Republicans Split Over Which Candidate Best on Abortion

by Jeffrey M. Jones

No consensus emerges as to which candidate would do best on most issues

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Republicans are mixed on which of the four leading contenders for their party's presidential nomination would do the best job on issues likely to face the next president, according to a recent Gallup Panel survey. In particular, there is a decided lack of consensus over which candidate would best handle the abortion issue, one of the most controversial issues during the nomination campaign.

Generally speaking, current front-runner Rudy Giuliani seems to fare better than his rivals, having a clear advantage on some issues, especially in the areas of crime, terrorism, race relations, and being able to inspire Americans. John McCain has a perceptible advantage as being the best to handle the duties of commander-in-chief of the military. Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney -- still relatively unknown quantities -- do not fare particularly well on any of the issues. But on most issues, no candidate has a clear advantage over his competitors. 

No Clear Leader on Most Issues

The Sept. 24-27 Gallup Panel survey asked a nationally representative sample of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents which of the four leading candidates for the party's presidential nomination would do the best job on each of 17 key issues. While Giuliani appears to have a clear lead on seven of these issues, on nine issues no Republican appears to have much of a lead, if any. When Gallup asked the same question of Democrats about their party's nominees, Hillary Clinton was the clear leader on almost every issue.

The nine issues showing no Republican consensus are detailed in the table.

Issue Ratings on Which No Republican Candidate
Has a Clear Advantage as Being Able to Do the Best Job


Giul-
iani

Thomp-
son


Mc-
Cain


Rom-
ney

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

Abortion

19

23

15

20

24

Healthcare

24

22

12

23

19

Gay marriage

27

22

12

18

22

Reforming the way the government in Washington works

28

27

16

14

14

The situation in Iraq

31

18

30

9

13

Relations with other countries

30

18

26

13

13

Education

29

18

14

21

19

Taxes

30

23

15

15

16

Immigration

31

23

23

9

13

The abortion issue has probably been the most controversial in the Republican primary campaign to this point. Giuliani's pro-choice position puts him at odds with the majority of the party, and conservative religious leaders recently threatened to support a third-party candidate if the Republican Party nominates a pro-choice candidate for president. Giuliani is not the only candidate who has had to defend his abortion views. Romney has run on pro-choice positions in past campaigns and has had to answer questions about his recent "conversion" to a pro-life viewpoint. Thompson, who reliably took pro-life positions as a senator, has had to explain his work as a lobbyist for a pro-choice interest group. Even though McCain may have the most consistent record of supporting pro-life legislation, the general perception of him as a moderate may create the misperception that he is moderate on the abortion issue as well. 

The poll finds 23% of Republicans saying Thompson would do the best job on abortion, with 20% saying Romney would, 19% Giuliani, and 15% McCain. Notably, the greatest number of Republicans, 24%, does not have an opinion as to which candidate would best handle abortion. That high "no opinion" figure seems to underscore the notion that many Republicans have doubts about the candidates' commitment to the pro-life position long favored by the party. 

There is a similarly high "no opinion" on another key moral values issue -- gay marriage. More than one in five Republicans does not have an idea of which candidate would best handle this issue. Giuliani has a slight, but not statistically significant 27% to 22% advantage over Thompson on gay marriage, with Romney next at 18%. The results may be surprising from the standpoint that Giuliani's past pro-gay rights positions are out of step with the Republican base. But his edge on this issue may result from the likelihood that pro-gay rights Republicans would choose him over the other candidates, but Republicans less supportive of gay rights may not recognize one candidate as superior to the others on this issue.    

Healthcare may not be as important an issue in the Republican primary as moral values issues, but it is another issue on which Republicans do not perceive any candidate as having a particular advantage. On healthcare, Giuliani (24%), Romney (23%), and Thompson (22%) are basically even. As governor, Romney helped to reform the healthcare system for Massachusetts residents, and this is his highest score on any single issue. The lack of Republican consensus as to which of their party's candidates would do the best job on healthcare stands in stark contrast to the Democrats, where Hillary Clinton is clearly seen as best on this issue. 

Arguably, the Iraq war will be the most important issue for the next president. Giuliani (31%) and McCain (30%) essentially tie on Iraq. Eighteen percent give Thompson the nod on this issue, and only 9% say Romney would best handle it. Giuliani (30%) and McCain (26%) are also closely matched on another foreign policy issue, handling "relations with other countries."

Republicans view Giuliani (28%) and Thompson (27%) as best able to reform the way government in Washington works. This is Thompson's strongest showing on any of the 17 issues. While in the Senate, he chaired the Governmental Affairs committee, which oversees the way the Senate conducts business. 

Giuliani has slight edges on immigration (an eight-point advantage over McCain and Thompson), taxes (a seven-point advantage over Thompson), and education (an eight-point advantage over Romney), but not large enough to suggest he is viewed as superior to his competitors. 

Giuliani's Perceived Strengths

Giuliani is currently viewed as the clear leader on seven issues. His signature issues are crime (a 48-percentage-point advantage over the next highest-rated candidate), race relations (34 points), inspiring Americans (30 points), and terrorism (28 points) -- all issues he dealt with as mayor of New York City. 

Giuliani has double-digit advantages on several more issues, including healing political divisions in the country (11 points), the economy (11 points), and energy and the environment (10 points).  Thompson typically comes in second on these issues, though McCain does on terrorism.       

Issue Ratings on Which Giuliani Is Perceived as Able
to Do a Better Job as President Than His Leading Competitors


Giul-
i
ani

Thomp-
son


Mc-
Cain


Rom
-ney

No
opinion

Giul-
iani lead

%

%

%

%

%

 

Crime

62

14

8

5

11

+48

Race relations

48

14

11

10

17

+34

Inspiring Americans

50

20

12

9

9

+30

Terrorism

49

16

21

5

9

+28

Healing political divisions in the country

35

24

15

12

15

+11

The economy

34

23

15

15

13

+11

Energy and the environment

28

18

17

18

19

+10

McCain's Perceived Strength

McCain is the only other candidate who can claim a sizable advantage on an issue. Forty-three percent of Republicans believe McCain -- the only one of the four leading candidates who served in the U.S. military -- would do the best job of being commander-in-chief of the military. Giuliani is a distant second at 24%, and only 6% say Romney would do a good job as the military leader, one of his worst showings. 

Of the four leading Republicans, McCain clearly has the strongest foreign policy credentials because of his leadership on military issues during his 20-plus years in the U.S. Senate, as well as his own military service. That is likely why he fares relatively well on the three issues dealing with international issues. 

However, McCain's standing on foreign policy issues relative to Giuliani has slipped since earlier this year. In January, a Gallup Poll pitted McCain against just Giuliani on a similar battery of issues. McCain scored better than Giuliani on two of the three foreign policy issues tested in that poll (the situation in Iraq and relations with other countries, but not terrorism). In the current poll, McCain is only viewed as superior to Giuliani on one of four foreign policy issues (being commander-in-chief) while losing his former advantage on Iraq and relations with other countries. He continues to trail Giuliani on terrorism. 

Those losses may merely reflect the changing structure of the race. In January, McCain and Giuliani were closely matched as Republicans' preferred presidential nominee, but Giuliani emerged as the front-runner in February and has remained in first place ever since. So McCain's slide in the polls may have also brought down his ratings on issues, including those that are his usual strengths.    

Implications

That Republicans do not perceive any of the candidates as having an advantage on more than half of the issues tested in the poll adds further weight to the notion that the Republican presidential nomination contest is likely to be a wide-open affair. Even though Giuliani has led in polls of rank-and-file Republicans' nomination preferences most of this year, his status as the front-runner seems far from secure. Although he shows strength on issues he has dealt with, such as crime, terrorism, and race relations, he has not convinced Republicans that he is the best candidate to handle many other important issues. Also, his vulnerabilities on moral values issues could end up overshadowing his strengths. By contrast, on the Democratic side, Clinton has a large lead in the polls and Democrats view her as best able to handle nearly every one of these issues.  

The Republican candidates' abilities to bolster their credentials on core conservative issues such as abortion, gay marriage, immigration, and foreign affairs could be crucial in determining the eventual Republican nominee. 

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup Panel study are based on telephone interviews with 409 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, aged 18 and older, conducted Sept. 24-27, 2007. Gallup Panel members are recruited through random selection methods. The panel is weighted so that it is demographically representative of the U.S. adult population. For results based on these samples, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±6 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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