Jeb Bush may be running at the top of the GOP presidential preference polls nationally, but the former Florida governor is also near the top of another survey: the can’t-support list.
The former Florida governor, along with current New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and businessman Donald Trump, all have their admirers, but in some cases they have even more detractors — voters who say, no matter what, they’ll never be able to support that candidate in a primary.
The antipathy vote is one of the storylines that’s emerged eight months from the Iowa caucuses, which kick off the primary season, followed by the New Hampshire and then South Carolina primaries.
Quinnipiac University released a poll last week that showed 25 percent of the likely GOP caucusgoers in Iowa said that they “would definitely not support” Mr. Bush for president, compared to 20 percent for Mr. Christie and 10 percent for Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
The findings are similar in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
When asked in a recent WMUR Granite State Poll which candidate they would “not vote for under any circumstance,” 21 percent of likely New Hampshire primary voters said Donald Trump, 13 percent said Mr. Christie, and 8 percent said Mr. Bush.
Mr. Trump also owns the dubious title in South Carolina, where nearly 75 percent of voters said in a Winthrop Poll said they “would not consider voting for” him, followed by Sen. Lindsey Graham at 55 percent and Mr. Christie at 53 percent.
Andrew Smith, a pollster at the University of New Hampshire, said that candidates’ fortunes will rise and fall over the coming months, though the findings could serve as an early warning sign for some.
“A candidate who is going to [successfully win] the nomination pretty much has to be acceptable to a broad segment of the party,” Mr. Smith said. “It doesn’t have to be any one faction’s candidate, but it has to be someone who has to pretty much be acceptable to all voters.”
He said it is a “problem when you are a candidate who is not acceptable to a broad range of people in the party, because that is what the nomination process is all about — finding a candidate that is widely acceptable across the country.”
While Mr. Bush, Mr. Christie and Mr. Trump are high on the antipathy list, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida are on the other side, with few voters finding either of them unacceptable.
Analysts said part of that is being fresh faces on the national stage, where candidates tend to get a honeymoon period with voters.
The analysts said, however, that each of the candidates who performs poorly right now could rehabilitate themselves by the time the primaries roll around — particularly with such a crowded field, and with GOP voters apparently poised to test a lot of options before they settle on a champion.
In 2011, months out from the 2012 Iowa caucuses, about 20 percent of GOP voters in that state told pollsters they wouldn’t support former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum or former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who then went on to place first and second in the caucuses.
“I think what you have got right now is, when the buffet is long and large like the Republican side, and it is an all-you-can-eat buffet, and you are looking for something good, you have plenty to pick from, so you don’t have to go for the sardines,” said Patrick Griffin, a GOP political strategist with Purple Strategies. “What is actually on the menu hasn’t even been determined by the cooks yet. So it is a little bit early to refuse nourishment when you don’t know what they are actually serving.”
Kyle Kondik, of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said that being disliked by a large portion of the primary electorate in early states may not matter because, with so many competitors to divide up the pie, it will take fewer votes to win the biggest slice.
“The key thing is that the field is so crowded that a person doesn’t need to get 50 percent-plus in a primary or caucus to finish first. In fact, it will probably take far less than that to finish first in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and other early states,” Mr. Kondik said. “So a low ceiling of support would not necessarily be fatal to someone like Bush.”
Mr. Kondik said he believes that Mr. Christie and Mr. Trump are in worse electorate shape then Mr. Bush.
Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said the polls are a snapshot in time.
“It would be a problem if today was Jan. 2016, but it is not,” Mr. Brown said of the can’t-support list. “So the question is: Are these numbers meaningful in terms of being predictive? And it is not clear. Obviously, a candidate would rather have fewer people say they ‘would not vote’ for them then have more say they ‘would not vote for them.’”
• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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