Given the extraordinary length of US presidential election campaigns, and the vast sums of money candidates must raise to pay for them, it’s no surprise that some previously tipped prospective candidates have opted not to run. On the Republican side, Mitt Romney said he would not run again as early as 30 January, while former US Ambassador to the UN Josh Bolton did likewise on 14 May. Senator Elizabeth Warren, the darling of Democratic Party progressives, took her hat out of the ring on 31 March, while Vice President Joe Biden went to the brink before finally opting out on 21 October.
With a year to go, we have also seen several candidates call a halt to their bids. Texas Republican Rick Perry announced his candidacy on 4 June but was forced to drop out of the race three months, while Scott Walker, an early Republican frontrunner, quit the race just two weeks after that. Virginia Democrat Jim Webb ended his campaign on 20 October, and following a dismal debate performance, Democratic Senator Lincoln Chafee dropped his bid on 23 October.
Yet despite the withdrawal of two well-known candidates, the Republican Party still has a massive field of 15 contenders that primary voters will have to winnow down to just one over the next eight months. On the other hand, the Democratic Party also only has three candidates for its primary voters to choose from – though they won’t garner the same level of news media attention.
Speaking of news media attention, that’s where the opinion polls are so important. Given the unwieldy size of the Republican field, the national party leaders and the US TV networks decided to limit the number of debate participants to the top candidates based on the average level of support they received in the four most recent national polls. The remaining candidates who didn’t make the cut would be allowed to participate in a separate televised debate that would precede the main debate. But with just three presidential candidates, splitting up their candidates wasn’t an issue for the Democratic Party. (As it happens, 56 per cent are firmly behind former Secretary of State – and erstwhile First Lady – Hillary Clinton, while Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has a 30 per cent share, and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley stands at 3 per cent.)
In response to criticism by voters and some of the Republican candidates about the length of the first three debates, the GOP and the networks decided to limit the main debate to candidates who had an average of at least a 2.5 per cent level of support in the most recent polls. Furthermore, in order to participate in the undercard debate, the remaining presidential aspirants would have to register at least one per cent. Anyone else would be excluded.
So for the most recent Republican debates, held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on 10 November, only eight candidates qualified for the main debate, and another four for the undercard. The revised criteria excluded former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and former New York Governor George Pataki.
At the far opposite end of the Republican popularity polls is ‘The Donald’, the reality TV star who wants you to believe he is worth a lot more than he actually is, with an average level of voter support of 25.3 per cet. But nipping at his heels with 24.5 per cent support is the other current tier-one Republican contestant, Dr Ben Carson, a physician and wannabe gang member who wants you to believe that he was once a violent hoodlum even though no one he grew up with remembers this.
At the front of the second tier of Republican contenders, with an 11.8 per cent level of support, is Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who wants you to believe he is the son of Cuban exiles even though his parents immigrated to the United States two-and-a-half years before Castro took power. He is followed by Texas Senator Ted Cruz who has the support of 10 per cent of Republicans and wants you to believe that the states with the strictest gun control laws have the highest murder and crime rates when in fact the opposite is true.
Floundering behind them in the popularity stakes are Florida Governor Jeb Bush (5.5%), Carly Fiorina (3%), Ohio Governor John Kasich (2.8%) and Senator Rand Paul (2.5%). Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and Senator Rick Santorum failed to get the single percentage point of support to qualify for the undercard debate. That’s a lot of once big names with alarmingly little support among the supposed party faithful.
Charles Laffiteau is a US Republican from Dallas, Texas pursuing a career in public service. He previously lectured on Contemporary US Business & Society at DCU from 2009-2011 and pursued a PhD in Public Policy and Political Economy.