2016 presidential race thus far: Moderate Republicans polling better than Tea Party candidates against Clinton, Biden

Katie LaPotin, Red Alert Politics, July 26, 2013

Despite the Republican base’s hankering for a conservative candidate in 2016, it looks like the so-called “moderate” Republican candidates may fare better in general according to a Public Policy Polling study released Thursday.

The race is still three years away, so it’s not at all surprising that none of the candidates in the Republican primary field have taken a major lead in the polls. In fact, the only real change that PPP has noticed in the GOP primary over the past few months has been a role-reversal between two Tea Party senators – Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

The former has seen his stock decline in recent months, likely a result of his stance on immigration reform and his participation in the Senate’s “Gang of Eight.” In January, PPP had the Florida senator polling as high as 21 percent; it has since dropped to 10 percent. Paul, however, saw his level of support triple over the past six months from 5 percent in January to 16 percent this month. His 13-hour filibuster back in March, coupled with a strong speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference the following week, have seen him break away from the rest of the Tea Party darlings (Rubio included) elected in 2010 to become one step closer to being the de-facto leader of the GOP.

Nonetheless, it is entirely possible that one of these two men could be the Republican nominee for president in 2016. But if PPP’s results are to believed, that’s as far as they would get toward moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Both Paul and Rubio trail presumptive frontrunner and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a general election head-to-head match – Rubio by five points and Paul by eight points – and they are each in a statistical dead heat with Vice President Joe Biden.

The same can’t be said for more “moderate” candidates like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Christie, whose willingness to work with Democrats like President Obama on Superstorm Sandy reliefhas cost him dearly with the base and even earned him a snub from the Conservative Political Action Conference in March, is in a dead heat with Clinton and six points ahead of Biden. Bush, who carries the baggage of being the son and brother of two former presidents, is only down three points against Clinton and leads Biden by four.

Both Bush and Christie are polling at 13 percent in the Republican primary this month as part of a three-way tie for second place with Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.

Moreover, Christie and Bush are vastly outperforming Clinton and Biden among the all-important Independent vote, according to the PPP study. Christie is up 12 points against Clinton and 18 against Biden, while Bush is up 5 percent against Clinton and 15 against Biden.

Of course, many will say that the party already tried this experiment – putting up two “moderate” candidates in 2008 and 2012 – and it failed. But it wasn’t so much John McCain’s and Mitt Romney’s ideologies that failed them. McCain had to deal with the baggage of following a two-term Republican president and the collapse of the national economy. Romney’s campaign was never the smoothest operation to begin with and incidents like the “47 percent” remark and Superstorm Sandy only exacerbated that weakness.

The good thing is that Americans already know most of what there is to know about Clinton and Biden, which naturally gives Republicans a leg up in the race. Same with the fact that President Obama’s second term is already off to a rocky start, between the trifecta of scandals that came out in May and the already-recorded problems with the implementation of his signature healthcare law. Only time will tell what Republican primary voters ultimately decide to do, but if they’re serious about winning in 2016, the numbers show that they’re better off considering a “moderate” to get the job done.

PPP surveyed 800 registered voters – as well as 500 Republican and 418 Democratic primary voters – nationwide via telephone between July 19-21, 2013. The margin of error for the main sample was +/- 3.5 percent, +/- 4.3 percent for the Republican sample and +/- 4.7 percent for the Democratic sample. 

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