Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Pres08: Giuliani sinks, McCain rises

I'm becoming convinced that my hasty, sensitive and mistake prone trend estimator, "Ready Red", has got the story right this time. For some time I've been watching the Giuliani and McCain trends. Since December, McCain has steadily trended down at a nearly constant rate. Giuliani has trended up over that time, but the trend estimator has been flattening out over the last couple of months, though still rising. That is based on "Old Blue", the conservative estimated trend line in the figure above. Blue is designed to be relatively slow to change direction but hard to fool with a handful of polls that represent more noise than new trend. But in this case, it is looking more and more like the trigger happy Red estimator has in fact picked up the current trend.

Charlie Cook at the Cook Political Report has graciously passed along the results of the latest Cook/RT Strategies poll, completed 5/11-13/07. This poll finds Giuliani at 25% and McCain at 24%. Two weeks earlier, 4/27-29/07, the Cook/RT Strategies poll found Giuliani at 28% and McCain at 21%. Given the sample sizes, which are typical of current national polling, this shift falls short of statistical significance. Nonetheless, this is in line with other recent polling trends and the sensitive Red estimator picks up this trend.

Giuliani spent a long time as the surprise front runner in the Republican nomination polls, leading McCain in the vast majority of polls. (I wrote about this in March: "Giuliani Leads, Press Finally Notices" and earlier in December: "The Republican Primary Race".) This was a mystery given Giuliani's liberal positions on abortion, gun control and gay rights. For people who follow politics closely, it was hard to believe that Republican constituents could set aside these positions which have been anathema to the "base" for nearly three decades. And yet he continued to lead and McCain fell steadily.

McCain's decline was somewhat less mysterious. His sponsorship of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance legislation, his opposition to the administration on torture, and his support for immigration reform have put him at odds with many on the right in the party.

But things have been changing recently. Giuliani appears to have benefited from a great many Republicans who simply did not know where he stood on these bedrock issues of conservative Republican principles. In the last two or three months that has begun to change as Giuliani has become the focus of news coverage that has emphasized his positions. Giuliani's recent clarification of his positions, and his performance in tonight's second Republican debate, is likely to further increase awareness among Republican voters.

While polling has found, somewhat surprisingly, that many Republicans say they are willing to overlook these issues I think there has been an inevitable drag on Giuliani, and that is now showing up in the Red estimator.

At the same time, McCain has tried to restart his campaign and it appears to have at least stopped his falling support and perhaps begun to produce some gains.

I am very slow to accept the responsive Red estimator because it is easy to be fooled by it. But the red trend for Giuliani has been quite consistent for some while. And the conservative Blue trend has been responding, if more slowly, by flattening out.

So I think the issue is now whether Giuliani can reverse his recent decline. His attempt at clarification and candor on abortion in particular is a huge risk if the Republican base cannot accept those positions. Given Giuliani's clarified position, McCain appears to have started looking a bit better to Republican voters. And to credit McCain, perhaps his restarted campaign is now playing to more of his strengths than it did in December through February.