Analysis: Who's Really Leading the Presidential Race Now?

(Photo: REUTERS/Darren Hauck)Republican U.S. presidential candidates (L-R) Governor John Kasich, former Governor Jeb Bush, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, businessman Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, former HP CEO Carly Fiorina and U.S. Rep. Rand Paul pose during a photo opportunity before the debate held by Fox Business Network for the top 2016 U.S. Republican presidential candidates in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, November 10, 2015.

In August, I wrote that Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were leading the presidential race among Republicans, and Hillary Clinton was leading among Democrats. Who is leading now?

The real leaders in the race are not necessarily those leading in the "who would you vote for if the election were held tomorrow?" question. (Because the election will not be held tomorrow.)

Rather, the candidates with the best chance to run a successful campaign are those with a broad base of support in their party, money and a large base of devoted supporters. For this reason, my analysis of who is really leading the race is based upon three measures: favorability, fundraising and number of donors.

Here are those measures updated.

1. Favorability

Using Monmouth University polls (Republicans here and Democrats here), I gave the candidates a score between -100 to 100 based upon their favorability versus unfavorability among the voters who had an opinion. For the Republicans, Monmouth only had scores for the top six candidates. (Here is the formula: (favorability – unfavorability)/(100 – "no opinion")*100.)

In order from best to worst, here are the scores:

Ben Carson70
Marco Rubio51
Ted Cruz36
Carly Fiorina35
Donald Trump22
Jeb Bush-9
Bernie Sanders68
Hillary Clinton63
Martin O'Malley15

2. Cash on Hand

While the August analysis looked at overall fundraising, this time let's look at the combined cash on hand for the campaign and outside groups. That will show how much money they have left to mount a successful campaign. (Data available at

Here are those numbers:

Jeb Bush108,046,300
Ted Cruz50,940,587
Marco Rubio27,208,467
Chris Christie12,779,044
Ben Carson12,271,845
Carly Fiorina7,510,740
Rand Paul6,416,328
Lindsey Graham4,201,046
Mike Huckabee4,030,885
John Kasich567,822
George Pataki80,945
Jim Gilmore54,263
Donald Trump-35,570
Rick Santorum-219,002
Hillary Clinton47,934,068
Bernie Sanders27,018,124
Martin O'Malley786,131

3. Number of Donors

And last, to measure whether the candidates have a base of strong supporters they can rely upon, here are the total number of donors along with the percentage of campaign funds that came from small donations (data not available for Christie, Kasich and Gilmore).


Ben Carson23,49363
Ted Cruz21,14142
Marco Rubio11,70921
Jeb Bush11,3685
Rand Paul6,64748
Carly Fiorina5,53747
Donald Trump1,69848
Lindsey Graham1,6714
Mike Huckabee1,62440
Rick Santorum53721
George Pataki1926


Hillary Clinton36,39017
Bernie Sanders26,03274
Martin O'Malley1,7887

(Photo: Reuters/Jim Young)Democratic U.S. presidential candidates Senator Bernie Sanders (L), former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley pose on stage ahead of the second official 2016 U.S. Democratic presidential candidates debate in Des Moines, Iowa, November 14, 2015.

Republican Analysis

In August, there were only two candidates in the top five for all three measures, Cruz and Rubio. Now there are three candidates in the top five who are now the leaders — Carson, Cruz and Rubio.

Fiorina is close to being in that top tier. She places sixth in cash on hand and number of donors. Her favorability score (35) places her in a statistical third place tie with Cruz (36).

As in August, Trump is still a wild card. Due to his ability to fund his own campaign, his scores for cash on hand and number of donors require an asterik beside them. He is sixth in favorability (22) and that score is a significant improvement since August, when it was at negative one.

The Bush campaign and outside groups supporting Bush have spent $20 million. The result is that Bush's favorability score has gone down, from 25 to negative nine, which is a sign of an ineffective political campaign. He leads by a lot in cash on hand, twice as much as second place Cruz, but will that even matter if his campaign can't spend the money well?

Democrat Analysis

Clinton no longer leads in all three categories. While Clinton's favorability score has remained the same (63), Sanders' favorability has much improved, from 49 to 68. Still, Clinton is almost even with Sanders on favorability and has large leads in the other two categories, and thus should still be considered the front-runner.

Sanders is a legitimate threat to Clinton's lead. He has enough cash on hand to stay in the race, a large base of strong supporters and a broad base of support among Democrats.

O'Malley is far behind in all three categories.