As we head toward the 2016 presidential elections, many polls and analyses will be publicized leading to plenty of conversations surrounding who is best positioned and who isn't, but it is always good to take a moment and look deeper into what these numbers really mean.
Quinnipiac University, which maintains an independent polling institute, has recently publicized a thermometer ranking of different politicians today. This is at its core how voters "feel" about different leaders on a 0 to 100 scale, and a mean score has been produced about how positive or negative voters feel. The headline promulgated by most news organizations is that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Hillary Clinton are the two "hottest" politicians around today, surpassing all other tested people on the mean positive score.
So let's take a closer look behind this headline to understand what this polling might reveal that hasn't been spotlighted.
First, no news here, Hillary Clinton is best positioned for a Democratic primary for president if she chooses to run. Her score among Democrats is off the charts, and she is the only Democrat tested who has a mean score in the 70s among a likely Democratic base. But she does have vulnerability among Independents in a general election. She ranks fifth among all candidates who are known by more than 50 percent of independents, behind Republicans Christie, Rand Paul, Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio. This is an area she is going to have to fix if she wants to get elected president and not just be the nominee of her party.
Second, Chris Christie right now is the hottest politician around overall, but he also shows signs of vulnerability. His overall mean score has actually dropped in the last two years from a mean of 57 in 2011 to a mean of 53 today. He was actually more liked two years ago than he is right now. And among Republican voters, whose support he needs to win the Republican nomination, he ranks sixth in a mean score among Republican politicians known by more than 50 percent of Republicans. He is behind Ryan, who leads the Republican field right now, and also trails Rand Paul, Rubio, Jeb Bush and even Rick Santorum. His overall support comes from his positive ratings among both Democrats and Independents. This is an area Christie has to fix if he is going to be successful winning the Republican nomination. It doesn't do him any good to be the best-positioned general election Republican if he can't win the nomination.
Obviously, there is a lot of time left until the primary processes of both parties begin, and many things can happen along the way. But it is important to look at the whole picture, and not just the headline of any one poll. Because what seems to be "hot" to pundits, may "not" be to the voters that really matter.