Whilst Clinton and Trump set the pace, a host of other candidates are waiting in the wings. Polling expert Keiran Pedley runs the rule over the 2016 US Presidential hopefuls.
Having spent the past week in the U.S. visiting my wife’s parents I have been able to spend some time looking at the 2016 US Presidential race in detail. Make no mistake, the campaign is in full swing, with Iowa and New Hampshire just a few short months away.
I have been struck by just how much trouble Hillary Clinton is in and also at how Donald Trump genuinely appears to be the front-runner for the GOP nomination as things stand. My instinct is that neither will end up as President but this is a tough race to call. There is no incumbent and it does seem that a real anti-establishment fervour is taking hold – among activists on both sides – which is throwing up some frankly bizarre poll numbers. The question is – will it all last?
Watching from this side of the Atlantic, it would be easy to underestimate just how much Hillary Clinton is struggling. The ongoing scandal over her alleged use of private email servers to send classified information does not look like going away. Whether fair or not – several other Secretaries of State have used similar arrangements – this scandal seems to touch on an underlying problem the Clintons face more generally. They are popular but divisive and many Americans do not trust them.
Worryingly for Hillary, this now shows in her poll numbers too. A recent ABC / Post poll showed that 53% of Americans view her unfavourably compared to 45% that view her favourably. To put this in context, at the time of Obama’s re-election in 2012 an ABC / Post poll put her at 66% favourable and just 28% unfavourable. The trend is clear. Some Democrats are now openly wondering whether further scandal (or even an indictment) could kill her campaign stone dead.
No wonder Joe Biden is considering entering the race. The Vice President recently had a very public ‘secret meeting’ with Elizabeth Warren (darling of the Democratic left) and is clearly on manoeuvres in the coming weeks. He visits Florida and Pennsylvania over the weekend and will appear on Stephen Colbert’s late night show next week. If this wasn’t bad enough for Clinton, she also faces a challenge from the left, with socialist Bernie Sanders even leading her in a recent poll in New Hampshire.
How serious is all this for Hillary? As usual, we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves. On average she is 24 points clear of Bernie Sanders among Democrats nationally and despite a close contest in New Hampshire, she convincingly leads in all the other early primary States. Meanwhile, it isn’t clear if Biden will really run. He has yet to put together the serious organisation and fundraising apparatus he would need to do so and could just as easily use next week’s Colbert appearance to announce he is not running and endorse Clinton as anything else.
‘The Donald’ dominates
Meanwhile, on the Republican side, the early front-runner (and GOP establishment favourite) Jeb Bush has seemingly been eclipsed by political newcomers Donald Trump and Ben Carson. In fact, a recent Monmouth poll showed Trump and Carson taking a combined 48% of the vote among Republicans nationally – striking given that neither has held political office. Let that sink in – this is the Presidency of the United States!
Of the two, Donald Trump is the clear front-runner in the race. Among Republicans nationally he leads Carson by 27.2 points to 13.2 on average with Jeb Bush in 3rd place on 9.2 points. This is a commanding lead and we should take it seriously. If you need further evidence, consider that Trump is ahead in key early States too, leading Jeb Bush and John Kasich in New Hampshire and Ben Carson in Iowa.
The success of Trump to-date owes much to his name recognition, anti-Washington rhetoric and swash-buckling ‘style’. However, at times his campaign has been every bit as unconventional as the man. His decision to pick a fight with Fox News journalist Megyn Kelly is the embodiment of this. Any other candidate would have been hurt but Trump possesses a Boris Johnson-esque ability to get away with things others cannot. Meanwhile he dominates the news agenda and makes it very difficult for other candidates to gain any momentum – as the polls show.
If you can sense a ‘but’ coming it’s because there is.
The Republican race is currently a very crowded field and we don’t know how polling will shift once candidates start dropping out and endorsing each other. More importantly there are three little words that I suspect will end up being Trump’s undoing – ‘Commander-in-Chief’. Right now, he embodies the maverick anti-establishment rebel but will the Republican Party trust him on foreign policy in the end? I suspect not but for now he is very much in the race and dominating it.
The verdict: Hillary vs ?
Looking forward to 2016, I still expect Hillary Clinton to be the Democrat nominee. If she ends up indicted all bets are off but otherwise she has the experience, organisation and financial muscle to win the nomination in the end – regardless of what Biden does. If her reputation in the country is mixed, she remains popular among Democrats. She should be fine.
The Republican race is much less clear. When we consider the sheer number of candidates in the race and the fact that political novices Trump and Carson currently lead it really is all to play for. Expect Jeb Bush to stay the course and gain ground as minds concentrate on the inexperience of Carson and unpredictability of Trump. I would also keep an eye on John Kasich and Marco Rubio. Kasich is Governor of the crucial swing State of Ohio and is currently polling well in New Hampshire whilst Rubio is a young Hispanic Senator from Florida. There are compelling reasons to think both could do well if they can get more coverage nationally.
There will no doubt be many twists and turns between now and 2016. I still think that Clinton will make it but the Republican race is anyone’s guess. A potential debt-ceiling row later in 2015 could be all-important. The key question is will the newcomers fade away to be replaced by more conventional candidates or can Carson or Trump actually win the nomination? Time will tell.
Keiran Pedley is a Polling expert at GfK and tweets about politics and polling at @keiranpedley