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Glance at Vegas odds or national polling, and you’ll get a pretty good idea of who might win the presidency. Hillary Clinton is still the heavy favorite among Democrats, while Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio all appear to be viable choices for the GOP.

But let’s flip the question around. Who are the longest of the long shots? Which individuals have no business running? Put another way: which candidates are the most absurd? Here, polling alone doesn’t tell the full story. As we saw in 2012, fringe candidates can rise in the rankings after a solid debate or stirring speech, while extreme ideologies and unknown quantities tend to flame out the fastest.

In order to rank the 2016 field by ridiculousness, InsideGov looked at four telltale signs*:

  1. A consistently low 2015 polling average: consistently low poll numbers make campaigns more superfluous, and thus, more absurd
  2. Extreme ideologies: candidates with extreme views—whether way to the left or way to the right—tend to be less viable, and thus, more ridiculous
  3. Little-to-no years of elected office or active-duty military experience: inexperienced and unproven, these candidates are more prone to absurdity
  4. Multiple attempts at the presidency: the more attempts, the less serious the candidate becomes

We’ll start with the most no-nonsense candidates and work our way up to the most absurd of all.


We used The Huffington Post’s Pollster database to calculate 2015 polling averages. This included polls from CNN, FOX, YouGov/Economist, NBC/WSJ, PPP, ABC/Post, Quinnipiac, Monmouth University and Robert Morris University.

Ideologies are based on data collected by and converted to a single score by InsideGov.

Scott Walker

Scott Walker Presidential Candidate Profile | InsideGov

Absurdity Index: 37.1 (very low)

He might be the most boring candidate in the race, but he’s also the least ridiculous. The Governor of Wisconsin has 22 years of elected experience and consistently solid polling numbers for 2016.

While he leans more conservative than average, he takes few truly extreme positions. He’s the most reasonable candidate in the entire field, by InsideGov’s metrics.

Martin O’Malley

Martin O’Malley Presidential Candidate Profile | InsideGov

Absurdity Index: 39.4 (very low)

By InsideGov’s calculations, the former Governor of Maryland is the most moderate Democrat in the field, and among the five most moderate candidates overall.

Even if he never gains traction against the mighty Clinton machine, we can expect O’Malley to add a measured, level-headed perspective to the Democratic primaries.

Chris Christie

Chris Christie Presidential Candidate Profile | InsideGov

Absurdity Index: 39.7 (very low)

While the Governor of New Jersey gets a bad rap for his bluster and blunt statements, the data suggests he’s one of the more reasonable candidates, on the whole. He’s moderate across almost every issue, and he’s still alive in the polls.

“Bridgegate” might ultimately doom him, but his decision not to run for president in 2012 was classic, sensible Christie.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton Presidential Candidate Profile | InsideGov

Absurdity Index: 40.6 (low)

Clinton scores a few absurdity points across several categories: she’s only served eight years of elected office*, has run for president before, and is more liberal than all but one competitor. Still, her historically dominant position in the polls (nearly 50 points above her nearest challenger) means we have to take the former New York Senator seriously. In the position she’s in, it would be ridiculous for her not to run.

*For our purposes, her terms as First Lady and Secretary of State do not count toward her total, because she was not elected to those positions.

Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush Presidential Candidate Profile | InsideGov

Absurdity Index: 40.8 (low)

Some might say that three Bushes in three decades is absurd, but by our numbers, Jeb Bush is among the most sensible of the candidates. He consistently polls at the top of the GOP field, holds more moderate positions than most of his opponents and seems to have waited for the perfect time to run.

Lincoln Chafee

Lincoln Chafee Presidential Candidate Profile | InsideGov

Absurdity Index: 43.0 (low)

The recent Democratic Party-convert holds moderate views and boasts 24 years of elected experience—enough to make him a logical candidate for the 2016 race. Only his extremely low polling numbers, which suggest that his candidacy will be irrelevant, bump him a few spots up this list.

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders Presidential Candidate Profile | InsideGov

Absurdity Index: 43.5 (low)

The most liberal candidate in the field, Bernie Sanders will likely add a far-left voice to the Democratic primaries. That said, his decent polling numbers and 34 years of elected experience suggest he deserves to be in the conversation, regardless of his ideology.

Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio Presidential Candidate Profile | InsideGov

Absurdity Index: 45.2 (moderate)

The Tea Party star turned respected Florida Senator boasts 15 years of experience and a solid polling average. Rubio’s sole weakness might be his strong conservative streak, which will make him less palatable in the general election. Only Rick Santorum and Ted Cruz hold viewpoints further to the right.

Lindsey Graham

Lindsey Graham Presidential Candidate Profile | InsideGov

Absurdity Index: 45.8 (moderate)

The South Carolina Senator has all the experience you’d ever want in a president: 22 years of elected service, another dozen of active-duty military service. Still, Graham’s abysmal polling numbers suggest he has no business in an already crowded field.

Jim Webb

Jim Webb Presidential Candidate Profile | InsideGov

Absurdity Index: 45.8 (moderate)

Similar to Graham, Jim Webb brings a combination of government and military service to the table, an attractive résumé that would seem to appeal to liberal and conservative voters alike. And while he doesn’t have quite as much total experience as Graham, Webb’s moderate ideology scores would make him a compelling general election contender. That said, Webb is so far behind Clinton in the polls that his candidacy likely won’t last.

Rick Perry

Rick Perry Presidential Candidate Profile | InsideGov

Absurdity Index: 47.0 (moderate)

Though he leans more conservative than the average GOP candidate, Rick Perry’s 35 years of elected experience—including 15 as the Governor of Texas—make Perry an immediate contender. He’ll just need to escape the shadow of his failed 2012 run, where debate gaffes unraveled an otherwise promising campaign.

John Kasich

John Kasich Presidential Candidate Profile | InsideGov

Absurdity Index: 47.3 (moderate)

The Governor of Ohio has over two decades of experience and a balanced mix of viewpoints that could appeal to national voters. For now, only a low polling average brings Kasich down. Given that the governor hasn’t officially announced his candidacy, Kasich could quickly find himself moving down the Absurdity Index and into a short list of contenders.

Rand Paul

Rand Paul Presidential Candidate Profile | InsideGov

Absurdity Index: 48.8 (moderate)

While he’s relatively new to the game (particularly compared to his father, Ron Paul), Paul’s Libertarian leanings will likely help the Kentucky Senator win over a small subset of American voters. His bigger problem will be garnering support from traditional Democrats or Republicans—each of which will have fundamental disagreements with his platform.

George Pataki

George Pataki Presidential Candidate Profile | InsideGov

Absurdity Index: 49.8 (moderate)

The former Governor of New York is, by InsideGov’s count, the last of the semi-viable 2016 candidates. His polling is currently in the gutter, but his moderate views, 25 years of experience and record as a GOP governor in a liberal state all contribute to a well-rounded presidential candidate. He just needs voters to pay attention.

Mike Huckabee

Mike Huckabee Presidential Candidate Profile | InsideGov

Absurdity Index: 52.2 (high)

Part pastor, part politician and part Fox News personality, Mike Huckabee has done a little bit of everything—past positions that will help him appeal to a loyal base of Evangelical voters.

For mainstream voters, however, Huckabee’s revolving door of professions, overemphasis on religious values and lack of foreign policy bonafides make him unfit for office.

Ben Carson

Ben Carson Presidential Candidate Profile | InsideGov

Absurdity Index: 55.4 (high)

Famous for being the first surgeon to successfully separate twins conjoined at the head, Ben Carson is a brilliant physician, but has never been a politician. While some might be refreshed by a candidate so removed from Washington, history tells us that these candidates are the most likely to be loose canons, with offhand comments that trained politicians are smart enough to avoid. For these reasons, Carson is likely to wind up more sideshow than serious contender.

Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz Presidential Candidate Profile | InsideGov

Absurdity Index: 59.9 (high)

New to politics and more conservative than the entire field, Cruz easily ranks among 2016’s most absurd candidates. He’ll likely provide some entertainment at debates and in interviews, but there’s no way he’ll make it past New Hampshire. Only a consistent bloc of Tea Party support in the polls prevents him from finishing in the top four.

Bobby Jindal

Bobby Jindal Presidential Candidate Profile | InsideGov

Absurdity Index: 66.5 (very high)

Both highly conservative and unappealing to voters, the Governor of Louisiana has seen a sharp decline in support since he bombed a 2009 State of the Union response. The data says that neither voters nor television networks will take his bid very seriously; he may be among the first to drop out.

Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum Presidential Candidate Profile | InsideGov

Absurdity Index: 67.2 (very high)

While Santorum’s years of elected experience are about average (16), his deeply conservative views and consistently low poll numbers make him a superfluous addition to the race.

The former Pennsylvania Senator might be hoping that his deep 2012 run will help validate his bonafides as a candidate, but GOP voters already seem weary of the candidate. If anything, his presidential election history will be more of a curse than a blessing.

Carly Fiorina

Carly Fiorina Presidential Candidate Profile | InsideGov

Absurdity Index: 75.4 (very high)

Florina’s low polling numbers and zero years of elected experience work against the businesswoman, who has been trying to transition to politics for the last decade. She deserves praise for her quick rise to senior vice president at AT&T, but her tenure at HP is more ominous.

While serving as HP’s CEO, the company underperformed in the stock market, took on billions in debt, laid off 30,000 workers and saw employee satisfaction plummet. The company’s board eventually forced her to resign. Add to that a failed Senate bid in 2010, and Fiorina has gone many years without a signature victory. It’s unlikely that the 2016 election will mean anything different for the aspiring politician.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump Presidential Candidate Profile | InsideGov

Absurdity Index: 191.2 (ultra extreme)

When it comes to absurdity, Trump breaks the scale. Yes, his recent poll numbers aren’t terrible, but all candidates receive bumps after officially announcing their campaigns. Instead, it’s Trump’s wacky policy positions, decades of pretend presidential runs and zero years of elected experience that earn Trump the honor of 2016’s most absurd candidate.

Trump is more likely than anyone on this list to make headlines, yet less likely than the entire field to actually become president. He’s more than twice as ridiculous as the next-most absurd candidate. When the 2016 race is all over, don’t say Trump didn’t win anything. Congratulations, Donald.

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