How Jeb Bush became afterthought in the 2016 presidential race

Jeb Bush is at 3.3 percent in the polls. Ever since summer, he's been on a steady, slow slide.

Patrick Semansky/AP
Campaign staffer Kyle Radon (l.) and volunteer Jack Davidson look over information on a computer as they call Iowa residents from the state headquarters for Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in West Des Moines, Iowa, on Thursday.

Jeb Bush is fast becoming an afterthought in the GOP race – George Pataki with money. It’s possible he can still win the nomination, because almost anything seems possible in The Election Cycle of Trump, 2016. But it’s highly unlikely. It would require the Hail Mary pass of the century – a 100-yard strike that splits the uprights, bounces off three defenders, and sticks in a receiver’s face mask for the winning score.

OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration. It’s not much of one, though. Mr. Bush is at 3.3 percent in national polls. He’s sixth in New Hampshire, a state where his grownup-in-the-room manner should do well. And he’s on a steady downward slide.

For Team Bush, that’s probably the thing that hurts the most. Their guy started out well, with a huge fundraising haul for his super PAC and decent appeal. Through mid-July of 2015 he was the actual as well as notional Republican frontrunner. Ever since then it’s been a steady, slow drop. In other words, once the campaign started, and Bush began making appearances and running ads and doing everything candidates are supposed to do, real voters liked him less and less. That must be a painful experience.

Some Gallup Poll numbers released today shed light on this process. They show that last summer Bush remained well-liked by Republican voters. They did not immediately disdain his family heritage. In August 2015 his Gallup net favorability – positive assessments minus negative ones – was a positive 27.

Then stuff started actually happening. Today his net favorability is underwater, negative, more dislikes than likes. His Gallup rating is -1.

That’s the lowest such number for any major GOP candidate. He’s lost more ground on this measure than anyone else running.

“Bush’s campaign efforts since July have clearly moved his image in a negative direction,” writes Gallup editor Frank Newport.

How did this happen? He got better known, for one thing. Yes, the Bush name was famous beforehand. Back in August, 81 percent of GOP voters or GOP-leaning independents said they knew who Jeb was.

But that’s now edged up to 89 percent, making Jeb the second-best known of all the Republican hopefuls, after Guess Who (Hint: his initials are “Donald Trump.”) Clearly this exposure actually shrank his followers.

And Bush really lost Republican men. That might be the most startling sub-figure in Gallup’s series. Since July his net favorable rating among men has dropped a whopping 39 points, as opposed to a 13 point drop among women.

Maybe Trump’s digs at Bush – his “low energy” gibe, for instance – really did make a difference. Because the opposite is true of Trump. Much of his poll rise since early fall reflects a big jump in his standing among men. He remains less liked by female voters.

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