NPR logo Voters Say They Want Change. So Why Do Bush And Clinton Lead Polls?

Voters Say They Want Change. So Why Do Bush And Clinton Lead Polls?

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton receives the Liberty Medal in 2013 from the National Constitution Center. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was the group's honorary chairman. Both are now likely presidential candidates for their respective party's nomination. i

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton receives the Liberty Medal in 2013 from the National Constitution Center. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was the group's honorary chairman. Both are now likely presidential candidates for their respective party's nomination. William Thomas Cain/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption William Thomas Cain/Getty Images
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton receives the Liberty Medal in 2013 from the National Constitution Center. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was the group's honorary chairman. Both are now likely presidential candidates for their respective party's nomination.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton receives the Liberty Medal in 2013 from the National Constitution Center. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was the group's honorary chairman. Both are now likely presidential candidates for their respective party's nomination.

William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

Lost in the back and forth about the Hillary Clinton email controversy Tuesday was that both she and Republican frontrunner Jeb Bush share a common, potentially bigger problem their last names.

It's something that's been evident in focus groups, like one in Colorado last year, where one participant called Clinton "more of the same," and, of Bush, another wondered, "again?"

Even Barbara Bush wife of the first Bush president, mother of the secondgot in on the dynasty dissing two years ago.

"I think it's a great country; there are a lot of great families, and it's not just four families or whatever," she said. "There are other people out there that are very qualified, and we've had enough Bushes."

(She's since walked that back, as her second son is showing all the signs of running for a third Bush presidency — and leading in many Republican primary polls.)

A poll out earlier this week found that more people are looking for "change" ahead of 2016 than they were in 2008 — when President Obama ran on "change you can believe in."

A whopping 59 percent of respondents in a new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll said 2016 is a time "for a person who will bring greater changes to the current policies." In July 2008, it was 55 percent.

Interestingly, Jeb Bush was seen as less of a change agent than Hillary Clinton — 60 percent said Bush would represent too much of a return to policies of the past, while 51 percent said so of Clinton.

So on the one hand, both Bush and Clinton are leading their party's early polls — while on the other, voters say they want change. It seems something has to give.

"Their challenge and their chore is different than either Bush in 2000 or Clinton in '92," said Peter D. Hart, the Democratic pollster who helped conduct the poll. "Each of them was trying to establish. These Bush and Clintons have the opposite challenge — they have the credentials, but do they have the change?"

Clinton may be dealing with a pair of controversies right now — on her State Department emails and the Clinton Foundation's fundraising — but she continues to hold huge leads in primary polls.

A McClatchy-Marist poll out at this week found Clinton with 47- and 48-point leads over two people unlikely to run if she does — Vice President Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts senator popular with the populist, progressive left. (The next-toughest challenge was Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-declared socialist, who grabs just 5 percent. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb register at just 1 percent apiece.)

The Democratic presidential bench is just very thin, and that gives Clinton a lot of wiggle room.

Bush, on the other hand, is in a competitive fight for the nomination, most notably from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. In the NBC-WSJ poll, Republicans appear split on Bush: 49 percent said they could see themselves supporting him, but 42 percent cannot. Compare that to Walker, whom 53 percent of Republicans said they could support and just 17 percent said they could not.

What's more, Republicans are divided nearly evenly on whether Bush represents change — 43 percent said he represents too much of the past, while just 44 percent said he brings ideas and vision that the country needs for the future.

For Clinton, nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of Democrats said she represents change.

Independents, meanwhile, also are not thrilled with the idea of a Clinton-Bush race. A majority said both likely candidates represent too much of the past.

Since most partisans have already made up their minds for a general election on whom they would support, even this far out, those independent voters make up the pool of people a candidate will need to persuade.

But even though they say they want change, that's not who always wins.

"I don't think the American public is going to pick a pig in a poke just because they're new," Hart said. "We want change, but we want change that we can count on and change that's reliable."

Clinton likely will have a running start on trying to appeal to persuadable voters more than a year out from a general-election campaign — as long as she can keep her email straight.

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