Monday, February 11, 2013

Why Jeb doesn't need to sweat his underwhelming polling


I started to write this, prepared to argue one thing, and in the course of writing it, reversed my opinion.

Now don't worry, I'm not turning into Chief Justice John Roberts, but facts; not desire, produced this reversal.

I originally began with a simple claim that seemed to have a lot going for it -- If Jeb Bush were going to win the 2012 nomination, he'd be up big in the polls.

Why?

Well, four years before a primary, candidates with huge name ID nearly always lead. That's been the case both historically and, as it turns out, we're seeing it on the Democratic side this year, as well.

Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden have stratospheric name ID and are dominating every other potential Democrat.

In PPP's January poll of the Democratic race, only 7% and 9%, respectively, weren't sure of their opinions of Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. That's not a perfect proxy for name ID, but it's a pretty strong one, and it suggests huge name ID.

Meanwhile, 43% weren't sure of their opinion about Andrew Cuomo, 70% weren't sure of their opinion of Kirsten Gillibrand, and a whopping 77% didn't know enough about Martin O'Malley to form an opinion.

Of course, there are reasons beyond name ID that Hillary and Biden are leading the race, but suffice it to say, name ID contributes considerably to their performances. For example, if Cuomo jumps into the race, he'll probably get more than the 4% he's currently scoring, and that support would have to come from either Hillary or Biden's camp.

So yes, it makes sense that name ID is playing a big role in the Democratic race right now, and of course, history tells us it plays a big role in nearly every primary -- especially four years before election day (Hello, Rudy Giuliani).

But lets move to the GOP race.

Is that happening in the GOP race and what does it mean for Jeb?

Well, let's look at the limited national polling that's been done, so far, and see how Jeb fares:

a. PPP poll of GOP race (January 2013) = Jeb tied for fourth place.

b. PPP poll of Texas GOP primary (January 2013) = Jeb tied for fourth place.

c. Florida GOP primary (January, PPP) = Jeb, second place, behind Marco Rubio.

d. GOP national primary (December PPP): Jeb, tied for third place.

So, by the looks of it, Jeb is underperforming badly.

After all, you've got a guy with unbelievable name ID who isn't leading in a single one of those surveys, and is instead bunched up with three other guys.

But here's why that's not a terribly big deal.

The other guys have really high name ID, too! Not with the public, at large, but with the likely GOP voters who are respondents in these surveys. In fact, the top tier of GOP candidates have much higher name ID with their party than most of the top tier of Democratic candidates have with theirs.

Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio = more well-known with Republicans than Kirsten Gillibrand, Andrew Cuomo, and Martin O'Malley are with Democrats.

In PPP's December poll of the GOP race, you'll find that 23% of respondents weren't sure of their opinion of Jeb, which was comparable to the 23% who weren't sure about Chris Christie, the 26% who weren't sure about Marco Rubio, the 25% who weren't sure about Rand Paul, and the 28% who weren't sure about Rick Santorum.

You'll find a similar set of numbers in other polls; thus, Jeb doesn't seem to have name ID that's too much higher with likely Republican voters than the rest of the GOP top tier.

That means his numbers aren't artificially-inflated by the notoriously misleading barometer of name ID.

In the game of public perceptions, that hurts, because a Bush in fourth place at this stage in the race sounds absolutely awful.

But, in reality, all you can really expect is that Jeb polls as well as the other guys with high name ID, and for the most part, he's doing that.

So Jeb shouldn't be sweating the fact that he's bunched up with Christie and Ryan in the polls right now.

But that doesn't mean he shouldn't be sweating other things, and as a guy who's very bearish on Jeb's chances of winning the nomination, I see LOTS of worrisome signs for him that I'll get into later this week (namely, that polls show he's picking up nearly all his support from moderate-liberal Republicans; NOT the conservative Republicans that dominate primaries).

But topline poll numbers aren't one of them right now.

[Photo: Education News]