Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Will Giuliani be the next McCain?

Last week I looked at the collapse of the McCain campaign. Not the collapse of money and staff, but the loss of public support that is at the root of the campaign's failure. Judging by the trend we've seen in McCain's support since November that failure has been clearly coming for some time.

But what about the Republican "front runner", Rudy Giuliani? While he has consistently remained ahead in polls of Republican voters, and his campaign is in infinitely better financial shape than McCain's, Giuliani's trend in support is eerily similar to McCain's downward trajectory.

Since early March, Giuliani's support has fallen by an estimated 8 percentage points. McCain's fell by 10 points since January. And the rate of decline has been a bit steeper for Giuliani than for McCain. The saving grace for Giuliani has been that he started his decline from a higher point, around 33%, while McCain's slump started down from 25%.

Giuliani's national slide is also mirrored in the early primary states, as is the case with McCain.

If Giuliani's decline is a little less dramatic in the states than has been McCain's, his situation is still grave in comparison to the rising candidacies of Romney (in IA and NH) and Fred Thompson (nationally and in FL and SC).

Were it not for the fundraising success of the Giuliani campaign, and its cash on hand ($15M), the analysis of his situation would be far more pessimistic than recent accounts have made it sound. In part the recent intense focus on McCain may have distracted analysts from the similar trends for Giuliani, but the attention should now shift from McCain being forced to take public transportation between campaign events to the prospects of the other candidate the press has labeled the Republican "front runner".

Are there any bright spots for Giuliani, other than money? Yes. There is a hint in the data that his decline may have slowed and support stabilized in the last month. In the first plot above, the blue line is my standard trend estimator which is rarely mislead by "blips" in the polls, but which is also a bit slow to be convinced that a change of trend has occurred. The red line in the plots is my more sensitive estimator-- quicker to notice a change, but also more easily fooled by "changes" that turn out to be phantoms. The red estimator has flattened out recently for Giuliani, and currently sees relative stability at about 26%. The blue estimator instead sees continued decline and a current level just under 25%. If the red estimator is right (and it often isn't) then perhaps the worst days of declining support are now behind Giuliani, at least nationally. If so, his campaign can try to get the trend moving up instead of down, but at least the decline has stopped. Unlike McCain, Giuliani has the money to try to make the numbers turn up.

But to make his campaign surge, Giuliani has to face the rise of Fred Thompson, whose trend estimate is now up to 20.1% nationally and with a very steady upward trend since May.

Thompson is also trending up in Florida and South Carolina, while Giuliani slumps in those states. And his prospects against Romney in Iowa and New Hamphire are looking poor as well. So while the national trend may be stabilizing, the Giuliani campaign is confronted with serious challenges in at least four of the first five states.

Let's check back in on this around Labor Day and see if the trend lines above have crossed. If they have, the second Republican "front runner" will have stumbled.