Larry Sabato is one of the more insightful political observers around, and yesterday he and two associates at the University of Virginia Center for Politics took to the pages of Politico to try to refute three items they consider to be myths regarding the 2016 presidential nomination contest. A few excerpts:
Myth #1: The giant Republican field is unpredictable, almost anybody’s game.
With 10 Republican presidential hats in the ring, and perhaps another 10 to come, we all know the GOP is going to have the largest field in living memory. Increasingly, surveys are showing 10 or more candidates bunched in the single or low double-digits. The most recent Quinnipiac poll headlined a finding that has no modern precedent: five contenders tied at 10 percent each.
But the closeness of the race is a mirage, a false projection of the reality that exists just below the surface. At this very early stage, when every week more candidates declare, the public is mainly not engaged—not even the select contingent of voters that will turn up to cast ballots in the caucuses and primaries.
Republicans are hungry to reoccupy the White House, and the realistic among them understand the party won’t win without pitching a bigger tent. There may be no single GOP frontrunner, but there are just a few politicians who have the resources, positioning and potential to expand the base. They are former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, not necessarily in that order...
Myth #2: Hillary Clinton’s favorability is in free-fall.
On March 2, 2015, when the story about Hillary Clinton using a private e-mail address while secretary of state broke, her average favorability/unfavorability split in the HuffPost Pollster average of national polls was 48 percent favorable to 46 percent unfavorable. Now, three months later, after countless stories about the e-mails, the fundraising of the Clinton Foundation and her refusal to take questions from the press and unscreened voters, Clinton’s favorable/unfavorable split is 46 percent favorable to 48 percent unfavorable.
In other words, a quarter of a year of largely unanswered negative publicity has moved the numbers against her only two points.
It’s true that Clinton’s favorability was much higher in the recent past. While secretary of state, her average national favorability was in the high 50s for essentially her entire term. But this was largely a product of serving in a less partisan position, and predictably when she left office and became a clear if unannounced candidate to succeed President Obama, her numbers dropped.
By the end of 2013, her favorability split was 50 percent favorable to 43 percent unfavorable, better but not dramatically different than where her numbers are now. By the start of 2015 her favorability was 47 percent/45 percent—again, better than now, but only marginally so. Recent reports highlighting that “more people have an unfavorable view of Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton now than at any time since 2001,” are technically accurate, but they overstate the case when one looks at the polls collectively and over time...
Myth #3: Billionaires are buying the 2016 election.
Politics is awash in money today, and there is little reason to think the 2016 cycle won’t break all previous fundraising and spending records. Clinton’s campaign and its allies reportedly have a goal to raise a combined $2.5 billion. That is more money than the roughly $2 billion that the 2012 general election candidates and their support groups raised and spent combined. Bush’s Super PAC, Right to Rise, apparently expected to have $100 million by the end of May, a 100-day fundraising record for a GOP presidential bid (though reports now suggest it will fall short of that mark). The Koch brothers alone have famously promised to spend close to $900 million this cycle.
Despite the mountain of cash that will be spent on campaign activities, those dollars are unlikely to decisively alter the outcome of the 2016 general election. Without question, the increasingly oligarchical nature of American campaign financing is troubling, but the presidential outcome itself won’t be determined by the whims of mega-donors. The polarized American electorate and the partisan nature of the money chase ensure it...