Mich. poll: President hopefuls more disliked than liked

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Likely Michigan voters have an unfavorable view of the 2016 candidates for president polling highest around the nation, according to a new statewide survey.

If the November 2016 general election were held today, Bush would lose Michigan to Clinton by 9 percentage points, 46 percent to 37 percent. The poll has a margin of error of plus-minus 4 percentage points.

Democrat Hillary Clinton and four top Republican contenders — former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida — elicited more unfavorable views than favorable in a poll conducted June 9-11 by the Chicago-based Glengariff Group polling firm.

While having high 94 percent name identification, Bush's unfavorable rating among 600 likely voters in Michigan is 17 percentage points higher than his favorable rating, according to the poll released exclusively to The Detroit News and WDIV-TV.

Paul's unfavorable rating outpaced his favorability score by 13 percentage points, followed by Clinton's eight-point spread.

Among voters who identify as political independents, Bush's and Clinton's unfavorable ratings spike even higher.

"Clinton's are bad and Bush's are terrible. That's really how you compare them — bad to terrible," said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "Hundreds of millions of negative ads are going to be aired against these candidates. If they're starting out with unfavorables that high, just imagine where they're going to end up. But somebody has to win."

Sabato attributes Bush's poorer marks from likely voters to being the brother of former President George W. Bush and the second son of former President George H.W. Bush.

"The dynasty factors," Sabato said. "The difference is Bill Clinton is fairly popular and George W. Bush is unpopular with everybody but Republicans."

The telephone poll of likely November 2016 general election voters had a partisan breakdown of 40 percent Democratic, 33 percent Republican and 25 percent independent. Democrats often turn out more voters in presidential election years than Republicans.

Among independent voters, Clinton had a 48 percent unfavorable rating that is 21 percentage points higher than her favorable rating. Bush's favorable rating among independents was 18 percent, while his unfavorable rating was double that percentage.

"What we're seeing with Clinton and Bush is real polarization among the electorate," said pollster Richard Czuba of the Glengariff Group.

Bush's quest to become the third member of his family to reside in the White House faces obstacles with independent voters in Michigan, according to the poll.

Clinton, the former secretary of state, remains the favorite, at this early date, to deliver a sixth consecutive victory for Democrats.

Paul, Rubio and Walker performed better than Bush in head-to-head matchups with Clinton.

If the November 2016 general election were held today, Bush would lose Michigan to Clinton by 9 percentage points, 46 percent to 37 percent. The poll has a margin of error of plus-minus 4 percentage points.

Clinton's margin over Paul and Rubio in head-to-head matchups were both just under 4 percentage points and within the poll's margin of error. She led Paul 44.5 percent to 40.7 percent and Rubio 42.4 percent to 38.7 percent.

"Rubio probably poses the greatest threat to Hillary Clinton in Michigan," Czuba said. "He has room to grow. He clearly made a dent with independent voters."

Czuba said Bush's challenge lies with independent voters, who may be turned off by having the brother and son of former presidents running the country.

Republicans haven't won a presidential race in Michigan since 1988, when George H.W. Bush prevailed over Democrat Michael Dukakis. Michigan native Mitt Romney lost the state in 2012 to Democratic President Barack Obama.

"When you look at the Clinton-Bush numbers, they look an awful lot like the Obama-Romney numbers," Czuba said. "To have a shot in Michigan, Republicans are going to have to go to a nominee who is not necessarily an establishment candidate, that offers independents something interesting."

For Bush, who formally launched his campaign for president Monday, his unfavorable rating was 17 percentage points higher than his favorable rating, the largest spread of all six candidates included in the survey, Czuba said.

Bush's overall favorable rating in the poll was 24 percent. Still, Bush commands 94 percent name identification among likely Michigan voters, followed by Paul with 82 percent, Rubio at 70 percent and Walker trailing far behind at 55 percent.

"Name identification is everything in politics," said TJ Bucholz, a Democratic political consultant in Lansing. "It's especially true in the presidential race. It's becoming even more important as the electorate becomes more disengaged."

Paul, who has a close following among libertarian-minded Republicans, polled the best among independent voters, with his favorable-unfavorable rating split at 26 percent. Paul also had the highest favorable rating among voters under age 40 among the four Republican candidates tested in the poll.

John Yob, a Grand Rapids consultant serving as national political director of Paul's campaign, said the polling data reflects Paul's appeal to voters outside of the GOP's traditional tent.

"We need to nominate a candidate who can appeal to independent voters, young people and non-traditional Republicans if we want to make Michigan competitive in the general election and keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House," Yob said in an email.

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