The Ever-Widening and Tightening Pack of GOP Presidential Candidates

June 4, 2015 — Two national presidential polls were released this week and we continue to see survey results yielding a pack of Republican candidates either tied for, or in close proximity of, the lead. Each hovers around 10-15 percent with no clear path to a majority.

Both the new Washington Post/ABC News (May 28-31; 1,001 adults; 376 registered Democrats; 362 registered Republicans) and CNN/ORC (May 29-31; 1,025 adults) polls tested the national candidates, and though neither survey is particularly sound from a methodological nor practical political perspective, their results are consistent with most other available research.

A national poll of the presidential primaries is not a particularly useful tool because votes are cast on an individual state, and not a national basis. Secondly, the registered voters segmentation for each survey is very small. The Post poll, where only 376 Democrats and 362 Republicans are sampled for their views and attitudes about primary candidates and ballot tests, possesses a high unreliability factor. The CNN survey tests 483 Republicans and 433 Democrats. This is a better sample draw, but not substantially. Third, and again particularly pronounced in the Post poll, the sample skews highly negative. In fact, all tested candidates have unfavorable personal ratings, which is not consistent with other known data.

Each poll, as previously mentioned, finds virtually the same national results, and that is significant and useful. The CNN/ORC survey projects the Republican field to be badly fractured with seven candidates within seven points of each other (Sen. Marco Rubio leads the group, but with only 14 percent preference). The Post poll shows the same seven candidates only separated by a total of three points. In this latter case, Sen. Rand Paul and Gov. Scott Walker share first place, but with only 11 percent support. The other four candidates in the mix are ex-Gov. Jeb Bush, former Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sen. Ted Cruz, and retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson.

For the second-tier candidates, hope still abounds because even the one percent finishers, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Gov. Bobby Jindal, and Gov. John Kasich (CNN poll) are only 13 points behind the candidate(s) currently in first place. According to the ABC/Post data, Graham and former Gov. George Pataki (each polling just one percent) are just 10 percentage points back.

The other telling factor from these and other polls is the low support levels all the candidates currently attract. While hovering in the 10-15 percent range at best, the average Republican candidate is some 40 points away from attracting the required support level. Obtaining a committed majority of national delegates (1,236 of 2,470) prior to the convention beginning is mandatory to clinching a first ballot victory. Not doing so means beginning the Republican National Convention next year in Cleveland without a clear nominee.

The last time a candidate needed more than one ballot to secure a Republican nomination occurred in 1948, when Thomas E. Dewey won on the third ballot. You have to look all the way back to 1920 when the number of ballots exceeded four. Then-Ohio Sen. Warren G. Harding was nominated on the tenth ballot.

Projecting forward, it is hard to see any of these candidates cobbling together majority support through the primary and caucus process. The huge number of Republican candidates (possibly as many as 17 or 18 when all are announced), the lack of a clear front-runner, and then overlaying Republican Party nomination rules make any one candidate breaking through a difficult task.

Furthermore, it is hard to say we are in the earliest stages of the race. With the first votes likely being cast in February, it is now only seven months from the cavalcade of primaries and caucuses beginning. When they end next June, will there be a clear Republican nominee? All signs today say, probably not.

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