Why you should care
When it comes to the highest office in the land, records should matter.
Come 2016, you might vote Democrat, you might vote Republican. Maybe you’re one of the country’s three dozen Green Party members. One thing’s for sure: Eighteen months before the big election, few people are paying much attention to the incrementally dilating horde of would-be Republican candidates. That makes early polling of the pack or crowning of “front-runners” virtually meaningless.
But you know who does know a thing or two about these guys? The people in their home states. They know the names and have gotten a dose of their policies. Hurrah, home-state hero, right? Try again. Looks like when it comes to a citizen’s governor or senator running for president, familiarity can often breed contempt.
In a survey OZY did of recent polling* for each elected officeholder:
had approval or favorability ratings that
- Florida Sen. Marco Rubio – 53 percent
- Ohio Gov. John Kasich – 55 percent
- Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry – 57 percent
- Indiana Gov. Mike Pence – 62 percent (although this was before the uproar over the state’s religious freedom law)
- Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush – 67 percent
- Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul – 47 percent
- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker – 43 percent
- Texas Sen. Ted Cruz – 41 percent
- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – 35 percent
- Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal – 27 percent
* For Jeb Bush, polling was conducted in 2006, during the final months of his governorship, but poll numbers on everyone else range from late 2014 to early 2015.
Let’s all take a moment to pity-friend these guys on Facebook. Now, there are all kinds of factors that affect how unloved some of these candidates appear. Each state has a different partisan breakdown, which will obviously influence how well-liked a political leader is. Christie, for example, is trying to govern a solidly Democratic state as a Republican — tough break, Mr. Bridgegate.
Another reality: “It seems like for a lot of people, running for president makes them unpopular at home,” says Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling based in Raleigh, North Carolina. “It’s particularly hard for a governor if you’re perceived to be more interested in what’s going on in other states than in your own.” Basically, you start running for president, and your home state feels cheated on. And hell hath no fury like a Wisconsinite scorned.
Mitigating factors aside, the current polls aren’t meaningless. Jensen and veteran pollster Doug Schwartz, director of the Quinnipiac University Poll in Hamden, Connecticut, say there are some good reasons to pay attention to how these contenders rate at home — particularly if home is a swing state. If Jeb were to win the nomination, he’d be a big favorite in one of the biggest swing states in the country, Schwartz points out. He’s better liked, too, than Sen. Marco Rubio, says Jensen, which hurts the young senator’s potential campaign. And for Ohio’s Kasich, the ability to win big at home could be “a core part of an electability argument,” adding what even the most election-challenged voter knows: “Ohio is a pretty big darn piece of the puzzle for a Republican trying to win a presidential election.”