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.