Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Pres 08: The Republican Primary Race

(Click the figure for full resolution. For a full resolution collector's edition 11 x 17 version of this graph in .pdf format, click here. They make great holiday gifts.)

The 2008 presidential races are off to a running start, with candidates announcing, dropping out, changing their minds. And one of the leaders in the polls says she isn't running (Condoleezza Rice).

In this first post of the primary season, we look at the Republicans.

The data here represent EVERY person who has been included in ANY poll's list of potential candidates (and in the case of California Governor Arnold Schwarzennegger isn't even legally eligible for the office.) I've thought about editing the graph to remove those who have not become serious candidates, or who have tried and failed. But there is some virtue in a comprehensive look at the entire field as defined by pollsters' questions.

I plot the trend line only after 10 polls are available for a candidate. The poll results are represented by gray points in each graph regardless of how many polls are available, including those candidates who have appeared in only a single poll.

One notable result stands out. Former New York City Mayor Rudolf Giuliani continues to hold a small but reliable lead over Arizona Senator John McCain. Of 39 polls with both names in the list of candidates, Giuliani leads McCain in 30 with four more ties. McCain leads in only 5 polls.

That doesn't seem to me to be the message I've been getting from the media, so I did a little research. I searched Lexis/Nexis for "McCain" and "frontrunner" in the same paragraph, but "Giuliani" NOT in the paragraph. I then did the opposite. And finally for both mentioned in the same paragraph with "frontrunner". The results don't seem to reflect the polls. Using "American Newspapers" as a broad sample of papers, and 5/1/2006-12/19/2006 as the date range, I found:

McCain, frontrunner, NOT Giuliani: 270 articles
Giuliani, frontrunner, NOT McCain: 28 articles
Both with frontrunner: 76 articles

So I was relieved to find that my impression of media coverage as MUCH more favorable to McCain was not just a delusion. It also appears at strong odds with the polling data. Giuliani leads McCain by an average of 3 points in the 39 polls. Not a huge lead, but a very consistent one.

Much of the reporting seems to downplay Giuliani's chances of winning the Republican nomination, but given the negative opinion of McCain among many conservative Republicans, I wouldn't assume McCain can win easily either.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is usually in third place in the polls, showing considerable strength for someone who has been out of office for as long as he. Gingrich is, however, far behind both Giuliani and McCain.

Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has shown slow but steady growth in support, though he remains far behind as well. Not surprising at this point when name recognition counts for a great deal in these early polls.

None of the other potential candidates are so far generating much growth in support. In fact, none of these candidates outside the top 4 (top 5 if we count Rice) are averaging support of as much as 10%, and most are struggling to get to even a 3% average. Despite the dismal numbers I don't think that counts out these candidates at this point. There are substantial reasons to wonder if ANY of the top 4 of Giuliani, McCain, Gingrich or Romney can capture the Republican nomination, and that implies that there will be an opportunity for one of these "virtual unknowns" to emerge as a serious contender. It is a very long time until the Iowa caucus.

I'll take a look at the Democrats tomorrow, and we'll put it all in historical perspective soon.