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Polls and History Show Americans Are Fine With Political Nepotism

Bushes and Clintons have held top positions in American politics for as long as I've been alive.
From left: Jeb Bush. (The World Affairs Council of Philadelphia/Flickr); Hillary Clinton. (Marc Nozell/Flickr)

From left: Jeb Bush. (The World Affairs Council of Philadelphia/Flickr); Hillary Clinton. (Marc Nozell/Flickr)

America's presidential playing field is hosting some familiar names right now. Jeb Bush officially announced his bid for the Republican nomination on Monday, bringing ever closer the possibility that the 2016 United States presidential election will be between a Bush and a Clinton. If that happens, it'll be an echo of the 1992 election, when Bill Clinton ran against George H.W. Bush (and Ross Perot). But it's not just the presidency: Bushes and Clintons have been active at the top of American politics since the 1980s.

Theoretically, Americans should resist the idea of a select few families dominating politics. The country was, after all, founded in opposition to hereditary rule. But do ordinary Americans really care that much? Sure, some do: RootsAction, a non-profit that runs a website called, supports independent progressive candidates for political office. Polls and history suggest RootsAction members are in the minority, however:

  • In March, the Pew Research Center asked Democrats whether it bothered them that the Clintons have dominated the party for so long. Eighty-eight percent were a-OK with it.
  • In 2014, Pew ran a poll asking voters if they thought Hillary Clinton's involvement in her husband's presidency was a mark for or against her. Even among Republicans, more people thought it would ultimately help the former First Lady.
  • An early March Gallup poll suggested the recognition that comes with Jeb Bush's surname will aid his campaign. Among likely Republican presidential candidates at that time, those with whom voters were most familiar were more likely to earn high favorability marks. The pattern also worked in the favor of politician Mike Huckabee, although his popularity stemmed not from his family name, but from his 2008 presidential nomination campaign and subsequent work as a talk-show host.
  • America has long tolerated, or even chosen, political dynasties. One analysis found that about 8.7 percent of Congress members had a relative in office before them, and 8.6 percent had a relative follow them into Congress. Politics is, by far, more of a "family thing" than fields like medicine or law, the analysis found. "In politics, power begets power," the analysis' authors wrote.

Why are Americans so tolerant of this apparent nepotism? The answer is simple, according to at least one recent analysis: "brand identity." More than political experience or fundraising ability, voters like a name they already know. We're a culture that values earned merit and self-made folks, but we're also a culture that loves celebrity.