Marist Poll Shows Bunched GOP Pack Struggling to Reach Double Digits

NBC/Marist conducted a series of polls in the first three presidential nominating states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina finding a host of Republican candidates all jumbled near the top in each place.

The surveys were commissioned during the Feb. 3-10 period. In Iowa, 320 potential Republican caucus goers were sampled; the number was 381 in New Hampshire and 450 for South Carolina. Democrats also were polled but their results did not provide any new or particularly significant information.

In none of the polls did any Republican candidate exceed 20 percent of the intra-party vote. Furthermore, no less than three and not more than five individuals found double-digits in the trio of surveys. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee led Iowa with only 17 percent. Jeb Bush finished first in New Hampshire at 18 percent, while South Carolina favorite son Lindsey Graham, the state’s senior US senator, topped the Marist result in his home territory with a similar 17 percent standing.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and neurosurgeon Ben Carson were the other candidates to reach the double-digit plateau in at least one state. All 11 tested candidates fell within 18 percentage points from top to bottom in the three studies.

These results are extraordinary in the fact that the candidates are so tightly bunched and no one has forged to the position of clear leader, including former Florida Gov. Bush. The Marist data is consistent with other polls taken in these three critical states and, if anything, reveal Bush’s weakness within the Republican ranks as opposed to his strength.

Not being able to reach even 20 percent of the vote in one of these places, irrespective of the polls’ early timing, is very bad news for the former presidential son and brother. Considering that eight out of 10 sampled Republicans chose someone other than a person, or at least a name, with which they are completely familiar tells us that Bush’s growth ceiling is quite low.

The consistent initial polling results projecting no clear leader, with the top candidates scoring within the same numerical realm also portends another possible outcome. Considering the process is just beginning, the types of results we are seeing suggest that this nomination battle could well end in an open, or brokered, convention. This means no candidate would go to the Republican national convention in Cleveland (July 2016) with a majority of committed delegates. Therefore, the convention participants themselves would be in position to officially nominate a candidate. The last time a presidential nominee was chosen in an open convention dates back to Warren G. Harding winning the Republican nomination some 95 years ago in 1920.

Additionally, with only six winner-take-all states scheduled at this point in time, and the preponderance of entities opting for proportional delegate representation, the Republican nomination rules themselves are yet another major factor that could yield an inconclusive primary and caucus season.

Should polling patterns as discovered by Marist and other survey research firms continue, no candidate will have any incentive to withdraw from the race because almost every one of them will see a reasonable path to victory. This means delegate votes would be divided among a large number of candidates, likely giving no one enough of an advantage to clinch victory and adding to the open convention prospect. Under this backdrop, the 2016 Republican presidential nomination process has the potential of ending in a very unique manner.

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