3 reasons why we have a love/hate relationship with political dynasties

A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows 69 percent of Americans say they would prefer that the Bush and Clinton political dynasties don't dominate the 2016 presidential race.

Americans really don't like dynasties, it would seem. Except that they do. In fact, they love them.


President George H.W. Bush and wife Barbara attend the premiere of HBO's new documentary on his life.(Charles Krupa/AP)

Every time talk turns to Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush running for president in 2016, the boo birds come out in force. Even former first lady Barbara Bush has said the United States needs to move past its history of voting for the same political names over and over again.

But the fact is that for everyone who professes to be disgusted with the idea of another Bush or another Clinton inhabiting the White House, there are many more people who are quite fond of the predictability and ease of voting for a name they know. They might not know how biased they are in favor of political dynasties and might claim to be finished with them, but it's more of an abstract, cathartic feeling than something that translates into actual voting.

Case in point: The new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The poll shows both the Bush and Clinton political dynasties are viewed in quite positive lights, though the Clinton family reigns superior for now. While 64 percent of registered voters have a favorable view of the Clinton family, 56 percent say the same about the Bushes.

And in an age in which it's hard to get a majority of Americans to agree on anything and especially any politician, that level of support is striking.

Even among partisans, there's quite a bit of admiration for the other side's leading political dynasty. Thirty-three percent of Democrats like the Bush family, while 36 percent of Republicans -- and even 48 percent of self-described conservatives! -- profess admiration for the Clintons.

The numbers for the Bush family, in particular, are striking, given George W. Bush left office on such bad terms and his dad, George H.W. Bush, lost reelection in 1992. While polls show Bill Clinton's presidency is remembered fondly and Hillary Clinton was a popular secretary of state, the Bushes' recent political history isn't exactly the stuff of a beloved dynasty.

So why do Americans love dynasties, even as they say they hate them?

1) Voters are significantly inclined, when in doubt, to vote for the name they know

This is why, in the absence of a well-funded challenger, congressional incumbents are often reelected in numbers significantly more favorable to their party than the overall makeup of their districts. When people don't know the other guy/gal, they are much more likely to just vote the incumbent back into office. After all, the devil you know is better than the devil you don't.

(This appears -- on the surface -- to be changing somewhat, with Americans who are skeptical of Congress starting to profess the idea that their own member is part of the problem too. But to this day, very few incumbents actually face serious challenges, even in modestly competitive districts. And the idea that Americans will vote out incumbents of both parties en masse is far-fetched, to say the least.)

2) A famous name is a great way to get your foot in the door

Building a political career often involves rising from low-level state or local office to the big show. But when your family has been cultivating political (and financial) ties statewide or nationwide for years or decades, the barrier to entry is much lower.


This is a big reason why, as Christopher Ingraham notes over at Wonkblog, Congress is chock full of members who just happen to be related to former members. The moment a Kennedy announces a campaign in Massachusetts (see: Kennedy, Joe III) or a Bush in Texas (see: Bush, George P.) they will immediately be taken seriously.

3) Political dynasties get better with age

The tendency for nostalgia in American politics is quite strong. Almost every president who leaves office sees his personal image numbers -- and by extension, his name -- gradually get better regarded as the years pass.

As noted above, the Bush name was deeply unpopular in 2008. Yet today, Americans are about evenly split even when it comes to the once-historically unpopular George W. Bush, and they're even more fond of the Bush name generally.


George H.W. Bush faced some tough times in office too. Today, he's the smiling 89-year old who wears colorful socks and is friends with the man who beat him, Bill Clinton. And even when his son's presidency was stumbling badly in its second term, 62 percent of Americans said they still liked the senior Bush.

People, quite simply, are much more likely to forget the bad things and remember the good things about a political family.

So Americans can complain all they want about political dynasties; they're going to keep voting for them -- over and over again.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix, the Post’s top political blog.
SECTION: {section=politics, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Comments
SECTION: {section=politics, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Show Comments
Next Story
Katie Zezima | April 30