More Americans are clamoring for change in the upcoming 2016 presidential election than they were in the “Hope and Change” year of 2008, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
That desire for change is a potential roadblock for two of the leading frontrunners – Democrat Hillary Clinton (the former first lady, presidential candidate and secretary of state) and Republican Jeb Bush (the former Florida governor whose brother and father served as president). But it might be a more significant challenge for Bush, given that fewer than half of Republican primary voters believe he would provide new ideas and a vision for the future, versus nearly three-quarters of Democrats who think the same of Clinton.
In the poll, 59% of all voters prefer a candidate who will bring greater changes to current policies, even if he or she is less experienced and tested – up from 55% who said this in July 2008 during the general-election contest between Barack Obama and John McCain.
Sixty percent of registered voters (including 42% of Republicans) say that Bush represents a return to the policies of the past, versus 27% (and 49% of GOP voters) who say he will provide new ideas and a vision for the future. By comparison, 51% of all voters (but just 24% of Democrats) think Clinton represents a return to the policies of the past, and 44% (including 73% of Democrats) say she’ll provide new ideas for the future.
Walker and Rubio: The GOP candidates with room to grow
In the early battle for the Republican presidential nomination, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio appear to have more appeal among Republican voters than Bush does, according to the poll. In the survey, 53% of potential Republican primary voters say they could see themselves supporting Walker, versus 17% who couldn’t (+36 points).
Likewise, 56% of GOP voters say they could back Rubio, compared with 26% who couldn’t (+30). By contrast, Republicans are fairly divided on Bush – 49% could support, versus 42% who couldn’t (+7). Ditto Sen. Rand Paul (+9), former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (+5) and Sen. Ted Cruz (+2). And they’re down on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (-25), Sen. Lindsey Graham (-31) and Donald Trump (-51).
Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff, says Walker could end up being the Republican “flavor of the month.” Or, Hart adds, he “could be like George W. Bush in 2000 or Obama in 2007” – that is, sitting in this early position because he has “tapped into something that is important and needs to be watched.”
Majority of GOP voters opposed to Common Core, immigration reform
As for Bush, he finds himself swimming upstream on the issues of Common Core and immigration reform. In the poll, 52% of potential GOP primary voters unfavorably view a candidate who supports the Common Core education standards – as Bush does.
And 62% of them are opposed to a candidate who supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. (On the early campaign trail, Bush says he backs a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants, but has supported citizenship in the past.)
What’s more here, a plurality of Republican primary voters – 46% – say that a candidate coming closest to their views on the issues is more important than being the best chance to defeat the Democratic nominee (19%) or having the right personal style and leadership qualities (33%).
“This poll presents less than good tidings for Jeb Bush,” says Democratic pollster Fred Yang of Hart Research Associates.
“Extraordinary” Democratic support for Hillary Clinton
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has near-universal support from Democrats. According to the poll – most of which was conducted in the midst of the controversy over her use of private emails – 86% of Democrats say they could see themselves supporting Clinton, versus 13% who couldn’t (+73). That’s greater than support for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (+34) and Vice President Joe Biden (+14).
“Clinton’s numbers are just extraordinary from a starting point in a primary,” says Bill McInturff, the GOP pollster. “A number in the mid-80s is stunning.”
In addition, 61% of Democratic voters say it’s not a concern to them if Democrats don’t find an intra-party challenger to Clinton.
Other numbers in the poll
- President Obama’s overall job-approval rating stands at 46% – unchanged from Jan. 2015;
- Approval of Obama’s handling of the economy (47%) is higher than foreign policy (36%);
- More Americans say they’re optimistic (48%) about what they’ve heard and seen about the U.S. economy than pessimistic (46%) – the first time these numbers have been right-side-up since Jan. 2012;
- Yet just 32% of Americans believe the country is headed in the right direction, up one point from January.
The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted March 1-5 of 1,000 adults (including 350 cell phone-only respondents and another 36 reached by cell but who also have a landline), and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.
The poll also interviewed 262 Democratic primary voters (plus-minus 6.1 percentage points) and 229 GOP primary voters (plus-minus 6.5 percentage points).