April 3, 2016
Pick a recent poll of your choosing. See if it has favorability questions. Inspect them if available. You’ll notice something. Bernie Sanders is the most popular Democrat, John Kasich the most popular Republican.
It’s especially true if the entire electorate is being asked. Whether nationally, or in a particular state, Bernie and Kasich are virtually always more popular than not, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton more unpopular than not.
While the effect is most pronounced among Independents and voters of the opposite party, Bernie now has a modest edge against Hillary among Democrats, and Kasich registers very well with his fellow Republicans.
We can see this doesn’t necessarily translate to actual voting support (especially for Kasich), but they are well liked. Both candidates hope this winds up helping them later on at the conventions. Both candidates are basing quite a bit of their argument on these numbers.
It’s understandable they’re going to this card. Delegate math isn’t their friend, so polling math is. For equally logical reasons, their opponents contest this point. And they have a point. Hillary has received far more scorn than Sanders. Karl Rove’s PAC hasn’t run ads against him like they did her.
We haven’t seen a series of anti-Bernie investigative stories. Media haven’t sifted through his writings and comments from the 1960s and 70s. We haven’t seen constant attack ads highlighting his previous public sympathies for the Castro regime.
These aren’t things that would cause the stereotypical 22-year-old Berner to put out the flame. It’s possible enough repetition could and would impact those Independents who help him do better in favorability surveys and matchup polls with GOP contenders than Hillary does.
This is no small matter. So far there are limits on how far Hillary and Bernie are willing to go in attack. The difference is Republicans are willing to bring up Hillary’s issues. There’s no point in them going after Bernie. At this stage, if they succeeded, it would only serve to allow Clinton to move completely towards the general election.
At best, Sanders could get very close to Clinton among earned delegates. That’s if he almost wins out from here. That would still require him to win a majority of super delegates, grabbing virtually all of the undeclared, plus some who have already committed to Hillary.
They would find themselves quite concerned about a full scale attack on Bernie. You might wonder why Hillary wouldn’t strike first if the nomination was still in question. She might, but she might very well not. That would make it fair game for Bernie to talk about the Clinton Foundation.
In a general election, she could hope progressive voters would rather vote for her, despite these issues, than for the Republican. In a Democratic contest, reminders of conflict of interest and deep corporate ties are not a plus. She’d likely prefer to avoid the nuclear option and rely on delegate math and prior commitments.
You can argue her campaign is safer reminding delegates Bernie is a risk, than having her PAC run ads that could perhaps prove she’s exaggerating. It’s very possible The Donald has desensitized the public to the point where nothing you could possibly dig up on Bernie would register.
But it’s unprecedented to find ourselves still wondering. One consequence of the move to an extended primary process is the airing of almost any conceivable concern while the party is still making a decision.
The most effective lines of attack in the past forty years were started during the primary process. Newt Gingrich attacked Mitt Romney on Bain Capital long before the Obama Campaign made it a focus. Al Gore first used Willie Horton against Michael Dukakis, not Lee Atwater and the Bush campaign.
The same is currently true in regards to Kasich. He did face some negative advertising in New Hampshire, but he’s stayed out of the Trump-Cruz crossfire. He avoided the Rubio-Jeb wars and the Christie-Rubio fight.
Just because he hasn’t taken much fire doesn’t mean there’s anything devastating waiting for release. After leaving congress and before running for governor in Ohio, Kasich worked for Lehman Brothers. He references this time himself as when he gained necessary exposure to how the economy works.
This gave him more background and helped the career politician make some money, but he wasn’t among the group of senior executives more directly linked to the downfall of the brokerage house, and by extension the collapse of the economy.
He won in Ohio when this was a far more recent event. Back in the fall when Kasich was critical of Trump on the debate stage, he quickly responded by mentioning Lehman. Before anyone could see if it mattered, Kasich faded from view. Should he determine the governor is more of a threat than Cruz, expect to see him try again.
However, it’s equally possible Trump is more worried that attacking Kasich would just encourage anti-Trump voters to unify around Cruz. Meanwhile, though it’s likely Cruz would find himself willing to attack Kasich, he needs to take care to make sure he isn’t accidentally pushing support to Trump.
For now, his critiques center around Kasich’s lack of victories and taking federal Obamacare money to expand health care in Ohio. While that was extremely controversial with conservatives, bringing this up does not necessarily harm him with general election swing voters, and in some cases could help.
If neither Trump nor Cruz are able or willing to attack him for having overly extreme positions, or overly conservative positions, criticism may actually help him in these sort of polls. Republican voters who prefer bluster already prefer Trump. Republican voters who are looking for consistent conservatism already prefer Cruz.
Perhaps even more than Sanders, Kasich would benefit from getting attacked on whatever his opponents can think of throwing at him. It would mean somebody was taking him seriously, currently his biggest need. It would give him a chance to respond, getting him on TV more.
And it might well show he is truly popular with the overall electorate instead of just temporarily unobjectionable. Kasich needed Wisconsin to have a solid shot at building momentum, winning several states and having a real claim on the nomination.
Assuming he falls short, he’s going to need a lot of help. He needs to find a way to prove these numbers are real or he won’t get the chance to show it in the fall. While I do think both Sanders and Kasich are benefitting from the fire going elsewhere, I think they are the two most popular of the remaining candidates.
Neither have seen any erosion in their numbers over the past several months. Sanders has extended his favorable ratio to voters who previously lacked an opinion. Kasich is more popular now than any time since he began. While a solid third still aren’t sure yet, very few dislike him.
Whether it’s for what they are, or just who they aren’t (the other three just aren’t popular), if the parties are interested in selecting the best thought of candidates, these are their remaining choices. Marco Rubio would tell you there are limits to this attribute though.