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The dumbest question in presidential polling

Rand Paul is planning to run  for president. This is perhaps the worst-kept secret in Washington.

But a poll released by the New York Times and the Kaiser Family Foundation last week showed his own constituents aren't necessarily on-board. Just 31 percent of Kentuckians said they would urge Paul to run for the White House, while 34 percent don't.

The headlines were predictable:

Poll: Kentucky voters split on Rand Paul for president
Kentucky divided over Rand Paul 2016 bid
Kentucky voters unsure of Paul for 2016

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) speaks in front of U.S. District Court on Feb. 12 to announce the filing of a class action lawsuit against the Obama administration and its health-care law. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The impression that's left: Paul might be a rising national GOP star, but the people who know him best aren't sold that he should be the next president or that he should even attempt to be.

Except that this finding means next to nothing. In context, Paul's numbers are about as surprising as the sky being blue. That's because basically every poll these days that asks this question comes up with a negative response.

North Carolina lawyer and political blogger Brandon White recently ran the numbers on a bevy of politicians who had a similar poll conducted on them. Here's what he found (J/A=job approval/disapproval):




You'll notice that very few politicians over the past quarter-century have had even a plurality of their home-state voters wanting them to run for president (these are the red ones), and there are only two -- TWO! -- since 2006 who have enjoyed this distinction.

Even well-liked politicians at the height of their popularity -- Hillary Clinton, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) among them -- don't have their constituents thrilled at the idea of running for president. As White notes, even President Obama's home-state voters in Illinois opposed the idea of him running in 2006, with just 25 percent encouraging him to do so and 38 percent opposing the idea, according to one poll.

Obama went on to win his state by 32 points in the primary and 25 points in the general election.

Why the disconnect? Frankly, when home-state voters are asked about their favorite son/daughter running for president, their first reaction is typically: "Him!?" (Or "Her!?") People don't tend to regard their own pols as presidential timbre, even when they are quite fond of them personally.

Very few political figures are seen as being presidential until they actually run for or become president. And sometimes it takes even a while longer. (You'll note that two of the seven politicians whose states wanted them to run for president were the son of a president -- George W. Bush -- and the wife of one -- Clinton.)

It does not mean that they don't like those politicians or won't vote for them; just that they can't yet see them as President of the United States.

And as Obama's example showed, that can change in a hurry.


Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.



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