Analysis: Who's Really Leading the Presidential Race?

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are leading in the polls for the Republican and Democratic, respectively, presidential nominee, but those polls are not the best indicator of which candidates are currently the strongest. There are better ways to measure who has the best chance of winning the nomination.

(Photo: Reuters/Brian Snyder)Republican 2016 presidential candidates (L-R) New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, Dr. Ben Carson, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, businessman Donald Trump, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, U.S. Senator Rand Paul and Ohio Governor John Kasich pose at the start of the first official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign in Cleveland, Ohio, August 6, 2015.

Asking voters who they would vote for if the election were held today favors the candidates with the highest name recognition. The candidates who usually win, however, are those who are most acceptable to the broadest range of a party's factions and considered able to win the election.

There are three other measures that, this early in the race, will provide a better picture of who is actually most likely to win the nomination.

1. Favorability

Since many of the candidates are not even known to some voters, one indicator of which candidates voters will like is the difference in favorability and unfavorability ratings among the voters with an opinion. One of the options pollsters provide when asking if they find a candidate "favorable or unfavorable" is "no opinion." For some of the less well known candidates, this is the most common answer.

To better compare the candidates' favorability, I developed a score, from -100 to 100 for each candidate based upon their favorability and unfavorability ratings in the most recent Monmouth University polls for Republicans and Democrats. (Here is the formula: (favorability - unfavorability)/(100 - "no opinion")*100)

Here, in order from best to worst, are those scores:

Republicans

Ben Carson

63

Scott Walker

57

Ted Cruz

49

Marco Rubio

47

Bobby Jindal

41

Mike Huckabee

39

Rick Santorum

39

Rick Perry

36

Rand Paul

26

Jeb Bush

25

Carly Fiorina

24

John Kasich

9

Donald Trump

-1

Chris Christie

-29

Jim Gilmore

-30

Lindsey Graham

-32

George Pataki

-42

Democrats

Hillary Clinton

63

Bernie Sanders

49

Martin O'Malley

-4

Jim Webb

-7

Lincoln Chafee

-16


2. Overall Fundraising

Another important measure of the strength of a campaign is how much money it has raised. While fundraising doesn't always predict the winner of an election, money is a necessary component to any good campaign.

Here are the fundraising totals in millions of dollars, including from outside groups, for each of the candidates in order from best to worst based upon last month's SEC filing (data provided by OpenSecrets.org):

Republicans

Jeb Bush

120.0

Ted Cruz

52.5

Marco Rubio

42.0

Scott Walker

26.2

Rick Perry

15.0

Chris Christie

14.0

Rand Paul

13.9

John Kasich

11.7

Ben Carson

10.8

Bobby Jindal

9.3

Lindsey Graham

6.6

Mike Huckabee

6.5

Carly Fiorina

5.2

Donald Trump

1.9

George Pataki

1.1

Rick Santorum

0.9

Jim Gilmore

0.0

Democrats

Hillary Clinton

67.8

Bernie Sanders

15.2

Martin O'Malley

2.6

Lincoln Chafee

0.4

Jim Webb

0


3. Number of Donors

Campaigns need people power. A strong election campaign will have a base of loyal supporters who are willing to do the difficult work of canvassing their communities for the candidate. While it is too early to get an objective measure of unpaid volunteers, a proxy at this point is the number of donors. Another helpful number to look at is the amount of small individual contributions as a percentage of overall contributions to a candidates campaign.

(Photo: Reuters/Brian Snyder)Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton takes a question from the audience during a town hall campaign stop in Nashua, New Hampshire, July 28, 2015.

Here are the total number of contributors to each candidate's campaign, in order of best to worst, along with the percentage of their campaign funds that came from small individual contributions.

Republicans

Ted Cruz

8085

40%

Marco Rubio

7398

28

Ben Carson

6353

68

Jeb Bush

4607

3

Rand Paul

4314

47

Lindsey Graham

1176

4

Mike Huckabee

1003

29

Carly Fiorina

918

43

Rick Perry

526

8

Rick Santorum

313

23

Bobby Jindal

230

10

George Pataki

121

7

Donald Trump

54

2

Scott Walker

 N/A

 N/A

Chris Christie

 N/A

 N/A

John Kasich

 N/A

 N/A

Jim Gilmore

 N/A

 N/A

Democrats

Hillary Clinton

20759

17%

Bernie Sanders

6289

69

Martin O'Malley

1023

4

Lincoln Chafee

 N/A

 N/A

Jim Webb

 N/A

 N/A


Conclusions

Looking at the race through this lens, the conventional wisdom is correct on the Democratic side and wrong on the Republican side.

Clinton is the clear front-runner with Sanders a distant second. She leads, by far, in each measure. The Chafee, O'Malley and Webb campaigns barely register a pulse. If Joe Biden were to enter the race, his favorability score would be 60, which is close to Clinton's 63. Depending on his fundraising prowess, he could share the top tier with Clinton if he decides to run.

Among Republicans, Bush and Trump are not the leaders. The only candidates in the top five for each measure are Cruz and Rubio. They have the best chances of winning the nomination. When the data becomes available on Scott Walker's contributors, he could join that club as well, placing those two or three in the top tier.

After that, there is a large second tier of Bush, Carson, Fiorina, Huckabee, Jindal, Paul, Perry and (maybe) Walker.

That leaves, in the third tier, Christie, Gilmore, Graham, Kasich, Pataki and Santorum.

Donald Trump, being a special case, belongs to a tier of his own — the wild card tier. Some of these measures are not helpful with regard to Trump because he is rich and plans to mostly self-finance his campaign. While his fundraising totals are currently small, they could go much higher if he puts more of his own wealth into the campaign coffers. This also makes measuring the size of his base supporters more difficult. Still, his favorability score is low (-1) placing him 13 out of the 17 candidates.

The candidates with the most room to improve are those with high "no opinion" scores. They are Gilmore (77 percent), Fiorina (58 percent), Kasich (58 percent) and Pataki (57 percent).

The candidates with low "no opinion" scores will have the hardest time improving their share of the electorate. They are Trump (13 percent), Bush (18 percent), Christie (25 percent), Huckabee (26 percent) and Paul (29 percent).

Two other numbers of special note are Bush's overall fundraising and Clinton's number of donors, both of which are way ahead of all the other candidates of either party. Both of those advantages will be particularly helpful to those candidates.

There is still time for candidates in the second and third tiers to rise to the top. Carson, in particular, looks strong in two of the three measures. The poll was taken last month, before the first Republican presidential debate, and the Democrats have not even had a debate yet. Plus, some of the fundraising data is not currently available. A clearer picture will emerge by October.

The most successful candidates will continue to do well in their fundraising and see increases in their favorability ratings.

Contact: napp.nazworth@christianpost.com, @NappNazworth (Twitter)