Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Pres08: Fox Poll, Party ID and Candidate Support

Last week I wrote about the new Fox poll on support for six presidential candidates. Fox asked if you would "definitely" vote for, "might" vote for, or "would not vote for under any circumstances" each of the candidates. The question is framed in general and offered to all respondents, so the frame is in a general, rather than primary, election. This speaks to the electability issue.

Today I follow up on that post with a look at how candidate support varies by party identification. Not surprisingly Republicans are more likely to say they would vote for Republicans and not for Democrats and vice versa for Democratic partisans. By looking within partisan camps the questions throw light on how partisans may view the desirability of alternative nominees.

The plot above puts the previous results in partisan perspective. While there is a strong partisan bias, not surprisingly, there are still surprisingly few respondents who say they would "definitely vote for" candidates of their own party.

On the Republican side, more Republican partisans say they would "definitely" vote for Giuliani than would "never" vote for him. But this is not so for either McCain or Gingrich (and by a wide margin for the latter.) Among Democrats, a plurality would "definitely" vote for Clinton rather than "never". In this Clinton has the largest margin among the six candidates. Obama's "definite" supports only barely exceed his "never" critics (among Democrats!), and Edwards falls well short of a plurality of "definite" support.

As we've seen in previous analyses, Clinton is the most polarizing of the six candidates. Republicans respond 79% "Never" and less than 5% "definitely", with only 15% saying they "might" vote for her. Among Democrats, only 17% say never while 32% are definite supporters, with 48% saying they might vote for her. While the potential support is large, the actual opposition is very strong. Independents fall between, 39% never, 19% definite and 40% might. This puts Clinton solidly in the lead among her partisans, but with very strong opposition among Republicans. No surprise there.

Neither Giuliani nor McCain draw the same strength of Democratic opposition that Clinton does from Republicans. To be sure between 55% and 60% of Democrats say they would never support either of these, but that leaves a substantial number of Dems who would at least consider one of these Republican contenders. Giuliani does relatively better among Independents, with 30% saying they would never support, and 12% definite.

McCain on the other hand faces more opposition from Independents than we might expect given his 2000 reputation for appealing to independents and Democrats. Among independents 42% said they would never vote for McCain, while only 7% said they definitely would. So a supposed strength of the McCain campaign looks in these data to be far from a source of confidence.

Former speaker Gingrich may yet emerge as a credible candidate, but his current polling does not support a belief that he would be a particularly strong candidate even among Republicans, and certainly not among independents or Democrats. As with all these early polls, much change can yet occur, so these results should not be interpreted as predictions of future outcomes. But they do show that Gingrich has much to accomplish if he is to win over supporters from both inside and outside his party.

The ratings of Barak Obama show relatively high "might" vote for responses, as we would expect from a relative newcomer to national politics. His very slight edge among Democrats leaves him with deficits among independents who remain persuadable, and Republicans who are as opposed to him as they are to Edwards but not so opposed as to Clinton.

Edwards, who has often been viewed in the press as an attractive candidate with positive images left over from his 2004 campaign does not come off so well in these data. Democrats are more opposed than supportive, and independents do not appear to be drawn to him at this point.

What about those who "might" vote for these candidates? How do they alter the positions?

The closer to the lower left corner the points are, the more respondents said they "might" vote for the candidates. In all six figures it is apparent that this represents a large segment of the population. These "persuadable" voters could certainly change the landscape as they make up their minds.

One way to look at this is to add the "mights" in with the "definite" supporters to see the MAXIMUM level of support for each candidate. The figure below does this.

With the potential supporters added in, all candidates move close to the diagonal line, which is the limit of possible support, given the level of "never" responses. This doesn't change the relative ordering of the candidates on the opposition (vertical) dimension, but it shows potential growth in support for each. For candidates such as Obama and Giuliani the potential upside is great. For Gingrich it is most limited, while Clinton can benefit a lot among Democrats, not so much among independents and little among Republicans. McCain's potential is also substantial, though perhaps not as much as Giuliani's. Edwards falls between Obama and Clinton in potential.

Of course, this is the MAXIMUM gain for each candidate, and since not all of those who say they "might" vote for a candidate will in fact, the truth lies somewhat short of this rosiest of outcomes.

The partisan camps clearly align with their party's candidates, but the lack of overwhelming support within any camp clearly shows that this race is not solidly locked up within parties, let alone in the general election. And, we've yet to hear from those in single digits who will not stay there forever, if past elections are any indication. Stay tunes.