Jeb Bush Isn’t Doing So Well In Iowa, So Maybe He Should Skip It

A new poll has some bad news for Jeb Bush in the Hawkeye State, which leads to the idea that maybe he shouldn't waste too much time there to begin with.

Jeb Bush

A new poll out of Iowa shows some good news for Scott Walker and several other current and potential candidates, and some bad news for Jeb Bush:

The latest Iowa polling numbers are great news for Scott Walker, and terrible news for Jeb Bush.

The Wisconsin governor retains his advantage among Iowa Republican caucus-goers, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday, with 21 percent of likely participants saying they would vote for him if the caucus were held today.

Bush, the former Florida governor, comes in seventh — with just 5 percent responding that they would vote for him. Only 39 percent said they viewed him favorably, compared with 45 percent who said they did not.

Below Walker and above Bush, the race is tight between Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul at 13 percent, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at 12 percent and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at 11 percent.

Sixty-nine percent of participants said that Walker is honest and trustworthy (versus 11 percent who didn’t), compared with 58 percent to 30 percent who say the same for Bush.

For Rubio, 72 percent to 13 percent said he is honest and trustworthy, while Paul got high marks as well (77 percent to 13 percent).

“More of those surveyed view Bush unfavorably than favorably, compared to Walker’s 5-1 positive ratio. And 45 percent say Bush is not conservative enough. It’s among the GOP conservative base that Bush finds himself trailing Sen. Ted Cruz, former Gov. Mike Huckabee and Sen. Rand Paul,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll.

For favorability ratings, no other candidate scored better than Rubio. Just 9 percent of likely caucus-goers said they have an unfavorable opinion of the junior Florida senator, while 69 percent said they viewed him favorably.

Additionally, of the likely caucus goers surveyed, twenty-five percent (25%) say that they would never support Bush in the caucuses. That’s the highest ‘would not support’ number of any of the candidates mentioned in the poll, with only New Jersey Governor Chris Christie coming close at twenty percent (20%) saying that they could not support him. Moreover, the 5% that Bush registers in this polls is a dramatic drop from the ten percent (10%) that he registered in another Quinnipiac poll that was conducted back in Febraury. Assuming that this isn’t an outlier, one can only assume that Bush has suffered in the wake of the entry of candidates such as Cruz, Paul, and Rubio into the race, something that the earlier  poll had not been able to fully register. It’s also significantly below  a Public Policy Polling poll conducted in mid-April that had Bush at twelve percent (12%), but again that poll could not fully register the impact of the entry of other candidates into the race. With these new numbers, Bush’s polling average in Iowa is now at 10.5%, which puts him behind Scott Walker and Mike Huckabee with both Rand Paul and Ted Cruz on his heels. This is a significant drop in a short period of time and doesn’t portend very well for Bush in the Hawkeye State.

This leads Chris Cillizza to suggest that Bush should consider skipping Iowa and focusing his attention on New Hampshire and Florida where he is likely to get a better reception:

John McCain did it in 2000. Hillary Clinton thought about doing it in 2008. Jeb Bush should do it in 2016.

The “it” here is skipping the Iowa presidential caucuses, the quadrennial kickoff of the nomination fight for both parties. And, for Jeb, it makes total sense.

Here’s why: He almost certainly can’t win in the state. So why try?

(…)

Sure, Iowa was once considered the state where presidential aspirations were made and broken. But can it really be described that way after the last two elections? Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee won the 2008 Iowa caucuses going away and parlayed that into … a distant third-place finish (he got 11 percent!) in the New Hampshire primary five days later. In 2012, the results in Iowa were so close that no one knew who won the caucuses for weeks.  Eventually it was determined that former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum had won.  But it never helped him much.

Less important even than how Huckabee and Santorum won Iowa is whythey won Iowa.  They won because they became the top choice of social conservatives who have come to increasingly dominate the caucuses over the past decade. In 2012, Iowa entrance polling showed that almost six in ten caucus-goers (57 percent) identified as “born again/evangelical.”  If the electorate in 2016 is even close to that heavily evangelical, Bush just isn’t going to win.

But what about Rudy Giuliani, you say!  Giuliani skipped Iowa in 2008 and was irrelevant in the nomination fight before he ever had a chance to be relevant.  Sure, sort of. Giuliani’s error in that campaign wasn’t skipping Iowa, which he was right to do for all the reasons I outlined that Bush should, but his totally bizarre and inexplicable decision to pull out of a very winnable New Hampshire primary to stake his claim to the nomination in Florida. You can’t wait until the fourth voting state to win (or even be competitive.) Youcan wait until the second state. (And yes, obviously Jeb needs to win New Hampshire if he skips Iowa. But doesn’t he have to win New Hampshire regardless of what happens in Iowa?)

Cillizza’s argument does have a certain logic to it. For one thing, Iowa has hardly been a harbinger of success on the Republican side in the thirty-eight years that its caucuses have been a regular part of the primary process. During that time period, the caucuses were held ten times, seven of which could be considered times when there was an actual contest rather than an incumbent President essentially running unopposed. Of those seven times, the candidate who won the Iowa Caucuses only won the Republican nomination three times (Ford in 1976, Dole in 1996, and George W. Bush in 2000) and of those three only one, George W. Bush was ultimately elected President. (Source) Mitt Romney came close to winning Iowa last time, but ultimately lost by a narrow margin to Rick Santorum. By contrast, of the same time period, the winner of the New Hampshire Primary has won the Republican nomination six times and has won the Presidency three times. (Source) To the extent that these contests are supposed to tell us anything about the relative strengths of the candidates, New Hampshire is far more reliable than Iowa, for what I would suggest are obvious reasons that go to the fundamental differences between primaries and caucuses. Given all of this, and for the reasons that Cillizza raises, the argument that Bush ought to consider either skipping Iowa altogether or at the very least not seriously contesting the state makes a lot of sense.

Some will argue that a candidate who starts talking about skipping primary or caucus states is already displaying a weakness that is likely to doom their campaign. Steven Taylor and Jonathan Bernstein both made that argument in connection with the decision by several Republican candidates to skip New Hampshire’s primary in 2012 to concentrate on the primary in South Carolina. As I noted at the time, though, there are times when it makes sense for candidates to skip states that they clearly don’t have much of a realistic shot in order to conserve both resources and political capital. Admittedly, skipping a contest as important as the New Hampshire primary is likely not a step toward electoral success, but that’s different from the argument that it does have a certain political logic to it. Ultimately, of course, none of the candidates that skipped New Hampshire in 2012 ended up winning the nomination, and indeed they were all basically out of the race before the Florida Primary if not sooner, but that would have happened whether they seriously contested New Hampshire or not, and in 2012 the fact that Mitt Romney was effectively  a “favorite son” in the Granite State made it almost foolish for a candidate with limited resources to take him on.

Bush’s calculus in Iowa is different than that faced by the candidates in 2012, but it’s not that different. If this current poll holds up, then it’s fairly clear that he’s got an uphill battle ahead of him if he goes full bore in Iowa. Given the fact that there will be a large number of candidates in the race at that point, and that the electorate in the Hawkeye State is not entirely sympathetic to Bush to begin with, that doesn’t necessarily make much sense. Sure, Bush could put millions into Iowa quite easily if he wanted to, but if he does that and walks away with anything other than a clear win then his campaign will be hobbled heading into the far more important contest in New Hampshire, and losing in New Hampshire would likely to be fatal to his campaign. It’s entirely possible that Bush’s numbers in Iowa will improve as the campaign goes on, but if this is any indication of what he’s facing there then making only a minimal investment at best in the Hawkeye State and concentrating resources in states that are far more important, like New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, and Florida. Bush may be reluctant to make this decision considering that his father won the Caucuses in 1980, and his brother won them in 2000, but these are different times.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds 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. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. JohnMcC says:

    Just for the record, polling in NHampshire shows Gov Walker with a consistent lead over Mr Bush. I suppose a corollary to not running in Iowa is having more quality time among the granite state voters. Still, I dunno. Mr Bush’s primary advantage at this point seems to be financial and New Hampshire has a reputation for being sort of impervious to that.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    I’ve been really surprised by the amount of negative feeling about Jeb within the GOP. He’s got a lot of money, but he could end up being this year’s Phil Gramm. I think Hillary wants Jeb and will do what she can to make that happen, but he has got a tough row to hoe looking at current numbers.

    If he skips Iowa he risks a sudden solidifying around Scott Walker or Rubio, and at the moment Walker is up 4.5 points in NH. Figure the Christie voters split three ways, I don’t see them all going to Bush. I expect the crazies will be split between Huckabee and Ted Cruz with Ben Carson and Rick Santorum and Johann Schmidt, Max Eisenhardt, Victor von Doom, etc… each taking one or two points.

    If he can’t take NH after passing on Iowa, Jeb’s in biiiig trouble. On the other hand, what if he lost Iowa and then lost New Hampshire? Even worse. He won’t get South Carolina. And by the time he gets to Florida he could lose it to Rubio.

    Damn. I love this stuff.

  3. al-Ameda says:

    I’;ve been of the opinion for years, that most candidates should avoid Iowa. Jeb does not need Iowa, only marginal ‘entertainment-value” Republican candidates need to go to Iowa.

  4. stonetools says:

    Maybe Jeb should just skip the 2016 election altogether. Too moderate for this crowd.

    I’ve been really surprised by the amount of negative feeling about Jeb within the GOP.

    You see , Mike you see Jeb as a sensible,rmoderate guy-someone whom a reasonable person just might vote for. That’s exactly why the conservative true believers hate him. I’m sure they doubt that he even wants to repeal Obamacare-and didn’t his father also once raise taxes? And, of course, there is his screw-up brother , who also wasn’t TRULY conservative…

  5. Scott says:

    The primaries are pretty far out there so all the candidates (and potential candidates) are being polite to each other. At some point, one of them will decide to break out of pack and start attacking. Then it will be a free-for-all. I think, for the Democrats, that the bloodletting would be better later than now. It should be amusing either way.

  6. Pinky says:

    Doug, this is why politics is getting boring for you. You believe the polls, and you’re treating the election as a fait accompli. There’s a lot of money, ads, debates, revelations, gaffes, and even some policy discussions between now and then.

  7. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Same comment I’ve been making for some time now on these crystal ball postings – the New Hampshire primary is 9 months away. Polling at this point is largely meaningless, but as long as we’re trying to read tea leaves, I’m still waiting on that info about next year’s World Series winner. My bookie isn’t going to wait forever …:-D

  8. Pinky says:

    @HarvardLaw92: I’ve been watching NFL predictions coming out for 2015, and they’re pretty much identical to last year’s final outcomes. It’s a lot like what Doug is doing. It allows for safe picks, and generally accurate, but it’s going to miss the storylines that make it interesting. Just as bad, doing so convinces the picker that he was correct (except for the odd turn that no one could have foreseen), which makes him feel even more bored.

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @HarvardLaw92: The Cards in a sweep.

  10. PD Shaw says:

    The comparables are how many Republicans won the Iowa caucus with these types of poll results less than a year out?

    George W polled 53% nationally among Republicans in mid April of 1999.
    Jeb is polling 15.5% according to the RCP average for mid April of 2015.

    Didn’t find Iowa Republican polls, which would be better. Certainly, Jeb is nowhere near where his brother was at this point in time. For kicks here were the national polls in mid April of 2007:

    Rudy Giuliani 35%, John McCain 22%, Fred Thompson 10%.

  11. PJ says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Polling at this point is largely meaningless, but as long as we’re trying to read tea leaves, I’m still waiting on that info about next year’s World Series winner.

    Next year? Having won in 2010, 2012, and 2014, the Giants are clearly going to win it all in 2016. Destiny demands it.

    ;D

  12. PD Shaw says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:”The Cards in a sweep.”

    Of course, they’ve won 76.9% of their games, more than any other team. A person who denies those numbers is simply a denialist. Oddly, the last time the St. Louis team started with this good of a record, they were named the Perfectos, and finished fifth that year. That was before advanced statistics informed how the game was played and decided. Right now, any team not in denial about numbers is figuring out when to fire their manager, how to plant PEDs on their most costly contract mistakes, and limit the playing time of hot young farm system talent to control their future contract years.

  13. PD Shaw says:

    @PJ: I see what you did there; superstition by addition. It’s math, so I’ll give it a pass.

  14. PJ says:

    @PD Shaw:

    Of course, they’ve won 76.9% of their games, more than any other team. A person who denies those numbers is simply a denialist.

    You seem to confusing this year with the next year. Whoever wins this year is shrouded in mystery. 😉 The Giants will not play in the post season though, it’s part of the sacrifice they have to make to win it all in 2016.

    I see what you did there; superstition by addition. It’s math, so I’ll give it a pass.

    No, it’s the greatest even year dynasty ever. (Statement has not been fact checked.)

    —–

    During that time period, the caucuses were held ten times, seven of which could be considered times when there was an actual contest rather than an incumbent President essentially running unopposed. Of those seven times, the candidate who won the Iowa Caucuses only won the Republican nomination three times (Ford in 1976, Dole in 1996, and George W. Bush in 2000) and of those three only one, George W. Bush was ultimately elected President.

    Clearly, whoever wants to be President among the GOP clown car primary hopefuls should refuse to even contest in the Iowa caucuses.

    Also, Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz should all give up since Republicans have never, ever picked someone who wasn’t white, non-Hispanic, and male.

  15. dmichael says:

    @michael reynolds: Why would Hillary want Jeb? Just because of the Bush baggage? Jeb has piles of money, can speak in complete sentences, can make inroads into the hispanic vote and is smart (enough) to avoid making condescending remarks about Hillary in public. Besides, he is on the “paleo diet” and in the battle of the bulge, might be able to slim down in contrast to tub of lard Chris Christie and porcine Mike Huckabee.

  16. superdestroyer says:

    For all the wonks and pundits who claim the Jeb Bush will be able to appeal to Democrats, how can a guy who cannot appeal to most Republican voters and who believes that U.S. citizens need to be replaced by third world immigrants appeal to Democrats?

  17. michael reynolds says:

    @dmichael:

    She wants Jeb because the biggest problem Hillary has is the weariness factor. We know her, she’s old news. Oooh, look something shiny and new. . . oh, no, it’s just old Jeb again. Clinton v. Bush looks good – people recall her husband’s administration fondly, but no one recalls Jeb’s brother fondly.

    Not to say she wouldn’t want one of the crazies, but she’s not going to get one of them, she’s going to get Jeb, Walker or Rubio among the current crop. Or some new candidate coming in. But it won’t be Cruz or one of the other complete nuts.

    If this election is a snooze-fest between Hillary and Jeb, Hillary wins. She has women, blacks, Hispanics, gays, white liberals, and, thanks to the madness of the GOP, she’ll get kids. She starts with the Obama 2012 map which means she starts with a 62 electoral vote edge. She can lose Florida, Ohio and Virginia and still win.

    I’m not saying it’s impossible for the GOP to win, but if we were playing for money I would sure as hell rather be holding Hillary’s hand.

  18. michael reynolds says:

    @superdestroyer:

    No one says he’ll appeal to Democrats. They think he may appeal to independents more than Romney, though I don’t really see why.

  19. DrDaveT says:

    @michael reynolds:

    no one recalls Jeb’s brother fondly

    Terrifyingly, this is not true. All too many people ‘recall’ (if you can use that word for nostalgia for a fictional past) Dubya’s tenure as the Golden Age before The Nameless One occupied the White House.

  20. Kylopod says:

    To the extent that these contests are supposed to tell us anything about the relative strengths of the candidates, New Hampshire is far more reliable than Iowa

    I think your criteria for what makes these contests important is too narrow. History suggests that what’s important about them is who beats the expectations game, not who comes out in first place.

    For example, in 1992 Bill Clinton lost by double-digits to Paul Tsongas, but his campaign spun it as a victory, calling him “the Comeback Kid.” The idea was that he did better than expected after a week of scandals that were supposed to sink him. What was amazing was that the media more or less accepted this narrative, which helped propel him to the nomination.

    Similarly, when McCain got clobbered in Iowa in 2008, it didn’t hurt him too badly since he was never expected to do well there. On the other hand, Romney was expected to win, and when he didn’t, it greatly damaged his campaign–which ultimately helped McCain since Romney was his leading rival for the nomination. (According to what I’ve read, when McCain called Huck to congratulate him on his Iowa victory, Huck told him, “Now it’s your turn to kick his butt.”)

    So you see, there’s more to these contests than literal electoral victory; it’s about who can gain an advantage in the expectations game, and who gets killed by it.

  21. Franklin says:

    If Jeb skips Iowa, would that hurt him there in the general election? (My logic being that Iowa is conceivably a battleground state, but if their voters’ feelings are hurt he would have no chance.)

  22. michael reynolds says:

    By the way, I write this:

    I expect the crazies will be split between Huckabee and Ted Cruz with Ben Carson and Rick Santorum and Johann Schmidt, Max Eisenhardt, Victor von Doom, etc…

    And nothing? What are you people, DC?

  23. Franklin says:

    @michael reynolds:

    What are you people, DC?

    What does DC stand for in this context? Diner’s Club? Dick Cheney? Dallas Cowboys?

  24. michael reynolds says:

    @Franklin:

    I hope that was facetious. I still remember my wife looking at me some years ago and in all tragic seriousness asking, “What’s an Iron Man?” I’ve never fully regained respect for her.

  25. Franklin says:

    Perhaps I should go quiet now. Really, I’m not a comic book guy so the difference between Marvel and DC is not something that occurred to me until thinking a little harder.

    I still find the story about your wife funny, though.