 21-23, 2015.

Public Policy Polling, of all pollsters, measured Hillary's largest favorability drop. Granted, their pre-email story survey is two years old. Regardless, a 56/37% to 43/48% drop is stark nonetheless.

Clinton averaged a 52/38% favorable/unfavorable rating among pollsters that tested her favorability both before and after the email story. She averaged 46/43% after the story broke.

Other pollsters measured the effect of the email story on Hillary's public image in different ways, and the results are more mixed for the former First Lady.

Economist/YouGov, for example, conducted extensive post-email polling on Clinton, and found doubts about her sincerity up sharply from last year.

On the other hand, a Republican pollster found that just 36% of Americans have a less favorable view Mrs. Clinton as a result of the email scandal. Twenty-nine percent say the same in a recent CBS News survey. For comparison, 45% held a less favorable view of Mitt Romney as a result of the infamous "47%" remark in the early fall of 2012. Thirty-two percent felt the same about Barack Obama's 'You didn't build that' remark earlier that same year.

Furthermore, Hillary's outstanding numbers in the 2016 Democratic Primary are still in great shape:

*The pre-email scandal PPP poll in Wisconsin included former home-state Senator Russ Feingold as a 2016 Democratic Presidential primary candidate, while the post-email scandal survey did not. ^The post-controversy Economist/YouGov numbers represent an average of two surveys, one conducted on March 14-16 and March 21-23, 2015.

And while Mrs. Clinton's lead over her potential 2016 GOP contenders dropped across the board in the latest CNN poll, she still maintains double-digit leads against all of them.

It may sound fair to say the Clinton's are nothing if not deceitful. But as they've shown time and time again, they are resilient as well. While emailgate has undoubtedly been unhelpful for Hillaryland, it's not as bad as it could be, and seems far from fatal. Absent new information, Clinton will survive with minor scrapes and bruises.

Updated on March 25 to include new St. Leo University, PPP, Economist/YouGov, and CBS News polls. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Operation Chaos Part Two? What The Lack Of A 2016 Democratic Primary Could Mean For The Republican Contest

These two men may not share much in common, but both were the prime beneficiaries of independent and Democratic votes in their respective Republican presidential primary bids. Photo courtesy of AP/Dennis Cook.

A recent piece featured in U.S. News & World Report by The Run 2016 founder Dave Catanese briefly examined the effects of a non-existent Democratic Presidential primary on a competitive GOP nominating contest.  His focus was New Hampshire, where self-identified independents make up a larger than average share of both the Republican and Democratic electorates. Catanese's suggestion is that with Clinton virtually clearing the Democratic field, the Granite State's independent base will flock to the Republican primary.

Exit polling indicates Catanese is correct. In 2008, when both political parties were deep in the throes of competitive contests, self-identified independents and Democrats made up 39% of New Hampshire Republican Primary voters. Four years later, with President Obama running unopposed on the Democratic side, independents and Democrats, as a percentage of voters, jumped twelve points to 51%.

To be fair, this anomaly isn't limited solely to the Granite State. In Iowa, independents and Democrats jumped from just 14% of GOP caucus-goers in 2008 (when both Republican and Democratic primaries were competitive), to 25% in 2012 (when Obama ran unopposed).

The number of non-Republicans voting in the GOP nominating contest increased from 2008 in sixteen of the twenty states that conducted exit polling in 2012, or 80% of the time.

Why the sharp increase? Absent a uniform national 'open primary' movement, the lack of a competitive primary on the Democratic side seems like the obvious culprit.

Based on data compiled from the twenty-seven states to feature an exit poll in the 2008 GOP primary, and final vote counts provided by Dave Leip's US Election Atlas, self-identified Republicans made up 76% of the Republican primary electorate, independents made up 20%, and Democrats made up 3%. All total, those who identified as something other than a Republican made up 24% of the national electorate.

In 2012, with all eyes on the GOP contest, Republicans dropped to just 70% of the primary electorate, versus 26% who identified as independent, and 5% who identified as a Democrat. That's a total of 30% of GOP primary voters who identified themselves as something other than a Republican. Again, these numbers are based on the twenty-states that conducted exit polling in the 2012 GOP primary.

Red cells highlight states where self-identified Republicans failed to make up more than a majority of the electorate.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Unlike Romney 3.0, Ex-Nominees Do Not Historically Poll Very Well In National Primary Surveys

Looking exclusively at losing presidential nominees, Al Gore's 2004 primary polling numbers most closely resemble Mitt Romney's current status among the 2016 GOP field. Of course, Al Gore never took the second plunge. Photo courtesy of the Associated Press

Former Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has stormed back onto the political scene in a big way this month, reaching out to former mega-donors, reassembling the 'old team,' and meeting with fellow potential major candidates. And as poll after poll has shown, rank-and-file Republican Party members across the nation have taken notice.

A surprisingly solid 59% of Republicans say they'd like for the former nominee, who attracted just over 47% of the popular vote in his failed 2012 bid, to give it another go in 2016. Only 26% think he should sit it out. Romney consistently sports the highest favorability ratings of the potentially large field of Republicans candidates, at least where it counts - among the base. Last but not least, he leads comfortably in every national horserace survey of the GOP primary taken to date.

That final fact is somewhat unique in a historical context, and especially so when looking back over the last thirty years. Ex-presidential nominees frequently pop-up in the following cycle's primary polling. But it's much less frequent that they cast such a dominating presence over the rest of the field, so consistently.

In fact, looking back at ALL twenty-one ex-nominee's polling performance in the following cycle's presidential primary in the modern polling era, former presidential nominees can be said to fall into three tiers.

  1. Tier 1 - this group of former nominees had no trouble recapturing the party faithful's hearts and minds for the second time in a row following their presidential loss. Qualification for membership in this group requires the ex-nominee poll in first place in at least half of the following presidential primary surveys taken that include that candidates name. For example, because Mitt Romney has appeared in eight national 2016 GOP primary surveys to date, and has led in each, he would qualify for membership in this group. Other ex-nominees falling into this group are Al Gore in 2004, Richard Nixon in 1964, Adlai Stevenson in 1956, and Thomas Dewey in 1948.
  2. Tier 2 - this group of former nominees polled reasonably well in primary surveys taken after their presidential loss, almost always hitting double digits, even finding themselves at the summit of some random surveys. They fall short, however, of the polling status achieved by the failed nominees in the above group. Seven of the twenty-one ex-presidential nominees from 1936 to 2012 fall into this category.
  3. Tier 3 - ex-nominees in this group are defined either by their surprisingly shoddy, if not embarrassing polling performance in the following cycle's primary survey, or by their unwillingness to even entertain the idea of the presidency ever again, evidenced by their total exclusion from the following primary's polling. Nine of the twenty-one ex-presidential nominees from 1936 to 2012 fall into this category. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

In the Mitt vs. Jeb 2016 'Invisible (Polling) Primary,' It's Mitt By A Mile

A Jeb vs. Mitt rivalry has been the talk of the town of late. But as far as the Republican voting public is concerned, it's not even close. Photos courtesy of Getty Images.

Ever since Jeb Bush made waves last month with an early announcement about his presidential aspirations, the media has cast the 2016 Republican primary race as a Jeb vs. Mitt slugfest in the making. Both seemingly giants in their own party, pundits can't help but lick their chops at the idea. For some, it's the political equivalent of the "immovable object" facing the "irresistible force." Except for one problem: the polling numbers don't quite match the hype.

In the first national survey of the new year regarding the 2016 Republican Presidential Primary, it's clear to see why the Romney circle is ramping up chatter of a third consecutive presidential bid.

According to Republican adults, not only is Romney more well-liked than fellow establishment bigwig Jeb Bush. But he is their preferred choice for the nomination by a shockingly wide margin, in the event the field is pared down to just the two of them.

When Republicans are asked: "If the choice was between Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush, which one would you want to be the Republican nominee for president in 2016,"  60% pick Romney, while just 29% select Bush. Eleven percent are undecided.

Color me surprised. What gives? I think of Romney and Bush as being too very comparable guys. Both have near 100% name recognition among Republicans. Both have their roots in political dynasties. They have similar temperaments, ideologies, and fund-raising bases. What gives Romney such a huge advantage over Bush? Who knows? But what we do know is that Romney's superior polling position is evident in more ways than one