Clinton commands clear lead but Republicans have no strong presidential candidate consensus according to recent nationwide poll conducted by Centre College

Posted by Centre News in News, Politics, Research 26 Mar 2015

KnollpollA nationwide poll conducted by political scientists from Centre College shows that despite a high-profile controversy regarding use of private email accounts while serving as secretary of state, former First Lady Hillary Clinton continues to command a strong lead for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

Republicans, meanwhile, have a crowded field with no strong consensus for any particular candidate, although there are small plurality preferences for former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.

The “2015 Colonel’s Canvass Poll” was a randomized, nationally representative telephone survey conducted March 12-18, 2015. It sampled 715 respondents, 62% of whom were reached via landline and 38% via cellphone. The margin of sampling error for the survey is plus or minus 3.7% for the full sample and 6% for the Republican and Democratic subsamples.

Conducted by Benjamin Knoll and Chris Paskewich, assistant professors of politics at Centre, the survey was part of a community-based learning component of their spring 2015 courses. In all, 90 students participated in fielding the survey and administering the questions to respondents.

Presidential Preferences

Similar to other recent national polls, the survey identified a crowded GOP primary field with no one candidate commanding a strong majority of Republican support.

Bush lead with a small plurality of 19.6%, followed by Walker at 14.3% and Paul at 14% (all within the margin of sampling error). Nearly a third (28.8%) of Republicans and Independent-leaning-Republicans reported that they have no preference in the GOP primary as of yet.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas did not figure prominently in the poll because most leading surveys prior to his March 23 presidential announcement showed him receiving less than 1% of support. Nonetheless, when asked about “other” possible candidates, Cruz received 0.7% support as a presidential preference and 3.2% as a vice presidential preference in this survey.

Bush had a 10-point advantage among moderate Republicans compared to conservative Republicans (25.5% to 15.5%). Walker had a 17-point advantage among conservative Republicans compared to moderates (23.7% to 7.1%). Paul found more support among male (20.5% men, 7.5% women) and younger Republicans (17.9% of those under 50 compared to 9.6% of those over 50).

On the Democratic side, the survey confirmed other national surveys, finding that Clinton had the support of 52.3% of Democrats and Independent-leaning-Democrats. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts came in a distant second at 15.9% and Vice President Joe Biden at 6.3%.

Democrats appear more certain of their presidential preference than Republicans, with only 17.3% reporting no preference as of yet.

Clinton had a 13-point advantage among younger Democrats (57.8% of Democrats under 50 to 44.8% of Democrats over 50) and college-educated Democrats (57.5% of Democrats with a college degree to 45.7% of Democrats without). She also had a small six-point advantage among female Democrats (56% women, 49.5% male), although this is also within the margin of sampling error.

Vice Presidential Preferences

Centre College has a history of vice presidential connections, claiming John C. Breckinridge and Adlai E. Stevenson as alumni. Centre also hosted the 2000 and 2012 vice presidential debates.

In that tradition, the 2015 Colonel’s Canvass Poll also surveyed respondents regarding their preferences for vice presidential nominees, even though vice presidential candidates are selected by the presidential nominee and not chosen by voters.

According to survey director Benjamin Knoll, “It’s conventional wisdom that presidential nominees choose vice presidential running mates out of a desire to ‘balance the ticket’ geographically, ideologically or demographically. Our survey tried to ascertain whether partisans actually want a ‘balanced ticket’ or if they instead prefer two ideologically similar candidates to represent their party.

“Knowing the public’s vice presidential preferences now,” Knoll added, “provides important insights into the different ideological coalitions within the parties.”

Of Republicans who prefer Bush as the presidential nominee, 12.5% prefer former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas for vice president, 12.5% prefer Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and 10% prefer Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey (with 45% indicating no preference).

Of Republicans who prefer Walker as the presidential nominee, 27.6% prefer Rubio for vice president, 17.2% prefer Dr. Ben Carson and 10.3% prefer Bush (with 20.7% indicating no preference).

Of Republicans who prefer Paul as the presidential nominee, 25% prefer Rubio for vice president, 21.4% prefer Bush and 10.7% prefer Christie (with 25% indicating no preference).

“In general,” noted Knoll, “this suggests that Republicans who prefer more conservative candidates like Walker or Paul also tend to prefer more conservative vice presidential nominees like Rubio.

“On the other hand,” Knoll said, “there’s no clear pattern in terms of vice presidential preferences for a possible Bush nominee—most still have not made up their mind.”

Presidential vs. Vice Presidential Nominee

The Colonel’s Canvass Poll also asked respondents whether they believe that each candidate would make a “better presidential nominee” or a “better vice presidential nominee.”

Among Republicans, Bush held the strongest presidential advantage, with 37.9% seeing him as a better presidential nominee and 21% seeing him as a better vice presidential nominee.

Conversely, Carson and Rubio were seen as much stronger vice presidential than presidential nominees (32.4% to 9.1% for Carson and 35.8% to 20.2% for Rubio).

“This suggests that Republicans generally like Carson and Rubio, but don’t see them as ‘presidential material’ quite yet,” said Knoll.

On the Democratic side, 26.7% of those who support Clinton for president report that they prefer Biden for vice president. Warren is also a favorite at 20%.

“This indicates that many Democrats do in fact want a more ‘balanced’ ticket, pairing Clinton with the more moderate Biden,” concluded Knoll. “But there are also many Democrats who seem to want a very ideologically liberal ticket, pairing Clinton with the more progressive Warren.”

Of those who prefer Warren for president, 23.7% prefer Clinton for vice president, with no other candidate achieving more than 6%.

By a 57-point margin, Democrats see Clinton as a better presidential than vice presidential nominee (66% to 8.6%). Warren has a statistically insignificant 1-point advantage in terms of being seen as a better presidential nominee (31.8% to 30.8%).

Every other Democratic candidate is seen as a better vice presidential than presidential nominee (Biden 42.2% vice presidential to 19.1% presidential, former Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland 35.7% to 8.5%, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont 39.5% to 10.6% and former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia 30.7% to 9.7%).

Full topline results for the survey questions associated with this release are available here.

by Michael Strysick