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A Huge Number Of GOP Leaders Aren’t Endorsing This Year

On Feb. 21, a day after Jeb Bush ended his bid for the GOP presidential nomination, it seemed as though the highest-ranking members of the Republican Party had finally found a reason to coalesce around one of its candidates. Until then, only 138 of the party’s 331 governors, U.S. senators and U.S. representatives had endorsed a candidate. Then, on Feb. 21, five representatives and a senator endorsed Marco Rubio. The next day was even bigger for Rubio, as he picked up endorsements from four more senators, a governor and five representatives. By the end of the week, he’d added a total of 20 new endorsements.

Two and a half weeks later, Rubio dropped out of the race.

With fewer options — there are only three candidates left in the race — one might expect Republican leaders to decide, finally, which candidate is their best bet and give him their endorsement. That hasn’t happened: In the month before he suspended his campaign, Rubio won the support of 30 national elected officials; in the month since, the remaining three candidates have picked up the support of only 18. Less than two months from the final primaries, most Republican elites are still on the sidelines, and at a higher level than in any election since at least 1980.

In the table below, for each presidential primary election since 1980 (without an incumbent president running), I’ve listed the percentage of available endorsement points1 awarded to the candidates still running at this point in the race:2

YEAR PARTY SHARE OF POINTS AWARDED TO REMAINING CANDIDATES
2016 Democratic 85%
2000 Republican 78
2000 Democratic 73
1996 Republican 68
2008 Democratic 61
2008 Republican 48
2004 Democratic 47
2012 Republican 43
1988 Republican 38
1984 Democratic 37
1992 Democratic 33
1988 Democratic 32
1980 Republican 28
2016 Republican 22
Few GOP endorsement points have been awarded this election

As of 74 days after Iowa; FiveThirtyEight gives 10 points for endorsements from governors, 5 points for endorsements from U.S. senators and 1 point for endorsements from U.S. representatives.

While this is far from the only election in which the majority of points have gone unawarded by now,3 it is, by this measure, the one with the least participation from the party’s top elected officials.

Barring a large shift in voting patterns, it seems unlikely that there will be a point in the race — at least before primary voting is over — that the party’s leaders will be moved to support one of the candidates. Donald Trump, the front-runner, is unpopular and says the Republican National Committee doesn’t want him to be the nominee. Ted Cruz has picked up a handful of endorsements in the past few weeks, but several of those have been given only grudgingly. And John Kasich has had trouble getting endorsements even from people who support him.

Republican elites’ failure to pick a preferred nominee is, to say the least, unusual. Typically, GOP officials have rallied behind a candidate by now:

bycoffe-endorse-1

But in a race with so much uncertainty, Republican leaders might see staying quiet as a safer bet than publicly supporting a candidate.

Footnotes

  1. FiveThirtyEight gives 10 points for endorsements from governors, 5 points for endorsements from U.S. senators and 1 point for endorsements from U.S. representatives.

  2. 74 days after the Iowa caucuses.

  3. We’re confident that our endorsement counts for previous years are mostly complete, but it’s possible that we’re missing some endorsements that were not as widely publicized. We began with data from “The Party Decides” and supplemented that with our own research.

Aaron Bycoffe is a computational journalist for FiveThirtyEight.

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