Sabatos Crystal Ball

2016 Republican Race Might See Record Level of Competition in Early States

Geoffrey Skelley, Associate Editor, Sabato's Crystal Ball April 30th, 2015


With a list of 20 official or possible Republican entrants in the presidential race, it’s very possible that we will see a record number of major candidates in 2016. We’re clearly a long way from the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, but a look back the last 40 years shows the potential for a record-setting cycle.

We examined the caucus and primary results from the traditional kickoff contests in the Hawkeye and Granite states and counted every candidate who won at least 2.5% of the vote in at least one of the two states between 1976 and 2012. The 2.5% baseline enabled us to winnow out more obscure names. Table 1 lays out the Democratic and Republican candidates who made the cut each cycle and the total number for each party.

Table 1: Democratic and Republican candidates who won at least 2.5% in Iowa and/or New Hampshire, 1976-2012

Notes: *Indicates incumbent president seeking renomination. Names are listed in alphabetical order. In 2012, Ron Paul (3.8%) and Mitt Romney (3.0%) won more than 2.5% in the New Hampshire Democratic primary. However, as they were running for president as Republicans, they are not included in the Democratic count.

Sources: Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections; the Des Moines Register; CQ Press Guide to U.S. Elections, 6th edition.

The largest number of candidates in a single cycle was the 1984 Democratic field, which saw eight candidates meet our baseline. Republicans had their biggest groups of contenders, seven, in 1996 and 2012. As it stands, the 2016 Republican field should have a good chance of meeting and probably beating that number.

Three Republicans are officially in the race for 2016 — Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Marco Rubio of Florida — and there is every indication that, at the very least, ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin will join them. There’s also the expectation that neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson and former business executive Carly Fiorina will throw their hats in the ring in early May. That’s seven names right there, and we’re not including likely entrants such as Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, ex-Govs. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Rick Perry of Texas, or former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, among others. In all likelihood there will be more than enough candidates in the field capable of winning at least 2.5% of the vote in Iowa and/or New Hampshire to set a new record in 2016, one that might not be equaled for a long time.