A month of extensive New Hampshire advertising on Jeb Bush's behalf has failed to boost his support and likely Republican primary voters there view him as inferior to frontrunner Donald Trump on most key attributes.
A new Bloomberg Politics/Saint Anselm New Hampshire Poll also shows Bush's favorability rating among the state's Republican primary voters has dropped to its lowest level—57 percent—since the survey was first taken almost a year ago.
In the horse race, the former Florida governor has seen his overall support drop to 10 percent, from 11 percent in May. That puts him in third place, behind Trump at 24 percent and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson at 17 percent, despite an advertising push by the pro-Bush Right to Rise super political action committee that has dominated the state's television screens for the past four weeks.
“With such a heavy spend, the Bush campaign was undoubtedly hoping for a bounce,” said Doug Usher of Washington-based Purple Strategies, which conducted the poll Oct. 15-18. “But their candidate is closer to Rubio, Fiorina and Kasich than to the top tier, and his favorables are moving in the wrong direction.”
There's virtually no good news in the poll for Bush, who early on in the race was thought to be a better fit among New Hampshire's more moderate voters than in more conservative-leaning, early states like Iowa and South Carolina. Besides a declining favorability rating, the poll shows his positions on immigration and national educational standards are troubling to roughly half of likely primary voters, he lags on questions of empathy and authenticity and he's the second-choice pick of just 6 percent.
Bush isn't alone among experienced politicians trying to gain traction in New Hampshire. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida is backed by 8 percent, while former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and Ohio Governor John Kasich are both at 7 percent. Kasich has also invested heavily in New Hampshire, making roughly a dozen trips to the state since declaring his candidacy in July. In the past month, the super-PAC backing him, New Day for America, has run 144 spots in the state's television markets, according to data compiled by Kantar Media's CMAG.
It's worth noting that the last two Republican nominees, Senator John McCain of Arizona and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, were also struggling to break through at this point in 2007 and 2011. “Bush still has time, but it’s running short,” Usher said.
The poll, which included 400 likely Republican primary voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points, shows roughly two-thirds of the electorate could be persuaded to support someone other than their first choice. Trump's supporters are more locked in than his nearest competitor's, with 51 percent of the billionaire's backers saying their mind is made up, compared to 30 percent for Carson's.
Bush does better among non-conservatives, where he draws 16 percent support, compared to just 6 percent among conservatives. Trump does better with conservatives than non-conservatives, 29 percent compared to 18 percent. Carson draws roughly equal backing from both groups.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has heavily invested his campaign time in New Hampshire, is backed by 5 percent of likely primary voters in the poll. All of the other candidates were below 5 percent, with the state's first-in-the-nation primary less than four months away.
When first and second choices are combined, the two leaders in New Hampshire are nearly tied, at 33 percent for Trump and 32 percent for Carson. Rubio is third, at 19 percent, followed by Fiorina at 17 percent. At 16 percent, Bush trails those four.
The poll also tested existing and potential lines of attack against several of the top candidates, with mixed results.
Republican primary voters are nearly evenly divided on whether they're bothered by the notion that Trump "repeatedly insults other Republican candidates."
Strong majorities aren't concerned about some of Carson's recent controversial statements, including 68 percent who say they're not bothered by his declaration that being Muslim is disqualifying to become president. An even larger group, 78 percent, weren't troubled that he said Adolf Hitler's mass murder of Jews might not have been as successful if the people had been armed.
Bush's advocacy for a "path to legal residence for immigrants who are in this country illegally" makes 53 percent of those in the survey less supportive of him, while 49 percent say that about his backing of Common Core national education standards. Nearly three-quarters say they aren't bothered that he's the son and brother of two former presidents.
When told that Cruz has "repeatedly led the charge for government shutdowns for his own political advantage," 52 percent of Republican primary voters say they're less supportive of him, while 41 percent say it doesn't concern them.
After being told that Fiorina was "fired as CEO at Hewlett-Packard with a $21 million severance package after the company lost stock value," 59 percent said they aren't bothered, while 37 percent said it would make them less supportive of her.
Rubio's youthfulness isn't much of a concern, with 87 percent saying they're not bothered that the 44-year-old would be the third-youngest president if elected.
One ray of sunshine for Bush in the poll: 22 percent of New Hampshire Republican primary voters rate him as most ready to be president. That's the highest score for anyone other than Trump, who also recorded 22 percent, when responses were limited to Trump, Carson, Rubio, Fiorina, Bush, Christie, Cruz and Kasich. After Bush and Trump, the numbers fall off, with just 10 percent saying that for Carson and 8 percent for Rubio.
"He is intelligent and understands the issues and is less political than many of the other candidates," said Bush supporter Hamilton Stewart, 64, an engineering consultant from Hollis, New Hampshire.
Trump beats Bush, 31 percent to 13 percent, on a question about who in the field would be best able to handle Russian President Vladimir Putin. None of the other candidates in the smaller pool tested even make it into double-digits on that question.
On authenticity, Trump also scores the highest. The billionaire and real estate mogul is picked by 41 percent, followed by Carson at 18 percent. Republican primary voters are more evenly split between Trump and Carson on who "cares most about people like me," with 22 percent selecting Carson and 18 percent Trump.
“This country really needs a change in having somebody who is not in the political sphere,” said Francine Markham, 47, a property manager from New Ipswich, New Hampshire, leaning toward supporting Trump or Carson. “Some of these people are lifelong politicians, and one of the things I really like about [Trump] and Ben Carson is that they’re not in that game already. They really could bring a fresh outlook."
John Stafford, 59, a retired postal worker from Goffstown, New Hampshire, said he's leaning toward Carson because he likes his temperament. "He thinks about what he’s going to say before he says it, unlike other candidates," he said. "I think that he’s probably very qualified for the position as long as he has good support people."
Bush's 57 percent favorability rating among Republicans is below Carson at 74 percent, Rubio at 68 percent, Fiorina at 67 percent and Trump at 58 percent. Below Bush are Christie at 51 percent, Texas Senator Ted Cruz at 50 percent, Kasich at 48 percent, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee at 47 percent and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky at 44 percent. Even lower, in the high 20s and low 30s, are former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
When asked to pick the candidate that's the most conservative among Trump, Carson, Rubio, Fiorina, Bush, Christie, Cruz and Kasich, Cruz easily wins, with 26 percent of likely primary voters picking him.
In New Hampshire, ranking as the most conservative isn't as helpful as in Iowa, where the first-in-the-nation caucus participants lean more conservative. Among voters likely to vote in the Republican primary, 57 percent said they're conservative and 37 percent called themselves moderates. Only about a quarter of the likely New Hampshire electorate described themselves as "born again" or evangelical Christians.