One of the ego-killing aspects of academia is realizing that one's skills are not necessarily highly valued in other "industries." In my case the nearest I have to a marketable skill in the Real World is a good command of polling methodology and the psychology of survey response. I know my stuff in that area. Even so, it never fails to amaze me how much I don't know. For instance, I have no real clue (and I'm not alone here) how to poll usefully a 17-way race. Rarely is that necessary in American politics. Rarely, as 2016 is demonstrating, is different from Never.

I have to be very honest here regarding the Republican nomination: I haven't the slightest idea right now who's going to win. Look at these recent numbers via


As always it is advisable to be very leery of any poll in which "Don't Know" or "Unsure" is kicking the asses of the actual candidates. That's a reminder that a lot of people haven't started paying attention to this election yet (and who can blame them, being 15 months out). More amusingly, note that 13 (!!!) of the candidates are polling less than the margin of error of +/-5.3% in this poll. That means that despite the length of this list of options, only the top four have a level of support statistically distinguishable from zero with any confidence. The handful of candidates at 1% or zero are getting a very strong "Don't waste your time and money" signal here, although I'm sure they're busy telling themselves right now that all 30% of respondents who are Unsure will go for Bobby Jindal once the race heats up. Good luck with that.

There is an old saying in football that if you have three quarterbacks, you have no quarterback. That is, if your group of QBs does not have one person good enough to stand out above the others, what you really have is three pretty lousy players. Competition can be good for the parties, but looking over this list of knaves and has-beens gives me the sense that the saying applies here as well. If you have 17 candidates, you don't have a candidate. The fact that every one of these knuckleheads can look at the field and legitimately conclude "Hey, I could win this thing!" should be terrifying the GOP right now. With Joe Biden unlikely to run (and unlikely to do well were he to ill-advisedly choose to do so) the Democratic field is shaping up to be a classic two-way race not entirely unlike the 2008 nomination contest. It doesn't guarantee a general election victory but it certainly speaks to the strength of the frontrunning candidate in the Democratic field that not every Tom, Dick, and Harry in the party is saying "Why the hell not?" and throwing his hat in the ring.

45 thoughts on “ROYAL RUMBLE”

  • Maybe the Australian preferential voting system would be the pollster's friend here: have all respondents label all seventeen candidates in order of preference, then iteratively kick the last one out and distribute the next lower preferences of their supporters across the remaining candidates.

    In all seriousness, this is way too early to predict.

    As somebody who has very little connection to the USA indeed, I still understand that the years when a sitting president has had their two turns are when there is the best chance of the opposition winning, because presidents are rather rarely kicked out after only one turn. So this means that now is the time for the really serious candidates to come out of the woodwork, those who have carefully planned for just the right timing.

    Makes one think, I guess.

  • the Democratic field is shaping up to be a classic two-way race not entirely unlike the 2008 nomination contest

    Maybe 3 ways. I could see a Stop Hillary candidate on the right of the party taking off, most likely Jim Webb.

    Even then, the Democrats would have a left-centre-right battle between three reasonably competent candidates with distinctive positions on the issues. Much, much better than a 17-way slugfest between candidates who vary from mediocre to terrifying, and don't differ on anything in particular other than who deserves to sit in the Oval Office.

  • @Alex SL: Granted, I'm not a Republican voter or even an American. But I think I'd suffer a brain aneurysm if I had to rank these 17 fuckwits in order of preference.

    Who are the "serious" candidates in that list? It's telling that most of the ones with real governing experience, who aren't obviously insane, are bumping along at 1% or less. The exceptions are (God help us) Jeb Bush, and maybe Rubio and Christie.

    Makes one think, all right. First about the state of the Republican party. Then about the fact that, as you say, the election following a two-term presidency is an excellent chance for the opposition to win. Then about the fact that one of these utter tools could end up the most powerful person on the planet. Then about where to get large quantities of alcohol in order to stop thinking so much.

  • HoosierPoli says:

    Smart money's on Jeb, which is fantastic because we can just bludgeon him to death with his brother and cruise to victory. Of course Congress will continue to be a clusterfuck but you take your victories where you can get them.

  • As long as you aren't running on your own dime there's no downside to running no matter how slim your chances. Losing in a crowded field isn't terribly humiliating in Republican circles.

  • Last election, at a time of economic stress for the middle class they nominated a multi-millionaire Mormon vulture capitalist. Not exactly a populist for the masses. And still 47% of the population voted for him. The news media is a shambles, but it's still capable of polishing whatever turd rises to the top of the bowl – for the anti-Hillary vote.

  • The GOP Klown Kar ranking is mere name recognition at this point. Go to the local mall, stop people at random, and ask them about the lower tier candidates. You will see nothing but blank stares.

    This is a country where people are famous for being famous. Paris Hilton would probably rank right below Jeb!

    But let's make it interesting. Even Texas Hold 'Em requires a buy-in. Require a $1 million buy-in to announce for president. That will thin the herd dramatically. That's not unreasonable given that you'll need $1 billion to win.

  • "I haven't the slightest idea right now who's going to win."

    Jeb is going to win.

    Republicans know goddamned well that they can't beat Hillary and nominating anyone else would be a down ticket catastrophe for Republicans.

  • The best way to poll on the field would probably be something along the lines of approval voting, where you ask each person polled about each candidate individually, with choices along that range from "my favorite candidate" and "I would vote for him" to "screw this guy" and "never heard of him". It would be interesting to see the point where obscurity takes over; certainly "Who the fuck is John Kasich" would outpoll "I would vote for John Kasich". Would the same be true for Ben Carson?

  • A statistical nitpick: the "margin of error" (95 percent confidence interval) for polling percentages is smaller for small numbers, and is asymmetrical. For numbers near 50%, it's pretty close to symmetrical; if one of these clowns had 47% support, the confidence interval would be 41.7% to 52.4%, which is pretty close to "plus or minus 5.3%." However, for small numbers it's different. Someone with 2% support in this poll (7 out of 349 people) would have a confidence interval of 0.8 to 4.1 percent, or "plus 2.1/minus 1.2 percent."

    There's an online calculator for this at ; use the section on "binomial confidence intervals."

    This doesn't change the mathematically provable fact that most of these candidates are either delusional or grifters.

  • I've been thinking about Biden. Let's say Bernie keeps getting big crowds and it comes down to Hills or Bernie. (Webb doesn't have a chance in hell.) The conventional wisdom says Bernie can't possibly win the general, but even on the left, at lot of people don't want Hills. Biden? He's got experience, is amenable (absolutely nothing to hate about him)….he could come out as the compromise candidate.

    But I've got my money on Hills vs. JEB! with Hills to win.

  • @John H. McDonald Thanks! I was coming down to the comments section to ask just that. I knew proper stats couldn't imply something THAT unreasonable.

  • Was it always like this? I remember someone describing the 2008 GOP primary debate by saying "Nobody told me that all the candidates were going to be Ralph Steadman cartoons."

    I'm just wondering what the hell happened. Reagan may have been a terrible President, but you can understand why he won. Bush Sr. wasn't a flagrant weirdo. It's hard to imagine any point in, say, the 1988 election cycle when someone like Donald Trump would be the top candidate.

    What's going on here? Is it just because the Koch brothers have injected themselves into the process? Certainly they've promoted a number of bizarre people out of obscurity.

  • @Anon, the Koch brothers' candidate is Scott Walker. Ed, as Charles P. Pierce never tires of pointing out, there is no longer an organized national Republican party. Fox News and the Kochs and the Tea Party and Rush et al. have pretty much destroyed it. Thus, the Klown Kar.

  • Emerson Dameron says:

    We've been hearing non-stop for eight years how goddamn powerful those far-right wingnuts are. Obama was disappointing. Clinton's negatives are off the charts. Bush, Rubio, and Christie are all relatively articulate and good at playing moderate.

    They seem to have adopted the '80s Democrats' knack for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

    I still think Jeb will probably win in the end. But I'm almost convinced that Obama has done such a good job of rallying the Shout Radio true believers – kissing W's ass was exhausting, but Obama really galvanized them – that they'd rather just stay apoplectic forever and get the one president they'll hate more than him.

  • @April: Interesting points.

    I agree Webb isn't much of a candidate. Hypothetically, if the pro-business wing of the Democrats turned against Hillary, he's one of the few remotely viable alternatives. But there's no particular sign of that happening.

    As for a Biden candidacy… if Hillary has a remotely viable path to the nomination, they will have to pry it out of her cold, dead fingers. I could see Biden emerging from primaries split three or more ways — as I understand the rules, this could result in no one contender being able to muster a majority. With only two dominant candidates, it would be more like 2008, with the winner decided by a narrow margin based on the primary vote and/or superdelegates.

  • I think that the Republicans are being pushed further and further to the right by a dynamic that would be a fascinating psychology PhD thesis. What was considered sheer lunacy and a candidate-killing deal-breaker five years ago is now the mainstream. Nothing is over-the-top anymore. Nothing is off limits.

  • Emerson Dameron says:

    Biden is very popular with fans of The Onion and generally everything Clinton isn't. I think he knows this and doesn't want to throw the primaries into chaos.

    The pro-biz wing knows HRC is its candidate, whatever she says to placate the left.

    Sanders is Jerry Brown in '92. Webb is technically in the race. I agree with you that The Hills is quite beatable. I'm just not sure a viable challenger will emerge. There would be backlash for putting her on the defensive, which is a BAD look for her, when the GOP is so far basically setting the table for her.

    If the GOP rallies behind Jeb, I will grudgingly vote for HRC. I think this is her strategy – run on a platform of connections and self-regard and win for lack of a viable challenger.

  • Emerson Dameron says:

    @SeaTea –
    It's possible that Obama brought out their hardwired racism in a way that will be their ultimate undoing. They could come out of this looking like the Whigs. Maybe they'll just start calling themselves Libertarians permanently.

  • Skepticalist says:

    Geoff has it right.

    It ain't easy to fight Fox News.

    Scott Walker may be the most dangerous. He's always around but he's pretty quiet so far. If he's gets in the general remember to ask him if he believes in evolution at every interview and debate and never give him a break on the subject. His performance at a British interview was stunning. The interviewee as much told him he was an idiot.

    Marco Rubio sounds and looks like one of those TV faith healers. Smarmy and sickening but someone to keep an eye on.

  • Emerson Dameron says:

    @Skepticalist –

    That is indeed the rub for Walker. Hannity and co. will have to save him from himself, which they hated doing for W.

  • @ geoff beat me to it. (And then @ Skepticalist beat me to pointing out that @geoff beat me to it.)

    It's too late to determine anything like a trend. BUT–if we continue to see general elections like this one, I predict that Citizens United will be seen by historians as the thing that broke the Republican Party. The plutocrats are pulling a Cromwell-versus-James coup on the party suits like Priebus–WE have the money, so why should YOU hold the purse-strings? (By the way, if that analogy were to extend to the beheading of Priebus, I'd be pretty cool with that.)

    The power of the mob has given the GOP all the momentum of (thank you Lisa Simpson) a runaway freight train–but that "runaway" element is part of the package. Why should Sheldon Adelson, now that he is free to give millions to whatever candidate he chooses, rely on party hacks to choose which candidates his money goes to? Fuck that–he'll pick them him own damn self. (I despise Adelson and the Kochs and their ilk, because of course, but I will say, when Reince Priebus and those like him say "Hey, listen to me, I know what to do with your money," I too would respond with "Get the fuck out of here, Uriah Heep, I wouldn't trust you to pick a loser at Belmont.")

    Michelle Bachmann was really the (or at least "a") canary in the coal mine. Any race in which she had both financial backing to make a go of it and enough appeal with likely voters to be (albeit quite briefly) a frontrunner–that should have told the GOP that they'd fucked themselves by pushing through unlimited spending. (You may swap in Herman Cain, if you wish.)

    Point is, last election, the GOP watched the shitshow that was the GOP Candidates' Thunderdome version of musical chairs and said, loudly and firmly, "Next time, this this will not happen. There's going to be discipline, and way fewer candidates, and we're only going to allow serious people into the race."

    They said that. They meant that. Which means they really, really tried to make that happen-to stop their fellow Republicans from engaging in course of action that inflicts a nigh-crippling blow to their ability to win. And they could not.

    The party has become a mob. Roger Ailes has wrought a political culture in which there is no respect for any authority. Even his own. Which ought to be scary, oughtn't it?

    Dear Democrats: Please don't follow suit. The collapse of parties is what leads to the rise of totalitarianism, and I just don't want to have to attend the mass rallies in honor of the Dear Leader's half-birthday.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    The GOP is boasting about its deep bench.

    So what?

    The basketball team Randle McMurphy led in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" had a pretty deep bench, too!

  • Honestly, trying to guess who will come out of this is one of my favorite parlor games. I don't think Jeb! is going to make it – he's an easy target for the rest of the field, and has already shown himself to be politically tone deaf. He's supposed to be the smart one, but has shown neither book nor street smarts. I will never forget the profile of him in the New York Times where people on the right marveled at his intellect because he read books – real books too not just beach reads!. They included a sidebar of the books he was reading, and they were almost all pop-history dad books. He's a less repulsive version of Newt Gingrich – although I suspect Newt is a bit smarter – but I suspect his candidacy will go just as far.

    Walker has a terrible record to defend in a general, but I guess that he can't really be attacked from the right for gutting higher education and turning his state into an economic inchworm. He seems as boring as Pawlenty to me, but I guess he has a lot of money behind him and Republicans seem to think he is a terrifying bogeyman instead of just a pathetic asshole.

    I still feel like Rand is the most dangerous in the general, but his impressive ability to play the press is countered by Republicans not trusting him and his own paper-thin skin.

    I keep coming back to Rubio. Sure, he's a complete dolt, but he is able to convince the odd person that he is amiable. He reminds me the most of W, who won not because he was some pretend ass-kicking patriot but because he convinced enough people that he was compassionate. It's harder to make that dance now on the right than it was in 2000, what with all the calling for blood and stuff, but if I was betting man, he'd have my money.

  • I find myself feeling somehow sympathetic with HRC. Back in '08, she was being fitted with her coronation robes when an implausibly lucky Midwesterner with a strange name blew her royal barge right up. Now, take two, and it's an avuncular veteran Senator with a strange platform* threatening the divine right.

    If no dirt on Sanders shows up by Christmas, we can be sure that none could be found.

    *By current USA standards.

  • Steve in the ATL says:

    Jeb and Walker are the only ones actually running for president. A couple others are running for VP (Rubio, Christie), but the rest are running for wingnut welfare.

  • Davis X. Machina says:

    Maybe 3 ways. I could see a Stop Hillary candidate on the right of the party taking off, most likely Jim Webb.

    Hillary is the right of the party. Jim Webb is the sane Republican…

    Now, take two, and it's an avuncular veteran Senator with a strange platform* threatening the divine right.

    *By current USA standards.

    Strange, my ass. Here's the 1984 Democratic Party platform — they're both running on it.

  • Chris 'Limey' Lewis says:

    Talking from a UK perspective, Jeb is the only candidate who has name recognition for something other than being insane or stupid. Former governor of a swing state, 'centrist' (ugh) appeal and the backing of the establishment. And given the short term memory of ANY electorate (about two election cycles, if the UK os anything to go by) in bad times, he'd have a good shot at winning. Bear in mind a number of (no doubt poorly conducted, but heavily publicised) polls named Obama the 'worst post war President', despite Bush Jr., Carter, Ford being far better shouts.

    On the Dem side, Hilary will win barring, as pointed out, a strong challenge from the right of the party that is anti -Hilary. Jim Webb – former senator of a swing state, pro gun, veteran. Good chance of winning a national election, but Hilary's strength within the Party, if not the nation, means she will most likely win.

    And then, the election becomes a coin flip between two candidates with bitterly polarised public views.

  • Anyone thinking that anyone other than HRC is going to win this is just wasting time or trying to gin up some revenue. Unless she drops dead, she's winning this time around.

    And I say this as someone who can take or leave her, personally. Everyone has known who she is and what she stands for for years and she's still polling in the mid to high 50s in topline match ups. You aren't beating that, no matter how loudly Jesus screams at you to run.

  • "In my case the nearest I have to a marketable skill in the Real World is a good command of polling methodology and the psychology of survey response."

    Oh, horsepuckey, Ed. I'll bet you can wash dishes every bit as well as I can. My job is safe though, cuz' not only am I cute as a button, I have a really vicious temper, a phenomenal capacity for holding a grudge AND poor impulse control.

    "@Alex SL: Granted, I'm not a Republican voter or even an American. But I think I'd suffer a brain aneurysm if I had to rank these 17 fuckwits in order of preference."

    One of the few, if not only, times when I think "extended magazines" might be a net societal good.

    "he basketball team Randle McMurphy led in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" had a pretty deep bench, too!"

    I was thinking more like the crew in the movie, "Dream Team", but those guys were REALLY all pretty talented actors (except James Remar–although he's improved considrably since then).

  • Davis X. Machina – that's the 1984 platform, from (rounding off to) thirty years ago?

    We've all passed a lot of water since then, as Nanny Ogg would say.

  • HoosierPoli says:


    I'm with you, it took a once-in-a-generation talent to beat Hillary last time, and that one was an absolute squeaker. There aren't any more Obamas hanging around the Senate (unfortunately), so I'd give it to Hillary in a walk.

  • @Robert: thanks for the Nanny Ogg quote! We need some "headology" in our politics because the right's strategy has devolved into chest-beating and poo-flinging.

  • One, the Republican party is absolutely uncompetitive at the presidential level. We might see three consecutive two-term Democrats before they finally recover. It's only gerrymandering and the constitutional legacy that gave Wyoming the same number of senators as California, plus negative coattails when the economy sucks with a Democrat in the White House, that even makes them relevant in national elections.

    Two, I predicted one of Huckabee or Perry a bit less than a year ago, and I'm sticking by it… although it's starting to look like good money after bad at this point.

  • You guys are all underselling Jeb by forgetting his secret weapon: Tears. When his daughter gets arrested for forging a prescription, he cries. When his wife gets busted smuggling jewelry, he cries. Media is so surprised, they credit him with human emotions and the story goes away. Someone needs to make a supercut of all the times he cried as Floriduh's gubmintor.

  • Regarding Biden deciding not to run – he's seen what happens when you do, and worse, what happens when you win.

    As a kid, I dreamed of being Vice President. Never President.

  • Bitter Scribe says:

    Your first sentence is reminding me of an old Doonesbury cartoon, of a conversation between a professor and a university president:

    "I'm warning you, King, I won't stand for it! You touch a penny of my department's budget and I'll leave for private industry!"

    "Private industry? Herbert, you're a Latin teacher."

    "And a damn fine one! I'd be snapped up in a minute!"

  • The only disaster candidate for the GOP is The Donald. By disaster, I mean loosing bad. While there is a theory that if you know you can't get close, then save your powder and give it pass. Like sending in Gramps McCain for his turn.

    That worked in the old days of previous funding models.

    Today you have to spend that money to make your consulting and grift monies, and you have to make it close to keep that gravy train rolling, which means when the party falls in line behind their candidate they will be fluffed belligerently and with fists full of campaign money to fly and trickle down to the campaign food chain.

    So there is a certainty of any GOP idiot taking in at least 45% any of them. That include Jindal. Yes, even Bobby Jindal would take in 45%. All the usual GOTV ballot measures will be in place. Abortion measures, crime measures, gay rights will be on the ballots (it doesn't matter that the result of them would not change anything), immigrant measures for certain. The confederate flag. The chance to vote on those topics is enough.

    Since Trump is peaking now, then he is out I would guess from history, but maybe he'll score in the kangaroo debates. He'll be 0 in Iowa, but he might stick around and be a spoiler. Iowa hates Jeb too.

  • Did anyone see the bit on Jimmy Fallon's show last night about Scott Walker.

    Walker, speaking off the cuff, told a story about going shopping at Kohl's. Only, he's told the same tale, pretty much verbatim at a number of other events. It was fucking hilarious watching him say very nearly the exact same thing at five different venues.

    Trump released his financials. It'll be intesting to see if somebody in the private sector ar at the IRS or SEC decides to find out if they match his tax returns and quarterly filings.

    Also (and it may have been a joke) either Fallon or Kimmel was saying that "Celebrity Apprentice" producers were looking at having George Lopez take over after they shitcanned trump–that would be deliciously ironic.

  • yourcrazyuncle says:

    The GOP clown-car must the reason Bloom County is coming back. Just too much material to pass up.

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