Tuesday, January 02, 2007

'08 Presidential Candidate Support and Opposition

Polls are looking at support for and opposition to potential 2008 presidential candidates with a pair of interesting questions. Gallup uses "Now, I am going to read a list of people who may run for president in 2008. For each, please say whether you, personally, would or would not like to see this person run for president in the next election." Marist College uses "Do you want to see (candidate) run for president in 2008 or not." These questions are asked of ALL adults, not just partisans of either party. This makes the results a bit unclear-- if a Democrat says she would like to see "x" run, when "x" is a Republican, does that mean she would consider voting for "x" or that she thinks "x" would be easy for a Democrat to beat? Thus these questions are not measures of support in party primaries, and may not be good indicators of general election strength. On the other hand, perhaps most voters are not as strategic as political professionals, and so may just be indicating how much they "like" potential candidates of either party. In any case, let's take a look at recent results.

The figure above shows possible candidates of either party, red for Republicans and Blue for Democrats, in the Gallup poll taken in late November. The plot is the percent saying they would like to see run on the horizontal axis and the percent saying they would NOT like to see the candidate run on the vertical axis. This kind of plot allows us to see immediately the balance of support and opposition to each candidate, and the extent to which voters have formed opinions about each candidate. That is a lot of information in a single plot.

The plot is also unusual because the sum of the two percentages cannot be over 100%, so the downward sloping diagonal line marks the limit of possible responses. No candidate can be in the upper right (empty) triangle of the plot. The closer to the diagonal line from (0,100) to (100,0) a candidate gets, the fewer voters are undecided about them. Conversely, the more voters who lack an opinion about the candidate, the further from the diagonal, regardless of the balance of support and opposition among those with an opinion. Finally, there is a line from (0,0) to (50,50). Candidates above this line and to the upper left corner have more opposition than support. Candidates below this line and to the lower right corner have more support than opposition.

The first and most impressive result is that no Democrat is in the advantaged lower right part of the figure, while Republicans McCain and Giuliani both are. Of the Democrats, John Edwards comes closest, with Clinton and Obama a bit behind. (This poll was taken over a month before Edwards' announcement of candidacy in New Orleans last week, so this is not a reflection of his recent actions.) While Clinton is very close to the limiting diagonal, showing few people lack opinions about her, Edwards is a bit further away and Obama a bit more, neither of which is surprising. But given the publicity Clinton and Obama in particular have recently enjoyed, it is surprising that neither has more support for a run than opposition. Given Edwards' relatively low profile in the fall, it is more surprising that he has the most support for a run of the three.

McCain and Giuliani lead the Republican field by a wide margin, with both more support than opposition and relatively few voters lacking opinions about them. While Giuliani has lead McCain in most polls of Republican primary voters (30 of 39 polls as of late December) among the adult population McCain has a slight advantage on this question.

While trial heats are another measure of advantage, with potentially different results, this plot shows that Democrats have yet to field a candidate with the balance of support of either of the two Republican poll leaders.

Among Democrats, the "rest of the field" trails the top three by considerable margins. Gallup only asked about Gore and Kerry, neglecting several other common names. Neither fared well, with Gore and especially Kerry finding much more opposition than support. (We'll see other candidates from the Marist Poll below.)

Among Republicans, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came in third, though her repeated statements of non-candidacy make this a highly speculative rating in any case. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich trails the entire field of candidates in either party. Defeated Virginia Senator George Allen not surprisingly shows both little support and considerable lack of recognition. But Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is in nearly the same position. While no one expects Allen to make a run at this point, Romney clearly has considerable ground to make up. To his advantage, he can possibly convert lack of recognition into support, something better known candidates cannot do.

The Marist Poll data closely resembles the Gallup results. The figure below shows Marist results from 12/3/06, and adds data for Biden and Sharpton for the Dems and for Pataki and Bloomberg for the Reps.

Marist has asked its question a number of times, so we can trace the dynamics of support for some candidates using their data collected at various times since December of 2004. Since Marist and Gallup closely agree in their latest polls, I assume these paths are not unique to the Marist poll. In these plots the arrows point from earlier to later polls, though the polls are not necessarily all equally separated in time.

First the Democrats. The clear story here is the stability of Clinton's support, some variability in Edwards, though ending rather strongly, and the steady collapse of support for Kerry. In addition, Al Gore has remained well back and rather stable.

On the Republican side McCain follows the Clinton pattern of quite stable support. Giuliani on the other hand shows considerable growth in support over the last two years, from well back to parity with McCain. Rice is interesting simply because of the growth of support despite the decline in approval of President Bush and of many administration policies with with Rice might be identified. Gingrich has only been measured twice, and shows little movement.

The dynamics may be quite different within party constituencies, so these results may not reflect changes in the nomination battles within the parties. But they do show that the Democratic candidates have some ground to make up, and that there is room for some dynamic change in both parties, as exemplified by Kerry'[s collapse and Giuliani's surge.