With most of the talked about candidates having thrown their hats in the ring, the campaign for the United States presidential election, 2016 has begun in earnest. While the actual election is still more than seventeen months away, they are preceded by primaries and before that, what is known as the invisible primary (where the contestants try to lock up support from the party big wigs as well as established donors and shut out other candidates from the race). The primary season shall get underway at Iowa on 5th January, 2016; but, before that the candidates have to put in campaign infrastructure in place, introduce and make themselves familiar to the voters, formulate clear policy goals, take part in debates, raise money from donors and win endorsement from the major party players.
From the public information available, we can summarise the state of the US presidential election, 2016 in the following charts:
- Hillary Clinton is the most overwhelming favourite for winning a major party candidature in an open race (i.e. when a sitting president is not contesting) since the current system of competitive primary came into practice in 1972.Al Gore has till date waged the most one sided primary campaign in an open race, winning all 50 states. Hillary Clinton looks likely to repeat the feat; although, the recent surge of Barnie Sanders (a senator from Vermont running to the left of Clinton) may ensure her defeat in one or two north-eastern states.
- While Mrs. Clinton looks likely to run away with the Democratic nomination, the general election will hardly be a walk in the park for her. Since retiring from her non-partisan position as the Secretary of State in the first Obama administration (2009-2013), her favourability ratings have dropped considerably. Also, the controversies surrounding the Benghazi terror attack in Libya on an American consulate, her decision of hosting her official Secretary of State email address on a private server and the Clinton foundation raising money from a lot of shady sources are likely to provide plenty of ammunition to her Republican opponents.
- The fate of Hillary Clinton in the general election (assuming she gets the Democratic nomination) shall depend to a large extent on the favourability rating of President Obama, which in turn shall depend largely on what direction the economy and the job market take in the next year and a half as well as what happens to the delicate international situation in the Middle East. Currently, President Obama has a favourability rating of 43.7% which is low, but not damningly so. The eventual Democratic nominee will hope the approval rating inches towards 50% while the Republican Party will hope the same shall come down to below 40%.
- The Republican Party, on the other hand, is seeing one of the most crowded nomination fights in recent history with anybody with a half-decent chance of winning the race having declared their candidacies or expected to do the same in the next few weeks.
- Part of the reason is that the race remains wide open. Although pundits consider Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio to be the top-tier candidates, tier-II candidates like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz as well as long shots like Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee are also polling well. There is less than 4% difference between the polling of the top seven candidates.
- The Republican Party is also having the weakest front runner in the recent history in the form of Jeb Bush. A former two term governor of Florida, Mr. Bush has positioned himself as a right of centre moderate, but his campaign remains weakened by his last name (he is the brother of George W Bush, considered to be one of the worst presidents in recent history) and his support for issues like Common Core in education and immigration reform, both of which remain anathema to a large portion of his party’s base.
- The Republican Party in Iowa, the first state in the party nomination contest features a disproportionately high number of conservative, evangelical Christians. As a result, social conservatives have typically done well in the race, only to lose badly in the New Hampshire, the next state in the primary schedule, also one of the less religious states in the union. A lot shall depend on what happens in Iowa and New Hampshire. In the modern primary system, Bill Clinton is the only candidate to have won the party nomination after losing both Iowa and New Hampshire. Jeb Bush is polling terribly in Iowa and the best case scenario for him is featuring among the top three candidates in Iowa and hoping that an also ran social conservative like Carson, Huckabee or Santorum wins the state. On the other hand, if any of Scott Walker or Marco Rubio wins in Iowa, they may emerge with strong momentum for New Hampshire and thus queer the pitch for Jeb Bush there.
- Another unique feature of this year’s race is also that there are two top-tier candidates(Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio)hailing from a single state i.e. Florida. Florida also happens to be one of the most delegate rich states and comes fourth in the polling schedule of primaries (after Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina). This year, it is expected to be a slugfest between Bush and Rubio, with the other candidates mostly sitting it out. Whoever of the two loses will find it difficult to stage a comeback. Long considered a fiefdom of Jeb Bush, Florida has seen tightening in polls in the last few months.