In my estimation, the three candidates most likely to win a party nomination – Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and Jeb Bush have some serious questions to resolve, namely how they are perceived by the electorate. Based on recent polling done by Quinnipiac University, Clinton and Trump have serious unfavorability ratings to overcome – Clinton at 51% and Trump at 54%. 63% of Hispanics view Trump unfavorably as do 79% of Blacks. Bush’s numbers are less dramatic. He is viewed unfavorably by 41% of prospective registered voters. Though trailing Trump badly, Bush is viewed unfavorably by 17% of Republicans vs. 30% for Trump.
If Bush and Clinton win the nomination, which is the most likely scenario as I’ll explain, Clinton will face a tough road. In a head to head battle, according to the the poll, she beats Bush by 2% points, but, and here is where she runs into big problems, her negatives could give Bush the ultimate advantage.
Quinnipiac asked voters to give the first word that came into their mind about the candidates. I only saw the listing for Trump, Clinton and Bush. The results were revealing and not very flattering for Clinton and Trump, to put it mildly, and not very encouraging for Bush, but Bush arguably performed better on the metric. I analyzed the descriptors for each candidate and organized them into three categories, positive, negative and neutral. For example, the comment “brilliant” pertaining to Clinton would be positive; the comment “liar” would be negative and the comment “sec-of-state” would be neutral. I tallied up the number of responses in each category and divided by the total number of responses to get a percentage for each category and found that 28% of the comments for Clinton were positive; 57% negative and 15% neutral. For Trump, the numbers were 19% positive; 64% negative and 17% neutral. For Bush it was 22%, 22% and 56%
Clinton has a big problem of public perception. She is thought to be dishonest, untrustworthy and a liar. However, she is also mentioned time and again as smart, intelligent or brilliant. Fully 5% of the responses had to do with her intelligence. By comparison, the number is 1% for Bush and less than 1% for Trump, despite the fact that he keeps telling everybody that he is smart. Clinton could still turnaround her untrustworthiness numbers by being more forthcoming about the email server affair and assuring the public she hasn’t covered up anything of real importance. As Eugene Robinson suggests, if she would just say she was wrong about having a private server and apologize for the bad judgement, she might be forgiven. However, she has yet to fully do so. Instead she’s tried to explain it to the public as something very complicated and nuanced. And while it may be true that she did everything within legal boundaries, to many Americans, this just sounds like CYA talk. She has to put the matter to rest by owning up to using a worst as opposed to best practice with respect to the management of her electronic files. Once she is allowed to pivot, she needs to focus on her achievements and show the population that she is capable of successfully governing. She should spend less time attacking the Republicans and Trump’s hair and more time repairing her reputation. She has many accomplishments as first lady, senator and secretary of state that she should be talking about on the campaign trail.
Bush’s numbers indicate that he has not inspired much enthusiasm for his ideas. Many of the comments that prospective voters gave suggested that he hasn’t yet separated himself from the family legacy. The first things that came to people’s mind in the poll were “Bush” and “family”, followed closely by “brother” and “dynasty.” Either he needs to embrace this and turn it into a positive, which would be hard to do with respect to W’s reign, or he needs to take some bold positions with creative plans on say immigration reform, gun control (like universal background checks) and climate change. This would separate him from the Bush name and possibly get him banned from the family.
While Trump is leading the other candidates, there is evidence in the poll that part of the reason is that he has been covered by the press so much more than the other candidates. For example, among Republicans, 58% indicated they haven’t heard enough information about Gov. Kasich to form an opinion as to whether they view him favorably or unfavorably. This number was 43% for Gov. Walker; 44% for Fiorina; 32% for Carson; 33% for Sen. Cruz; 25% for Sen. Rubio and remarkably, 24% for Jeb Bush.
My theory is that once the other candidates get more coverage, Trump will fade and Bush will gather some momentum that will earn him the nomination over Rubio, Cruz, Kasich and Walker, his closest competitors. He’ll face Hillary Clinton who will beat him by a razor thin margin if Trump doesn’t get in as a third party candidate. If he does, Clinton beats Bush and Trump by 16% points according to the poll.
So who do voters dislike the most? And he’s leading in the polls. You guessed it, Trump, who was described in the most unflattering of terms by respondents, and who has alarmingly high negatives and very little support among Blacks and Hispanics.