In early February, Pack Poll ran a survey exploring student preferences for potential Democratic and Republican nominees for the 2016 presidential election. Included in this poll was a section exploring how respondents would vote between two hypothetical candidates if the election were held today. The respondents were also given an undecided option in these races.
Initial analysis displayed a worrisome trend for Democrats, as the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, was also the only Democratic candidate to not win at least one of her hypothetical races against the three Republican candidates. However, this was due in part to a massive disparity in the number of Democrats and Republicans in Clinton’s race against Jeb Bush, with only 7 Democrats in the sample and 25 Republicans. Initial analysis ran into a pitfall as well with the polling software allowing for respondents who were undecided to be prompted to pick between the two candidates and the undecided option for two other races along with their original. With these undesired responses weeded out, Hillary Clinton reached a tie with Mike Huckabee and lost by a slim margin to Rand Paul. However, while she did not fair strongly in these head-to-head races, Hillary Clinton still appears to be the favorite candidate among Democrats by a slight margin, and the favorite candidate for Independents as well. Overall, each of the parties’ candidates performed fairly evenly among their own party. The table below shows the percentage of respondents from each party, Democrat, Republican, and Independent, who chose each candidate. Among their own parties, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush performed the best, but for the most part, party lines governed where self-identified Democrats and Republicans would vote.
Table 1. Results of Hypothetical 2016 Presidential Races among the Three Parties
Even though Hillary Clinton failed to win any of her three potential races, she still is currently the Democrat’s strongest candidate. From the table below, it can be seen that Clinton was the candidate that on average drew in the largest percentage of Independents in her three races, with 34% of Independents choosing Hillary Clinton, 7.4% above the average of 26.7% of Independents that chose a candidate (53.3% chose a candidate, so on average each candidate received 26.7% of the Independent vote). In fact, Clinton bolstered the Democratic average among Independents so significantly that she was the only Democratic candidate that beat the Democratic average (28%). On the other side of the aisle, Republican Rand Paul did the best among Independents pulling in 31.1% of the Independent vote, outperforming both the candidate average (26.7%) and the Republican average (25.3%).
Table 2. Choices of Self-Identified Independents on the 2016 Presidential Election
On average, 46.7% of Independents reported being undecided about the 2016 presidential race. This number was only 36.2% when Hillary Clinton ran, meaning that fewer Independents were undecided when Hillary was one of the hypothetical candidates. Simultaneously, Elizabeth Warren saw an average undecided rate of 59.6%, which was the highest by over 10% (compared to Jeb Bush in second at 49%). This makes sense as even Democrats reported a lack of familiarity with Elizabeth Warren, as discussed in this article. On the Democratic side, Joe Biden was the worst off, collecting fewer Independent respondents than the average and seeing fewer undecided respondents than the average, implying that these Independents were choosing against Vice President Biden rather than remaining undecided. On the Republican side, the best candidate was Rand Paul, who saw a decrease in undecided Independent respondents and an increase in Independent respondents choosing him. This is most likely due to libertarians classifying as Independents when not given a libertarian option and then choosing Rand Paul when he was a candidate.
While these results are interesting, it is critical to remember that early polling results are often meaningless. Hillary Clinton, the most well-known candidate, was receiving the highest level of support from both her own party and from Independents, as is often seen in early polling results. Hillary Clinton also lead early Democratic polls before the 2008 presidential election before Barack Obama emerged as a candidate, and Rudy Giuliani lead Republican polling for the nomination. Neither Clinton nor Giuliani received their parties’ nomination, let alone won the presidency. Polling results will start to gain validity once the two nominees have been chosen and have been campaigning, and at that point these early polling results will show where student opinions began.