Presidential polls taken years before the first primary are predictive of nothing. However, they do tell us something about current voter sentiment. Looking at The Post-ABC News poll, we can see the relative popularity of mainstream vs. hard-right candidates and of pro- and anti-immigration reform advocates.
The top three candidates among GOP contenders collectively have 51 percent support. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin (20 percent), former Florida governor Jeb Bush (18 percent) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (13 percent) are all widely popular among mainstream Republicans. By contrast, tea party favorites Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Ted Cruz (Tex.) have 12 percent and 11 percent support, respectively. Even if you add in the 10 percent for Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), who lost his support among the hard-core right over immigration, the mainstream establishment candidates outweigh the tea partyers 51 percent to 33 percent.
This is in keeping with our view that the far right’s views and support are given disproportionate weight in both the mainstream and conservative media. They may be intense, but they are a minority of the GOP. (This is one reason mainstream nominees such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney win despite skepticism from the far right.) It is best, of course, to have support from all factions of the party. Ryan comes in second behind Cruz among strong tea party supporters but leads among moderates in the party. He winds up the leader overall. I strongly suspect that although he is less well known, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker would pull strongly from a cross-section of the party.
Consider also those candidates who are pro- and anti-immigration. Here the contrast is even greater. Ryan, Bush, Christie and Rubio all strongly favor immigration reform. They garner support from 61 percent of Republicans. Even Paul says he is in favor of legalization, although can never bring himself to vote for a bill. Standing alone against immigration reform is Cruz (11 percent).
More than a few words of caution are in order. A number of probable contenders (Walker, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee) were not included. It is noteworthy that they all have expressed support for some form of comprehensive immigration reform bill.
Likewise, some of the listed contenders won’t run. Bush is perhaps the most likely not to run, followed by Ryan (who seems focused on the House). It is important to think about where the “Bush voters” or the “Ryan voters” will go. When it comes to handicapping the primary race, who doesn’t run is as important as who does.
And, finally, we’ve looked at the candidates ideologically and through the prism of the immigration issue, but even among more ideological voters who cast ballots in the primary, non-ideological factors (leadership, electability, etc.) play a critical role.
Again, none of this has much to do with how things will stand a year or two years from now. It does however remind us that both the far-right and the anti-immigration forces are loud but not dominate in the GOP.