What Does It Take to Win a Presidential Nomination?

Darren Hauck/Getty Images

Darren Hauck/Getty Images


In the past few weeks, potential Republican candidates for the 2016 presidential election have been getting closer to admitting they’re going to run, whether they’ve formed an exploratory committee or just expressed interest. The Iowa Freedom Summit made stars out of Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wisc.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), but polls still have former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush as the frontrunner (though obviously it’s still anyone’s race, as it’s not an official race yet). With so many people tip-toeing around the candidacy line or throwing their hat in, it’s hard to identify who has a real shot. Let’s take a look at some measurements of what makes a candidate successful in grabbing the nomination.

Be unknown or well-liked

According to FiveThirtyEight, the only types of candidates who eventually won the presidential nomination were either unfamiliar to voters early in the campaign or they were were both well-known and well-liked. FiveThirtyEight noted this in recognition of the odds of Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) earning the nomination, as he is well-known but not that well-liked. According to FiveThirtyEight’s calculation, the governer’s net favorability to name recognition ratio is 25 percentage points off the pace.

FiveThirtyEight points out that it’s pretty hard to determine who will be successful in securing the nomination because “sometimes losers look like winners.” The site catalogued the runs of 10 eventual losers for clues as to common identifiers of who will be a dud. The analysis notes that, while Walker is looking good right now, he bears resemblance to a candidate like former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who ran in 2012, “a successful Republican governor who won multiple terms in a Midwest state.”

Pawlenty was relatively unknown in early polls, but well-liked by those who knew him, meeting the easiest metric. His “net-favorable-to-name-recognition ratio” was even better than the eventual nominee Mitt Romney’s. His downfall was partially due to him being boring and not going on the offensive in debates. Walker’s already trying to make himself look as passionate as possible, giving a rousing speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit that had the Washington Times describe him as casting himself as a “conservative warrior.”

What does the public want to see?

Pew Research Center conducted a survey last year and found that what Americans are looking for in a 2016 candidate has changed from their responses in 2008. Perhaps because of Congress’s lower than low approval rating, the survey found that 30% of Americans would be less likely to support a candidate with “many years” of experience as an elected official in Washington, and 19% would be more likely to support such a candidate. The remaining half said it didn’t matter if the candidate had a lot of Washington experience. This is a contrast to 2008, when 35% were more likely to support a candidate with lengthy Washington experience (and 15% were less likely). It’s possible the change in opinion is an endorsement of the current president, as many feared President Barack Obama lacked experience when he was running for office.

Republicans have a stronger opinion about where their candidate has served in government before, though. According to Pew, by a 51% to 40% margin, Republicans find serving as a governor rather than as a member of Congress to be better preparation for the presidency. Pew notes that this is a big shift from numbers in 2007 that showed 46% of Republicans believed experience in Congress rather than as a governor (only 32% thought this) better prepared someone for the White House. Perhaps this is positive for Bush, Walker, Christie, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and former New York Gov. George Pataki, who are all exploring candidacy.

Pew also asked about how faith factored into voting. Following what the surveys usually show, Americans would have a negative reaction to a presidential candidate who does not believe in God. While 41% say this wouldn’t matter to them, 53% say they would be less likely to support a candidate who does not believe in God, and only 5% would be more likely to support such a candidate. Welcome news to Cruz who does not shy away from discussing faith in his speeches.

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