A new series of polls has confirmed the obvious when it comes to a presidential contest still more than two long years from its climax: Hillary Clinton is routing the field among Democrats, and Republican voters are all over the map when it comes to their favorite candidate.
Yet in the key states of Iowa and New Hampshire — not only the first states to cast votes early in the year but also usually among the most contested states in the fall — the general election match-ups between Clinton and several Republicans are too close to call.
The results, in an NBC News/Marist Poll, spread good news to just about everyone except Vice President Joe Biden, the sole other Democrat measured, who was viewed far less favorably than Clinton among both Democrats and voters overall.
The caveat, of course, is that it’s laughably early in the 2016 race. In a roughly equivalent national poll in 2006, Marist found Republican voters siding with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani; eventual 2008 nominee John McCain was well behind in third place. On the Democratic side, Clinton easily outdistanced former Vice President Al Gore and others. President Obama, the eventual nominee, wasn’t even listed.
With that in mind, the latest poll at the very least explains why the contours of the Democratic and Republican races are so different at this point.
Democrats have been waiting for Clinton to declare her intentions, and she has resisted, saying she will not do so until after November’s elections. There’s no real strategic need to do so any sooner, since becoming a candidate tends to harden partisan reactions and would be likely to drive Clinton’s poll numbers down. And the poll illustrates that there’s also no political need to do so at the moment, since her present position is so strong.
In Iowa, Clinton bested Biden 70%-20%; in New Hampshire she was slightly stronger at 74%-18%.
Among Iowa’s Democratic voters, 89% had a favorable view of Clinton, and 72% felt positively about Biden. New Hampshire was again more positively disposed to Clinton, with 94% of its Democrats holding a favorable view of her, to 79% feeling upbeat about Biden. (Both were far less popular when it came to the views of all voters, but again Clinton fared far better than Biden).
The early clarity on the Democratic side was precisely the opposite of the Republican mish-mash, which helps to explain why, even at this early date, potential Republican candidates are fighting each other so fiercely and so personally.
In Iowa, nine potential Republican candidates were bunched with between 5% and 12% of the vote. In New Hampshire, 10 were bunched between 3% and 14% of the vote. In both states, the winning percentage was “undecided,” with at least 20% of the vote.
There were some slight differences between the states. In New Hampshire, three candidates were in double digits. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul was first among the potential candidates at 14%, with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at 13% and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 10%. (Statistically a dead heat).
In Iowa, likewise a statistical tie, Bush and Paul were at 12%, with Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the 2012 vice presidential nominee, at 11%. Christie, who was campaigning in Iowa on Thursday in his guise as head of the Republican Governors Assn., was at 8%.
Few differences arose among the tightly packed candidates; an exception was Paul, who did slightly better in both states among voters who described themselves as “very conservative” and slightly worse among moderates, who gravitated to Christie.
Paul, who has been conducting his not-quite-official campaign for president for months now, was the Republican seen most positively by party voters in both states — 71% of Republicans in New Hampshire and 66% in Iowa said they viewed him favorably.
The candidate facing the most negative views was Christie: 31% of Republican New Hampshire voters and 33% of the GOP's Iowa voters said they had an unfavorable view of him. (The reasons were not explained; Christie has been fighting investigations into his administration’s creation of a mass traffic jam last year, and he has come under fire by Republicans for some of his more moderate positions, as well.)
But were he to convince Republicans to side with him, he would remain in fairly good shape against Clinton.
In Iowa, hypothetical general election match-ups had Clinton tied with Paul at 45% each, and at 44% to Christie’s 43%. In New Hampshire, positive territory for the Clintons since Bill Clinton’s 1992 race, the former First Lady was narrowly ahead of Paul, with 46% to his 43%, and ahead of Christie and Bush as well, 47%-42%.
Clinton outdistanced the other candidates in both states; a key element for Republicans who did better against Clinton was a stronger affinity to them among independent voters.
A full rundown of the results:
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