After five months of forums, fundraising appearances and trips to the early states, the 2016 Republican nomination contest is as unsettled as ever, with no candidate receiving more than 11 percent support and seven candidates all within three points of one another, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Meanwhile, Hillary Rodham Clinton continues to dominate the Democratic nomination contest. But her personal attributes continue to erode in the wake of stories about fundraising practices at the Clinton Foundation and her use of a personal e-mail server while at the State Department.
Clinton’s favorability ratings are the lowest in a Post-ABC poll since April 2008, when she was running for president the first time. Today, 41 percent of Americans say she is honest and trustworthy, compared with 52 percent who say she is not — a 22-point swing in the past year.
With the first Republican debate two months away and criteria for participation determined by standing in national polls, the GOP’s quandary in having such a large field becomes increasingly clear. Both Fox News and CNN, which will host the first two debates, have said they will pick the top 10 candidates for their primary debate programs based on an average of national polls.
At this point, the Post-ABC poll finds the Republican field is largely a muddled mass, underscoring just how wide open the race continues to be and foreshadowing likely movement among the candidates as voters get to know them better.
Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky top the list at 11 percent each among Republicans and Republican-leaning independent registered voters. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida are at 10 percent each. All others among the 16 candidates tested are in single digits.
Given that the margin of error is plus or minus six percentage points for questions about the state of the Republican nomination contest, it is easy to see why candidates in single digits may feel little discouragement about their standing, while those at the top are anything but secure. But absent participation in the summer and fall debates, rising up soon will probably depend on money and paid media.
The current poll looks different than the last Post-ABC survey of the Republican field, in late March. Bush stood at 21 percent then and held a lead of eight points over his nearest rival, Walker. In the intervening time, as more candidates have formally launched campaigns, Bush’s support has been cut in half. Whether that is a temporary condition or indicative of deeper problems for his candidacy is not clear.
Bush has not formally declared for president and continues to stockpile money into a super PAC, which he will be legally limited from interacting with once he announces. Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” the former governor said “I hope I run” but insisted he had not made up his mind. That raised eyebrows, given how energetic he has been not only in fundraising but in campaigning around the country and hiring staff at a rapid pace.
Beyond the four Republicans in double digits, the next six in order are former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, former surgeon Ben Carson, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and businessman Donald Trump.
Those not making the top 10 in this survey include Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former businesswoman Carly Fiorina, former Texas governor Rick Perry (who will announce his candidacy this week), Sen. Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina (who declared his candidacy on Monday), former New York governor George Pataki and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (who registered less than 1 percent).
Although the field is tightly bunched, there are some clear signs of the ideological and demographic appeal of individual candidates. Bush, Paul and Rubio appear to appeal about equally to men and women. Walker’s support is greater among men than women.
Ideologically, Bush’s support is greater among Republican-leaning voters who say they are “somewhat conservative” or “moderate.” His support among those who say they are “very conservative” is minimal. Paul’s is similarly structured, although he does better than Bush among the most conservative.
The two favorites among those who say they are very conservative are Cruz and Carson. Walker and Rubio appeal more broadly across the ideological spectrum, though their support tilts to the right rather than the center.
Another way to measure Republicans’ standing is by looking at whether people view them positively or negatively. Three Republicans — Huckabee, Bush and Rubio — have favorability ratings of slightly more than 50 percent among self-identified Republicans. But Bush’s net favorability rating — positive minus negative — is only fifth best out of nine Republicans tested, trailing Rubio, Huckabee, Walker and Cruz.
Trump has by far the worst image among Republicans, with 23 percent rating him positively and 65 percent negatively. The only other Republican with a net negative image among fellow partisans is Christie, who is seen positively by 35 percent and negatively by 38 percent.
Rubio’s profile is the best in the GOP field, at 53 percent favorable and 16 percent unfavorable. The senator from Florida is also the only candidate tested who has a net positive rating among independents and who is not in the negative among the overall population.
Clinton’s favorability rating has fallen steadily since she left the Obama administration in early 2013. Today, 45 percent see her positively while 49 percent see her negatively. That compares with ratings of 49 percent and 46 percent two months ago. Just 24 percent have a strongly favorable impression of her — down six points in the past two months — while 39 percent have a strongly unfavorable impression, up four points.
The decline in Clinton’s ratings as a candidate who is honest and trustworthy highlights a likely vulnerability as a general-election candidate. Half of all Americans disapprove of the way she has handled questions about the Clinton Foundation, and 55 percent disapprove of how she has handled questions about her personal e-mails as secretary of state.
Meanwhile, half also disapprove of the way she has dealt with questions about the attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012, that resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
Majorities see the issues of the Clinton Foundation and Benghazi as fair game in the presidential election, while almost half of Americans say the e-mail issue is a legitimate topic.
The survey tested Clinton against Bush in a possible general-election matchup. Among registered voters, she led 47 percent to 44 percent, within the poll’s four-point error margin among voters. Two months ago, she had a 12-point lead over Bush in that hypothetical ballot test. When asked to predict who would win such a contest, however, 55 percent predicted Clinton and 39 percent said Bush.
Bush fares better than Clinton on the question of trust and honesty, with 45 percent rating him as honest and trustworthy and 40 percent saying he is not. But Clinton does better on the question of who appears to be empathetic with average people. Clinton’s rating is slightly net positive, while Bush’s is net negative by 20 points.
The latest Post-ABC poll was conducted by telephone Thursday through Sunday among a random national sample of 1,001 adults, including users of land-line and cellular phones. The margin of sampling error for overall results is 3.5 percentage points. The error margin is four points for the sample of 836 registered voters and six points each among the samples of 362 registered Republicans and GOP-leaning independents and 376 registered Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents.
Scott Clement contributed to this report.