Since the 2012 election, the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll has tested the personal popularity of seven potential presidential candidates—four Republicans, two Democrats and one independent—measuring how they fare among the different voting groups needed to win the White House.
Rep. Paul Ryan began the cycle as the nominal frontrunner; coming off the national ticket he has a name advantage which shouldn’t be discounted. Among Republicans, Ryan was narrowly more popular than Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. Marco Rubio, with a 49-point net positive rating. That’s nearly 20 points higher than where New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie started the cycle among members of his own party. NBC tested Christie in January, the same month he blasted the House GOP majority for stalling a Hurricane Sandy relief package.
Among conservatives and Romney voters, the order in personal popularity is the same: Ryan, Paul, Rubio, and Christie trailing. A 35-point gap separates Ryan and Christie among conservatives; a 33-point gap divides them among Romney voters. It”s clear Christie may have a primary problem. Of course this is April 2013, and he has plenty of time to fix it.
Looking at a broader slice of the electorate, Christie’s general election advantages become clear. He leads among men, with a 23-point net positive rating, and dominates the Republican field among women. Both Paul and Ryan are in negative territory with women voters. While it may not help him in a Republican primary, Christie is also the only Republican the poll tested that Democrats like. He has a 22-point net positive rating among members of the opposite party, while Rubio has a 14-point net negative rating, and Paul is 31 points in negative territory. Ryan starts the cycle with a 48-point net negative rating among Democrats.
Don’t underestimate Sen. Paul. He does better than both Christie and Rubio among independent voters, while also leading them with Republicans and conservatives. Paul, whose 13-hour filibuster lit up the grassroots last month, has built credibility in the party in 2013.
Meanwhile, New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s numbers show that winning election as an independent is no guarantee of winning the support of self-identified independents. Bloomberg has an 11-point net negative rating among independents; he is more popular among Democrats.
When we test the Republican field among all voters, Christie dominates. But there’s another general election variable, and her name is Hillary Clinton–and she’s in another stratosphere. Though Christie trails Clinton, he is the only candidate who gets close to her. Interestingly, voters view Rubio more positively than they view Vice President Biden, though Biden has been edging Rubio out in recent surveys.
Why does Biden have his eye on every Hillary-world 2016 move? Because the Clinton-Biden competition is a blowout among every possible group. Clinton dominates among Obama voters, Democrats, liberals, women, men, independents, and Republicans.
One interesting note of caution for Clinton: Christie may be less popular than she is overall, but he has more cross-over appeal right now. While she is more than 30 points underwater among Republicans, he is in double-digit positive territory among Democrats.
Of course, if Clinton had recently blasted President Obama and worked on a high-profile issue with House Speaker John Boehner, she might have slightly better numbers with Republicans ,too. Christie is thinking most immediately about 2014 and running for re-election in a blue state. Will fixing his numbers with Republicans after he has another term in the bag mean he loses that advantage? Time will tell.