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Jeb Bush is doing much, much worse than George W. was at this point in 1999

Jeb and W. in 2002.
Jeb and W. in 2002.
Chris Livingston/Getty Images
Dylan Matthews is a senior correspondent and head writer for Vox's Future Perfect section and has worked at Vox since 2014. He is particularly interested in global health and pandemic prevention, anti-poverty efforts, economic policy and theory, and conflicts about the right way to do philanthropy.

On the surface, Jeb Bush's presidential bid this cycle and his brother's in 2000 bear a strong resemblance. Each came at the end of the two-term presidency of a Democrat who succeeded someone named Bush. Each of started as a frontrunner with strong establishment support. Each vied to oppose a Democratic candidate who faced only token opposition in the primaries.

But the reality is that George W. Bush started off in a much, much stronger position in 2000 than Jeb Bush has this time. These two polls, juxtaposed by MSNBC's Steve Kornacki, make the point very clearly:

At this point in 1999, W. was polling at more than triple Jeb's numbers. While Jeb is basically tied for first with Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, and Mike Huckabee, his brother was trouncing Elizabeth Dole, who withdrew just a few months later.

Of course, national polls are easy to overvalue, and they often reflect name recognition as much as anything else (Huckabee? really?). Iowa and New Hampshire polls are much more meaningful, and even those aren't necessarily a good indicator this early in the cycle.

But for what it's worth, they find the same thing. Bush is in fourth place in Iowa, according to RealClearPolitics' poll averages. Walker is way out in front with 18.2 percent, followed by Rubio with 11, Huckabee with 9.4, and Bush with 9.2, with Rand Paul (8.6), Ben Carson (8.4), and Ted Cruz (7.6) not far behind. In June 1999, by contrast, his brother was beating Dole 40 percent to 13 percent in a Des Moines Register poll, with Steve Forbes in third with 10. Bush is ahead in New Hampshire, but just barely: 14.7 percent versus 13 for Walker, 12.3 for Paul, and 11.3 for Rubio. In May 1999 a poll found his brother beating Elizabeth Dole and John McCain by 37 percent to 16 and 14, respectively.

George W. Bush was just much, much more strongly positioned at this point in the 2000 cycle than his brother is today. That doesn't mean that Bush can't win. But it does suggest we won't be able to coast to victory Dubya-style.