The Early Signs of Whom The Next U.S. President Will Likely Be

Presidential Polls Look Confusing Regarding Bernie, But Downright Bad Regarding Hillary & All Republicans

Eric Zuesse

The top thing that I look for in polling-results this early in a Presidential race, is the ratio of “Favorable” or “Positive,” to “Unfavorable” or “Negative” ratings, regarding each candidate. These ratings tap into the public’s sentiments concerning each individual candidate, instead of into mere name-recognition; and they’re also not comparing the candidates with each other, which most voters at so early a stage in the Presidential contest can’t yet do in any reliable way. When respondents are being permitted to indicate not just their pro-or-con direction but also the strength of their feelings regarding the given candidates, then the most meaningful ratio is produced. 

One such poll was just issued: On May 11th, the GWU “GWBattleground” poll was published, and it offered its 1,000 respondents both the favorable-unfavorable, and also the degree-or-intensity, parameters; and, so, it can provide an unusually reliable indication, at such an early date, concerning whom the serious contenders will likely turn out to be when this contest matures.

Here, then, are the results, in this poll, for each of the following candidates:

Clinton: Strong Favorable = 27%, Strong Unfavorable = 39%

Biden: 14%, 32%

O’Malley: 1%, 6%

Warren: 14%, 13%

Bush: 8%, 30%

Cruz: 8%, 25%

Walker: 11%, 15%

Rubio: 11%, 19%

Paul: 10%, 18%

Huckabee: 12%, 20%

Fiorina: 3%, 10%

This sampling was done in the days right after Sanders had entered the Presidential contest on the Democratic side and before it was known that Warren wouldn’t be running; and, apparently, the organizers of this poll didn’t yet have enough time to scratch Warren and replace her with Sanders on their list to be sampled. Sanders will be the progressive candidate to run against Clinton; Warren won’t. 

On the Republican side, Carson — who is running to become the first Black to receive the Republican Presidential nomination, like Herman Cain was in 2012, and who, also similarly to Cain, has never held any elective federal office — was also not listed on this questionnaire. Perhaps the presumption there was that Carson is merely another Cain.

Now, let’s examine more closely these findings:

The only candidate who had a positive ratio, a ratio of more than 1 instead of less than 1 — that is, had more “Strong Favorable” than “Strong Unfavorable” ratings — was Warren, who was also the only progressive on the list; and yet even her  ratio was only just barely positive, 14%/13% or 1.08. The second-scoring candidate was Walker, whose 11%/15% ratio is .73. The only Democrats on this list other than Warren were Clinton, whose 27%/39% ratio is .69; and Biden, whose 14%/32% ratio is .44; and O’Malley, whose 1%/6% ratio is .17.

Why, then, did Warren outperform all others in this poll? It can’t be on account of whom the competition is, because these ratios aren’t actually about the competition for any given candidate; they’re only about the respondents’ positive versus negative feelings toward each one of the individual candidates

So: here are the key data that might explain Warren’s topping this poll:

On 28 December 2011, Pew’s headlined “A Political Rhetoric Test,” which repeated a 2010 Pew survey and found the same thing as their earlier one had found — that the most-popular ideological category in the United States is “Progressive.” The positive/negative rating on that 2011 poll was 67%/22%, or 3.05.

Next was “Conservative,” at 62%/30%, or 2.07.

Next was “Liberal,” at 50%/39%, or 1.28.

Next was “Libertarian, at 38%/37%, or 1.03.

They also sampled “Socialism,” which turned out to be the least-popular of the tested “Political Terms,” at 31%/60%, or .52. (Perhaps lots of respondents thought it meant “communism,” a hold-over from the cold war.)

They also sampled “Capitalism,” to compare it against “Socialism,” and they found it to score at 50%/40%, or 1.25, much more popular than “Socialism,” but not nearly as popular as “Conservative” at 2.07, and vastly less popular than “Progressive” was, at 3.05.

Whereas Bernie Sanders, who entered the Presidential race on April 30th, wasn’t listed, he is one of the three progressives in the U.S. Senate, along with Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown. The expectation has long been that one of those three would probably enter the contest to provide an alternative to the conservative and mainstream Democrats, Hillary Clinton and the other or others; and Sanders has turned out to be that progressive. Does this mean he would have scored positively, as Warren did, if his name were polled? Not necessarily, and here is why:

Sanders has, throughout his career, self-identified both as “progressive” and as “socialist,” which means as both the most-favored and the most-disfavored of all the ideological categories tested. He has always made clear that he favors “democratic socialism, such as in Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Denmark,” and not “dictatorial socialism, or communism, such as in the Soviet Union or Cuba,” but, during the next year, as he is contesting in Democratic primaries, will Democrats see him as representing the type of government that northern Europe has; or, instead, the type of government that the Soviet Union had? If they see him as being the former, then he’ll probably win the Democratic nomination; if the latter, then one of the regular Democrats will. His entire voting-record in the Senate, and in the House before that, has, in fact, been “socialist” in the sense of progressives such as Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown, and of Social Democrats in the European tradition, which is dominant in northern Europe. But Sanders has chosen to identify himself as a “socialist,” not only as a “progressive”; and each voter will need to determine for him or her self what that means, regarding him. Sanders has laid that term, “socialism,” before the public, whether he should or not, and now he’ll have to deal with that — a matter of educating the public about basic ideology, if he can do that.

None of what has been said here encompasses possible outright blunders that any one of the candidates might make, or has made, such as when Jeb Bush on Fox News this week on Monday May 11th, was asked whether, if he were President, knowing everything that is known today, would he have invaded Iraq as his brother did in 2003, and he said yes. So, already, Bush — who had scored only 8%/30%, or .27, even before that disqualifying remark — is virtually dead in the water. Clinton won’t make that blunder, because, whereas the pressure on Republican candidates is for them to endorse George W. Bush, the pressure on Democratic ones is for them not to, but instead to endorse Barack Obama, who always opposed that invasion. But she voted for the invasion of Iraq while she was in the Senate, and Sanders voted against it then when he was in the House. Those votes could determine who wins the Democratic nomination, and even the Presidency. (Of course, if Clinton becomes the candidate, then she won’t be using that argument against the Republican, because she won’t want to remind voters that she had voted with virtually all Republicans on that. Sanders won’t have that weakness if he gets to the general election; he’ll instead be able to rip the Republican nominee to shreds on the matter of the Iraq-invasion.)

As the Wall Street Journal put it, on 15 October 2014, reporting what is still the most recent poll on the subject, “Americans in record numbers say the Iraq war was not worth it. A full two-thirds (66%) of those surveyed said that conflict wasn’t worth fighting. Even Republicans who say they are voting for a more robust response to the Middle East militants say the war wasn’t worth it, 49% to 41% who say it was worth it.” So: Jeb Bush simply stuck his foot down the throats of even Republicans there; and, among the general electorate (which is what he’d need to convince if Jeb were to win the Republican nomination), that ratio is actually 26% saying “Worth it,” and 66% saying “Not worth it.” That’s not really “two-thirds” like the WSJ said; it’s instead 66%/92%, or 72%, of those who had an opinion on the matter. Only 28% of those who have an opinion are with Jeb on it. So, if Republicans were so stupid as to give Bush their nomination, they’d probably be thereby handing the White House to whomever the Democrats would nominate, even if it were to turn out to be someone who had voted for that war, like Hillary Clinton, because no Democrat is under any pressure to support today that invasion in 2003. Whereas Jeb says that the invasion was the right thing to have done, no Democrat, in retrospect, is saying any such thing. However, Hillary, unlike Bernie, won’t be in the position of being able to raise the issue in attacking the Republican nominee. This is another reason why Sanders would probably be able to crush any Republican except perhaps Rand Paul, if he were to win the Democratic primaries.


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity, and of Feudalism, Fascism, Libertarianism and Economics.

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  • JWebb

    America already has, and has had for over a hundred years, successful social programs. Public schools and roads, SOCIAL Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.

    • Beast from Jekyll Island

      Successful in what sense? Certainly not in any fiscally responsible sense. And roads are not a “social program”, moron.

      • shaun h

        Successful as in POPULAR, which is what elections measure. 😀

  • Lobcock

    Eric, I appreciate your work and enjoyed the analysis. In politics, I usually rely on the odds put out by British betting parlors, as they tend to be pretty accurate, especially when there is a gap between the candidates. For example, both of Obama’s Hopium Crusades were done as a prohibitive favorite of 2 to 5, while McCain and Romney were no better than 7/5, with the numerator being the return and denominator being the investment. Hillary has been 4/5 for over a year, the same odds for a democrat victory. Republicans are 6/5, and the favorites are Bush (2-1), Walker and Rubio at 4-1, Paul at 8-1, Cruz at 12-1, and Huckabee and Christie at 16-1.
    Clinton is a heavy fav for the Dems at 2-5, like Obama was. Warren is still 8-1, O’Malley ranges from 12-1 up to 30-1, Gillibrand, Webb, and Cuomo are all 25 to 35 to 1, while Bernie Sanders has a couple of 12-1 listings, but most are 50-1. Biden has been hanging around 15-1, but those odds are clearly premised upon a contingency, I.e., death or removal of Obama from office.
    In the general election, Clinton is 11-10, Bush 5-1, Rubio and Walker at 12-1, and Paul and Warren at 15-1.
    After the primaries, it wiil likely be Clinton at 4/5 and Bush at no better than 6/5.

    The one curious option is gender of winner. Male ranges from 4/6 to 3/4, while a female winner is only even money, 1-1. This could reflect the superior number of male candidates or a lingering doubt whether America is ready for an elderly female over a male of any age or race.
    Put another way, Americans still go to McDonalds, and look over the chicken/salad menu, before buying the big Mac and fries. Anyway one looks at it, though, makes clear the candidates of the oligarchs outflank the candidates of “the People.”
    While this may seem “unfair,” it is how republican government is designed to operate, as was made clear in Federalist 35.

    • Lobcock

      And here is that excerpt from No. 35:

      For Good Reasons, the House of Representatives Will Never Include Citizens from Every Class.

      We often hear the House of Representatives is insufficiently numerous to receive all the different classes of citizens. Those who would increase its size – or require representatives from every class – believe the interests and feelings of every part of the community should be combined, thereby producing a due sympathy between the representative body and its constituents.

      This argument is seductive initially but ultimately specious. It is well calculated to lay hold of the prejudices of those to whom it is addressed. If one dissects the argument, it vanishes into nothing but fair sounding words.

      To begin with, all that can be reasonably meant by a knowledge of the interests and feelings of the People is an acquaintance with the general genius, habits, and modes of thinking of the citizenry at large, and with the resources of the country. In any other sense the proposition has no meaning at all, or an absurd one.

      Freedom of electoral choice naturally leads to the selection of landholders, merchants, and those of the learned professions to representative assemblies, with too few exceptions to have any influence on the spirit of the government.

      The idea that all classes of the People should be represented in the House of Representatives by actual members from each of the classes is altogether visionary. For one thing, it would never take place in practice, unless the Constitution expressly required it.

      Its object also is impracticable, for it is impossible to construct or enforce a plan to require a representative from each of the classes.

      Merchants Are Natural Representatives of their Own Class, and of the Manufacturing and Mechanical Arts as well.

      As for the noble goal of a due sympathy between the represented and the representative, the composition of popular assemblies always tends toward the merchant by the natural choice of those lesser arts.

      Mechanics and manufacturers will almost always be inclined to give their votes to merchants rather than persons of their own professions or trades. Mechanics and manufacturers furnish the materials of mercantile enterprise and industry. Many are immediately connected with the operations of commerce. They know the merchant is their natural patron and friend, and will more effectually promote their interests than they would themselves. And in a deliberative assembly, the talents of the mechanic and manufacturer are little in demand.

      The arguments of merchants carry more weight and influence, rendering them more equal in a contest should any spirit unfriendly to their interests infuse itself into the public councils. Our own experience confirms that both artisans and manufacturers commonly bestow their votes upon merchants and those whom they recommend. We must therefore consider merchants as the natural representatives of all these classes of the community.

      The Landed Interest Will Represent All Landholders.

      The landed interest will be perfectly united from the wealthiest landlord to the poorest tenant, particularly in relation to taxes. Any tax laid on land affects the proprietor of millions of acres down to the proprietor of one. Since common interest is the surest bond of sympathy, every landholder desires to keep the taxes on land as low as possible. Even if we suppose the interests the opulent landholder and the middling farmer are distinct, is there any reason to conclude one would stand a better chance than the other of being elected to the Congress? If we look at the legislature of New York, moderate proprietors of land prevail in both its assembly and senate. Those inspiring the greatest confidence naturally receive the most votes, whether they be individuals of large fortunes, moderate property, or no property at all.

      Those of the Learned Professions Will Be Elected According to their Skills.

      All that remain are members of the learned professions, who truly form no distinct interest in society. They will have confidence in and be the choice of each other – and the community – according to their situation and talents.

      Requiring Representatives from Every Class Is Unnecessary, for the Most Likely to Be Elected Will Best Serve the Nation’s Interests.

      The argument in favor of a system or quota to diversify representation of the various classes in Congress assumes in error that merchants, landholders and the learned professions will not understand or attend to the feelings and interests of the community.

      Where is the danger that the interests and feelings of the different classes of citizens will not be understood or attended to by these classes of likely representatives, landholders, and the learned professions?

      Will not the landholder know and feel whatever will promote or insure the interest of landed property? The landholder is imbued with a self-interest prone to resist every attempt to prejudice or encumber that species of property. The merchant, too, will be disposed to understand and cultivate the interests of the mechanic and manufacturing arts, for their commerce is closely allied. And those representatives drawn from the learned professions will likely prove themselves impartial arbiters of the rivalships among industries, standing ready to promote one or the other as shall appear conducive to the general interests of society.

      The individual whose situation leads to extensive inquiry and information is more likely to be a competent judge of the nature, extent, and foundation of the momentary humors and dispositions prevailing in particular parts of the society than one whose observation travels not beyond the circle of neighbors and acquaintances. A candidate for the favor of the People depends upon the votes of fellow-citizens for election to and continuance in office. Such an individual naturally takes care to become informed of the dispositions and inclinations of the citizens, and allows them their proper degree of influence upon his or her conduct. This dependence of the representative upon the constituent – plus their mutual obligation to obey the laws to which the representative gives assent – are the only true and strong chords of sympathy between the electors and the elected.

      Proper Administration of the Federal Power to Tax Demands that Representatives Be Chosen from the Citizenry at Large.

      Finally, no part of the administration of government requires more extensive information and thorough knowledge of the principles of political economy than the business of taxation. The representative who understands that the most productive system of finance is the least burdensome will be the least likely to resort to oppressive expedients or to sacrifice any particular class of citizens to the procurement of revenue. Such individuals are more likely to be drawn from citizenry at large than from a particular class or group.

      For a discussion of the related objection based upon the supposedly insufficient number of members in the House or Representatives, I direct the reader to No. 54.


    • cettel

      Those odds are based largely on each contestant’s name-recognition, and other factors which really aren’t good predictors. As for Obama’s having been a “prohibitive favorite” to beat both McCain and Romney, that didn’t require much insight, and I was predicting as soon as Obama announced his candidacy in February 2007 that he’d beat Hillary and then go on to win the White House against anyone the Republicans would put up. Everything he did thereafter convinced me all the more that his political skills dwarfed those of all his competitors. For a long time, odds-makers favored Hillary over Obama. I would have made lots of money betting political contests, but I don’t gamble. But, if I did, I’d be betting right now on Bernie. The biggest chance to stop him will be keeping him off some states’ ballots. But I don’t think he’s so stupid as to not have planned carefully in advance for that possibility. But if he is, then there will be nothing to stop America’s march into outright fascism, because that’s what each of the other candidates represents.

      • Beast from Jekyll Island

        Obama’s “political skills”? Progtards “stopping” the march into fascism? Stop, your killing me with laughter.

  • mikep

    “On the Republican side, Carson — who is running to
    become the first Black to receive the Republican Presidential
    nomination, like Herman Cain was in 2012, and who, also similarly to
    Cain, has never held any elective federal office”

    Well, historically, holding an elective federal office is a HUGE handicap to a presidential candidate. There is a long tradition in American presidential politics of electing presidents who came up through state governments and never held any federal office whatosever. To name some examples from recent times: Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. It’s a very, very strong trend. The American people strongly prefer ex-governors as their presidents, as with all four of these. US Senators always run, and the media always focuses on them, but they hardly ever win. Only 3 in US history: Harding, Kennedy, Obama. As opposed to dozens of ex-governors. And name recognition also doesn’t matter much. Nobody’d ever heard of Carter, Clinton or George W. before they ran. They had like 1% name recognition at the beginning of the year they won.

  • Have you applied the Favorable/Unfavorable metric to past elections to see how the results correlated to eventual outcomes? I am DESPERATELY interested to see if there’s a positive correlation.

  • amikema