Washington — At first blush, the results of the Des Moines Register poll conducted late last month in Iowa must have seemed dispiriting to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in his quest for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
Despite campaigning heavily for the last couple of months in Iowa, which hosts the Feb. 1 caucuses that kick off the nomination process, and despite frequent reports from his camp of packed houses and enthusiastic audiences at his town-hall meetings across the state, Jindal has struggled to rise in the polls there, typically scoring in the low single digits. The Register poll was no exception, putting him at 2 percent, tied for 10th in the Republican field and 21 points behind the leader, real-estate developer and reality-TV celebrity Donald Trump.
But in an appearance on cable TV, Register pollster J. Ann Selzer identified Jindal as a “hidden winner” in the poll, because of the strong growth he showed in his favorability rating, the net outcome when pollsters ask voters if they have a favorable or unfavorable view of a candidate.
“He’s kind of lurking there as having some upside potential,” Selzer said.
Jindal quickly spread Selzer’s comments via Twitter.
But this is a song Up With Jindal has sung before.
A month ago, his campaign released the results of its internal poll in Iowa, showing Jindal with support from 8 percent of those surveyed — a number unmatched by him in any independent poll.
The campaign waxed especially rhapsodic over Jindal’s favorability ratings in that poll, and pointed to his solid showings in that category in other polls as well.
But, as Selzer noted, that has not translated into “votes,” by which she means selections of Jindal as the top pick of survey respondents.
The trend is not exactly positive. Monmouth University, which in mid-July registered 4 percent support in Iowa for Jindal — one of his strongest showings — recorded him at 1 percent at the end of August.
Even Gravis Marketing, whose Iowa polling results are notably kind to Jindal, show him falling from 7 percent at the end of July to 5 percent a month later.
The picture is gloomier still for Jindal nationally, where his candidacy has pretty much fallen off the table as far as polls are concerned.
He has not reached 2 percent in a national poll since the beginning of August, according to the tally of the Real Clear Politics web site, as of Friday. That was 10 polls ago — and in the four most recent polls, he’s been shut out.
The RCP average of the five most recent national polls places Jindal in a tie for 14th, with former New York Gov. George Pataki, at 0.2 percent.
But as the Jindal campaign is fond of pointing out, the nomination is not based on a national vote: It’s determined state by state in caucuses and primaries. Jindal’s strategy is to score big in an early-deciding state to build momentum for later contests.
Historically, polls at this stage in the cycle haven’t been worth much in predicting the eventual nominee. This year, the national polls have come into play in determining the lineups for the first two nationally televised debates among the Republican candidates. The surveys relegated Jindal and six other candidates to the late-afternoon “kid’s table” for the Aug. 6 debate on Fox News, and he will similarly be assigned to the second tier in the Sept. 16 debate on CNN.
There may be a silver lining to Jindal’s microscopic poll numbers: He is not drawing attacks from his rivals, at least not much beyond Trump’s offhand (and, as it turns out, somewhat premature) dismissal of Jindal in July as “at zero” in the polls, in response to Jindal’s criticism of disparaging comments Trump made about illegal Mexican immigrants.
Jindal is not subject to the kind of attention Trump is receiving from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is assailing Trump on social media for Trump’s reluctance to shake hands with voters for fear of contamination by germs.
Even cursory scrutiny of Jindal would discover the withering criticism of him by his fellow Republicans in Louisiana this spring over Jindal’s farcical budget-balancing strategy that putatively did not raise taxes — even though it undeniably did.
State Treasurer John Kennedy memorably termed the scheme “nonsense on a stick.”
The confection was devised to comply with the strictures of Americans for Tax Reform and its leader, Grover Norquist, a conservative heavyweight. Undeterred by the backlash in Louisiana, Jindal last week re-enlisted with Norquist and his notorious anti-tax pledge.
Gregory Roberts is chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and is on Twitter @GregRobertsDC. For more coverage of national government and politics, follow The Advocate Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.