Can Jeb Bush Make Voters Like Him Enough to Run in 2016?

Andy Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Andy Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Republicans have always had a reputation for alienating certain demographics in America, or at the very least, failing to attract their votes. Women, African Americans, and other minority groups statistically tend to identify as Democrats, or left-leaning more often than as members of the GOP, or right-leaning.

This limited appeal has been explained in a number of ways, most often by the fact that policies that help minorities and empower women often come from the left, whether it’s equal pay or police enforcement reform. Democrats have historically been more same-sex-marriage-friendly, more supportive of the right to choose, and pro birth control coverage under health care. Some argue that the problem lies in who makes up the Republican party; older, white males. But the fact of the matter is, when it comes down to it, people sometimes vote with their gut. Not every American voter is immersed deeply in politics, and some vote based on something as simple as how well they relate to a candidate.

And as much as politicians like Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) have become the butt of many castrated hog jokes, her small town farming persona is likely part of what helped to get her elected. Her personality, background, the whole package, unquestionably helped to attract voters in her state. Personality, intentions, and genuineness all impact which box gets ticked in a voting booth. Polling data from FiveThirtyEight suggests this may be Mitt Romney’s exact problem, and it’s not the only publication to point to Romney’s relatability as a negative factor.

As FiveThirtyEight’s table shows below, the percentage of voters who believed he cared about them has historically always been lower than Democratic candidates. On top of that, he was also “only the second Republican to have less than half of voters see him as caring about ‘people like me.'” He only showed 46% of respondents saying they believed he cared about them.

enten-datalab-romneyoutoftouchThis is an ironic percentage, just under the 47% Romney dismissed in 2012 during a speech that likely exacerbated this very problem. “There are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47% who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitlted to health care, to food, to housing,” and so on. It’s a familiar quote by now because it’s been used a lot, but it very neatly summarizes just the problem we’re talking about.

However, Mitt Romney is very unlikely, at this point, to run in 2016, whether he’d have the support or not. Jeb Bush on the other hand, is still a real option, and I bring him up because, at least in the polls, he is so far the leading Republican choice who has yet to deny running for the position. So it becomes important to consider whether or not Jeb Bush runs along Romney’s same problematic vein, or is closer to the Joni Ernst of his party. It’s not necessarily a matter of how conservative or moderate he is, in part it’s a PR question. His words back in April of 2014 to the Washington Post regarding illegal immigrants could be one demonstration of his capability.

Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love. It’s an act of commitment to your family. I honestly think that that is a different kind of crime, that there should be a price paid, but it shouldn’t rile people up,” said Bush at the time. He was both critiqued and praised by members of his party, largely because his words came at a time when amnesty was a no-go topic and his rhetoric might be misconstrued.

While his family ties work against him in part (oligarchy, anyone?), in other ways that familiarity may work in his favor when it comes to a voter’s knee-jerk reaction. Having had your father and brother both in the executive office hardly makes one relatable to the average American, no more so than the cars Romney’s wife drives. But it’s not only about being relatable. It’s about how noticeable those differences are, and whether or not they can empathize — or at least feel like they might empathize. His brother George W. Bush may have left office with low approval, but so much changes after politicians step out of the lime light. As they say, the past is often viewed with rose-tinted glasses, and he’s vocal in supporting his brother. “If I need to reiterate it, I will: Run, Jeb. I think he’d be a great president,” said G.W. Bush. Add to that Jeb Bush’s “Right to Rise” concept, meant to appeal to middle class and struggling Americans, and he appears to be free of Romney’s fatal flaw — though he has plenty of others with which to contend.

Time will tell, as will more specific polling yet to come as elections near and a more formal decision is made as to whether he’ll run. But it’s clear that between Jeb Bush and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie — who, while sometimes incautious in his remarks, has a brashness that clearly appeals to voters — Republicans may dodge some of the problems Romney presented in the past.

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