2016 Republican Field Is Wide Open

The Republican field for 2016 is more wide open than any we've seen in a long time.

Elephants Fighting

For the moment, the 2016 Republican Presidential Nomination is wide open according to a new Public Policy Polling poll:

Rand Paul’s well publicized filibuster last month has vaulted him up the list of Republican contenders in PPP’s newest look ahead to the 2016 Presidential contest.

Marco Rubio continues to lead nationally, as he has on all four of our 2016 polls so far. He’s at 21% this month, basically the same as 22% the month before the State of the Union address. Rubio’s favorability of 62/10 is slightly better than 59/12 in early February. The whole water drinking episode hasn’t had any effect on his standing- nor has his stance on immigration reform.

The big move though has come from Paul. In early February he was in 6th place among Republican contenders at just 10%. Now he’s vaulted all the way up to 2nd place at 17%. Chris Christie is 3rd at 15% and Paul Ryan and Jeb Bush are tied for 4th at 12%. Rounding out the folks we polled are Rick Santorum at 5%, Bobby Jindal at 4%, Rick Perry at 2%, and Susana Martinez at 1%.

There is a lot of skepticism about Christie from conservative voters. Among those identifying as ‘very conservative’ 35% see him positively to 36% with a negative opinion. Christie’s overall net favorability of +12 at 41/29 ranks him 8th most popular out of the 9 Republicans we looked at, leading only Susana Martinez who is not yet well known on a national level.

Rubio leads the Republicans among conservatives, while Christie has the advantage with moderates. The problem for Christie is that only 19% of primary voters are moderates while 74% are conservatives.

The numbers are fairly similar in a newly released Quinnipiac poll:

There is no front-runner now for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, leaving a five- way horse race with no candidate above 19 percent among Republican voters, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today.

New Jersey Gov. Christopher Christie, who ran better than other Republicans against top Democrats in a March 7 survey of all American voters by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN- uh-pe-ack) University, gets only 14 percent of Republican voters today.

Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio gets 19 percent of Republican voters, with 17 percent for U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, 15 percent for U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and 10 percent for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Other contenders are at 3 percent or less.

This isn’t entirely surprising, of course. Unlike with the Democratic Party, where Hillary Clinton leaves all other potential contenders in the dust, there really is no star on the sidelines of the GOP right now waiting to take up the banner of the party. Indeed, unlike in 2012 and 2008, when it seemed like Romney and McCain were the “next in line” for the nomination, a position that usually is a pretty good indication of who the nominee may be, there is nobody who qualifies as the GOP heir apparent for the 2016 race. Of the candidates that lasted through the primary season last year, only Rick Santorum seems likely to even consider making another run for the White House, and his appeal inside the party is limited to evangelicals and social conservatives. Indeed, it’s notable that, even at this early stage, the person who has actually ran for President is trailing people like Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, and Jeb Bush. If the guy who has already run for President is trailing all the newcomers, that’s a signal that the entire race is going to be much more wide open than a Republican race has been in quite some time.

Ed Morrissey makes an observation about the Quinnipiac poll:

That’s a remarkable change in a pattern that goes back at least to 1980, when Republican runners-up in the previous open cycle ended up as the frontrunners in the next. Ronald Reagan got the nomination in 1980 after barely losing to Gerald Ford in the 1976 race; his running mate, George H. W. Bush, won the nomination in 1988. Bob Dole had nearly derailed Bush in 1988-s primary with wins in Iowa, South Dakota, and Minnesota, and in 1996 got his chance to face incumbent Bill Clinton and spoiler Ross Perot. George W. Bush broke the pattern in 2000, but the runner-up in that contest, John McCain, ended up winning the 2008 nomination. And Romney was the runner-up to McCain, and was a clear front-runner for most of the 2012 primary cycle before winning the nomination.

This time around, none of the 2012 contenders made the cut for the Q-poll, and it doesn’t appear they were missed. Only 1% of respondents selected “someone else” as a choice, although 18% said they either didn’t know or didn’t care. Except for Jeb Bush, who got 10% to finish fifth, everyone on the list is a recent national figure — even the three who finished in the also-ran category, Bobby Jindal (3%), Scott Walker (2%), and Bob McDonnell (1%).

Ironically, only two governors were among the five to make double digits (Bush and Christie) and they came in fourth and fifth, even though GOP respondents overwhelmingly prefer governors as presidential candidates, 59/23. This reflects the problems of polling so early, before anyone has made serious moves to campaign for the position. The results sound more like a name-recognition survey than a serious reflection on preferred presidential candidates.

That’s largely correct, of course. Which is why it’s not entirely a good idea to put too much stock into these early polls. At the same time, though, at the moment it appears that the 2016 Republican field could end up being the most wide-open in recent memory. Things will change, of course. Front runners will rise and fall. Candidates we aren’t even considering right now will emerge and draw attention. And, of course, the outside world and what happens over the next two years or so will shape how the race unfolds. At the moment, though, the GOP looks to be on a course to have perhaps the most interesting nomination fight that I can recall.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. legion says:

    I’d say there’s an important distinction between “wide open” and “completely bereft of viable human beings”…

  2. Jeremy says:

    I’m calling it: Kay Bailey Hutchison will magically appear in 2015 and steamroll over everybody.

    Mark my words.

  3. Woody says:

    Do not underestimate the Bush Family.

    They and their retainers are adept at state, party, and national politics. While the family name may not poll particularly well in 2013, there are many GOP stalwarts who think of the Bush years as wonderful (and when one considers the GOP’s many policy successes, there is plenty of reason to do so).

    They are hardwired into Big Money – both individual and corporate – especially in the energy sector, which never ceases to be rolling in cash. They have many operatives who cut their teeth during W.’s reign in influential positions in so many GOP organizations, from Rove’s operations to statehouses to foundations to News Corp.

    Jeb will be packaged as the Reasonable Bush, and the courtier media (also quite wired in) will sell him as a moderate when compared to the Santorums who will serve as comparison fodder for the Matthews and Scarboroughs (and he is more moderate than the kooks . . .).

    The roll-out comes in 2014. Meanwhile, there are quiet alliances and understandings to cement.

  4. gVOR08 says:

    At the moment, though, the GOP looks to be on a course to have perhaps the most interesting nomination fight that I can recall.

    Famous fake ancient Chinese curse – May you live in interesting times.

    This is good news. It means that the Republicans will remain for quite some time without a de facto leader who could pull them together behind a consistent strategy.

  5. stonetools says:

    If you are a Democrat, you must like the look of the Republican field right now. Every one of those candidates has big flaws, and the Party itself looks divided between the so-cons, and the econo-cons. Right now , I like our chances in 2016- but that’s 3 years away, so all this means nothing.
    I’m a heckuva lot more concerned about 2014 than 2016. Can we hold the Senate? Can we do a ninja double somersault move and take back the House? THAT’S what I want to talk about.

  6. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Three years is an eternity in politics. That said, however, the thing about the ’16 GOP primary cycle is not that it’s a horse race but that it could turn into the most staggering political farce in history.

    Paul we know about. What if Palin, Bachmann and DeMint all run? Santorum? Shit instantly will devolve into a tragicomedy pissing match about abortion, gay marriage, vaccines, evolution, euthanasia, etc.

    The Dems might win the next Prez election by default.

  7. al-Ameda says:

    Rand Paul against Hillary Clinton would be … by far … the most interesting race.

    Of course I would be hoping for a Rand Paul/Ted Cruz ticket, versus a Hillary Clinton/Patty Murray ticket.

  8. john personna says:

    I guess my thought experiment might be “what kind of somewhat moderate guy could they find, a rationalist, who would appeal to me?”

    But then we know how “the base” will react to that. Find someone to appeal to moderate, lapsed, Republicans, and “the Progressives have won.”

    So it ends in the same contradiction as 2008 and 2012. First you find someone extreme enough for the base, and then try to pivot yet again, to the middle. Same game, same outcome.

  9. An Interested Party says:

    How many heads would explode (especially around here) if the 2016 general election would be between Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton…

  10. anjin-san says:

    and when one considers the GOP’s many policy successes

    Ah, thanks. Long day today, I needed a good laugh

  11. Woody says:


    My fault; very poorly stated. I didn’t mean w.’s policies were implemented for the general good of all American citizens. I didn’t mean “effective” in the “well-managed” sense.

    But when one considers whether his Administration was effective in hamstringing regulation, appointing hardliners to Federal benches, spending our treasure and goodwill, finding ways to seriously damage our basic laws (i.e. Constitution), damage the functionality of the Fourth Estate, and richly reward their biggest investors, then, sorry, they were very good at their job.

  12. Jose79845 says:

    The GOP needs a marijuana prohibitionist like Governor Martinez who promised to veto any medical marijuana bill that crosses her desk.

    It is vital to get someone like Romney who promised to fight marijuana legalization “tooth and nail.”

    Don’t forget now.

  13. Andre Kenji says:

    That reminds a lot the Democrats in the 1980´s. Too many candidates, very few of them are representative of anything. But people like Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz makes people like Walter Mondale and Bruce Babbitt and Michael Dukakis looks like real Statesmen.

  14. RGardner says:


    And don’t forget the Rockefellers and the Bilderburgers – New World Order, etc. You are obviously in an equivalent camp.

  15. superdestroyer says:


    Jeb Bush has a toxic legacy that will attacked from the right. The Republicans have stuck their hand in the Bush fire twice and been burned both times. Why do you think they would do it again. Bush will not have held public office for a decade and is an idiot when it comes to economics, immigration, and overall policy.

    If the Republicans nominate Bush, they will lose in a rout and will be lucky to hold onto the U.S. House. Bush is too stupid and too insular to change the direction of the party.

  16. superdestroyer says:

    I suspect that by 2016 the Republican Party will be so irrelevant that I suspect that many of the media will save money and not bother to cover the Republican Iowa Caucuses or the Republican primary in New Hampshire.

    I suspect that if H. Clinton wins both Iowa and New Hampshire that many if the media will talk about how the election is a lock and will begin to discuss the transition from the Obama Administration to the Clinton II Administration.

    Image how bored wonks will be in 2016 if the Republicans have zero chance of winning.

  17. Xenos says:

    If JEB! runs then it will be demanded of him what his opinion of W’s wars and financial mnagement is. He can only act like Romney re his finances, which is to tell the press to bugger off. And he will go nowhere.

    And the demographic ratchet will continue to tighten, 2% per presidential cycle. By 2012 and another 4% down, even the strictest gerrymandering and wildest shenanigans won’t help the GOP.

    While there is an outside chance of a Republican winning in 2016, the gig is up and money boys know it. There won’t even be a Republican Party convention in 2024.

  18. legion says:


    The Republicans have stuck their hand in the Bush fire twice and been burned both times. Why do you think they would do it again.

    You’re kidding, right? Who do you think is making these decisions? The same people who chose W in 2000; the same people who filled out McCain’s crew in 2008, and the same people who staffed up Rmoney after he became the candidate last year… The GOP is still run behind-the-scenes by the same crew. They’re desperately casting around for The Next Big Thing in candidates – there are people already talking up Ben Carson for 2016, fer chrissakes! – but they will always fall back on what they know. And what they know is the Bush family name.

    I don’t think he’s got a real chance at the general, and it’s hard to rate his chances in the primary, but it’s a stone cold lock that JEB! will be in the running for it…

  19. Barry says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: “Three years is an eternity in politics. That said, however, the thing about the ’16 GOP primary cycle is not that it’s a horse race but that it could turn into the most staggering political farce in history.”

    And for the third or fourth time in as many years, I sorta agree with Tsar. The big reservation I have is that I know that the GOP leadership wants a short primary, with nobody on stage who’ll frighten the public. However, I’m not sure if the leadership can buck the base and various factions.

  20. Barry says:

    @An Interested Party:

    “How many heads would explode (especially around here) if the 2016 general election would be between Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton… ”

    My head would not explode, but if somebody told me that that was the marker used by future historians as the End of the American Republic, I would not be surprised.

  21. JohnMcC says:

    Back when I was an undergraduate taking lots of PoliSci courses it was standard thinking to slice and dice the concept of a “Political Party” in some very interesting ways. There was the “presidential party” vs the “congressional party”; also the “national party” vs the “state party”.
    Possibly very antique device but worth using as an analytic tool.

    Using that scheme, the most electorally successful part of the Repubs has been the state parties. The National Committee makes lots of news but the state parties are the ones winning elections and passing legislation.

    Think what that means for the ’16 presidental race. First there will be a vigorous contest between state parties and the RNC over where and how many primaries and debates to hold; every state party will want to have one of each, at least. Then the number of possible candidates will be larger if the state-party slice wins and fewer if the RNC wins. The ideological and rhetorical positioning will depend on the importance of those primaries and debates.

    It is matters such as these that will determine the Repub side of the race. To make a prediction, one would look for the candidate who can capture the largest part of the most primaries. That candidate would almost certainly have a strong appeal to southern GOP voters if the RNC loses these contests to the state parties which I imagine they will do. Mr Jindal seems to not be doing well these days. Mr Cruz is a rhetorical suicide waiting to happen, IMHO. Mr Paul and Mr Rubio are where the race is going, as has been said many times.

    The big question is how far from the mainstream their constituents drive them and how strong is the national mood of ‘time for a change’ vs the national memory of recent Repub presidencies.
    And Hillary’s health and ambition.