Where Have All The Popular Politicians Gone?

Image: McCain And Obama Spar In Second Presidential Debate
NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 07: Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) (R) speaks during the debate at Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) (L) speaks at the Town Hall Presidential Debate at Belmont University's Curb Event Center October 7, 2008 in Nashville, Tennessee. Tonight's debate is the second presidential debate of three, the only one being held in the town hall style with questions coming from audience members. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)Mark Wilson / Getty Images

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Where have all the popular politicians gone? President Obama isn’t the only American politician who’s struggling these days. In fact, unlike others, his favorable/unfavorable numbers are actually above water -- the first time for him since Oct. 2013. Consider these politicians, institutions, and companies our most recent NBC/WSJ poll measured (from best to worst):

Hillary Clinton: 48% positive, 32% negative (+16)

Barack Obama: 44% positive, 41% negative (+3)

Democratic Party: 36% positive, 37% negative (-1)

General Motors: 27% positive, 29% negative (-2)

Rand Paul: 23% positive, 26% negative (-3)

Michael Bloomberg: 18% positive, 26% negative (-8)

Jeb Bush: 21% positive, 32% negative (-11)

The Koch Brothers: 10% positive, 21% negative (-11)

Mitch McConnell: 8% positive, 23% negative (-15)

Republican Party: 25% positive, 44% negative (-19)

The Tea Party: 22% positive, 41% negative (-19)

The American public, circa 2014, is not a big fan of many politicians these days and certainly isn’t ready to give even potential new national leaders the benefit of the doubt. While this may not surprise you, if you spend your days on social media, it’s actually a quite striking development when observed over the last eight years. What’s especially striking are the numbers for the potential presidential candidates. So far this year, our NBC/WSJ poll has tested four politicians who COULD run in 2016 -- the same folks who have generated the most ‘16 attention thus far. Here are their numbers (the most recent ones for each in the poll):

Hillary Clinton: 48%-32% (April 2014)

Rand Paul: 23%-26% (April 2014)

Jeb Bush: 21%-32% (April 2014)

Chris Christie: 17%-32% (March 2014)

And if you go back to last July, there are these other four potential 2016ers we’ve tested:

Ted Cruz 19%-30% (Oct. 2013)

Marco Rubio 23%-20% (July 2013)

Andrew Cuomo 16%-15% (July 2013)

Joe Biden 38%-35% (July 2013)

Comparing the potential ’16 candidates with those from ’08 and ’12

Outside of Hillary’s, those aren’t super numbers -- and some of them are pretty brutal, particularly since the campaigning (and attacks) are still a year away. But compare them with the first fav/unfavs our NBC/WSJ poll took of potential presidential candidates at a similar point in the 2008 and 2012 cycles:

John McCain: 40%-16% (June 2006)

Barack Obama 31%-11% (Oct 2006)

John Edwards 34%-21% (Dec. 2006)

Hillary Clinton 43%-38% (Dec. 2006)

Mitt Romney 27%-25% (March 2010)

Sarah Palin 30%-45% (March 2010)

We’re living in a cynical age

Yes, it’s still very early in the 2016 cycle. Yes, our NBC/WSJ hasn’t polled all the potential presidentials this year. And, yes, it’s possible that more popular candidates come out of nowhere to make serious runs. But it’s hard to ignore that we’re living in a much more cynical age right now, when the country is disgusted with American politics and its institutions. Just check out these other numbers from our most recent NBC/WSJ poll: Just 19% say they have a lot of confidence in the national news media; 16% say the same about the federal government; and only 13% say that about the financial industry. This is a country that still feels burned by the Iraq war, the 2008 financial collapse, and the bitter partisan atmosphere in Washington. Given these opinions, we have a feeling the eventual 2016 winner isn’t going to campaign on a message of “hope” or “change” as the current occupant of the White House did in ’08. Instead, the eventual winner is going to be the one who best deals with this more cynical environment and becomes credible in a time where most of the public doesn’t put too much stock into what any leader claims.

Divided over trade and globalization

Our NBC/WSJ poll also measured the topics of free trade and globalization, and it found a country divided over both. Per the poll, 46% said they were more likely to support a congressional candidate who campaigned on a message that free trade is a positive, while 48% were more likely to support the candidate against free trade. The party differences here are striking: Just 39% of Democrats backed the free-trade candidate, whole 48% of Republicans and 56% of independents did. Meanwhile, on the subject of globalization, 48% in the poll said that it has ultimately been bad, versus 43% who said it has been good. Here the parties are pretty united: 44% of Democrats said globalization has been good -- compared with 42% of Republicans and 41% of independents.

Returning to campaign finance

In other news, Senate Democrats yesterday announced that they would be bringing up a constitutional amendment sponsored by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) that would reform the nation’s campaign-finance system -- in light of the recent Supreme Court decisions. Udall’s constitutional amendment would 1) restore Congress’ authority to regulate campaign fundraising, and 2) would allow Congress to regulate independent expenditures from outside groups. Bottom line: The effort is intended to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions. Most likely, this effort isn’t going anywhere -- but it will put everyone on the record where they stand on campaign finance. Like many of the current issues Congress is failing to deal with, there actually seems to be a potential compromise on this issue… full-instant disclosure for every major donor (individual and institution) is doable on a bipartisan level but right now both parties are still protecting their own potential donors and worried about shielding the system for them.

FL GOV: Mr. Popularity vs. Mr. Improving Economy

Yesterday’s Quinnipiac poll of Florida’s gubernatorial race finds challenger Charlie Crist leading incumbent Gov. Rick Scott by 10 points, 48%-38%. And it appears that the contest will come down to popularity vs. an improving economy. Crist has a net-positive fav/unfav (43%-36%), while Scott’s is a net-negative (39%-46%). Also, 48% say that Crist care about their needs and problems, compared with just 38% who say the same about Scott. Meanwhile, a combined 51% are very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the state’s direction – likely a reflection of the state’s declining unemployment rate. This should be good news for Scott, but it’s not (yet) transferring to him. This is Scott’s challenge, can he turn this contest AWAY from being a personality contest and try and get voters to give him credit for managing the state out of the recession. Right now, this polling indicates he’s got work to do. After all, the most troublesome number for Scott: Only 39% of voters say he deserves re-election. Meanwhile, with Bill Clinton attending a fundraiser for Crist, the Republican Party of Florida is up with a new digital ad reminding us that Crist (when he was a Republican) called on Clinton to resign during the Lewinsky scandal.

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