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November 26, 2007

Democratic Candidates Look Good in Latest 2008 Trial Heats

Hold significant leads over Thompson, Romney; slim edges over McCain

by Jeffrey M. Jones

PRINCETON, NJ -- A new Gallup Poll finds Sen. Hillary Clinton with a slim but not statistically significant advantage over both former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. John McCain in head-to-head matchups for the 2008 general election for president. Clinton has much more substantial leads over former Sen. Fred Thompson and former Gov. Mitt Romney. Sen. Barack Obama also has significant leads over Thompson and Romney, but essentially ties with Giuliani and McCain.

The poll of 897 registered voters nationwide was conducted Nov. 11-14, 2007.

Clinton -- the dominant front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination -- would appear to have at least a slight advantage over any Republican candidate among registered voters if the election were held today. She has a five-point edge over Giuliani (49% to 44%) and a six-point edge over McCain (50% to 44%), but neither lead is statistically significant. Clinton runs much more strongly against the lesser-known Thompson (53% to 40%) and Romney (54% to 38%).

Gallup previously tested these same matchups in June (Clinton versus Giuliani, McCain, and Romney) and July (Clinton versus Thompson). Since then, Clinton's standing against Giuliani, McCain, and Romney has remained about the same, while she now fares much better against Thompson. In July, 48% of registered voters preferred Clinton and 45% Thompson.

Gallup has most frequently tested the pairing of the Democratic and Republican front-runners, Clinton versus Giuliani. Clinton has held a slight edge in three of the last four polls, but none of these leads was statistically significant. Prior to that, Giuliani had a slight advantage.

The results for Obama matched up against the Republican candidates are largely similar to those for Clinton. He has substantial leads over both Thompson and Romney, and is highly competitive with McCain and Giuliani. Though Clinton's margins of support over McCain (six points) and Giuliani (five points) are larger than Obama's margins of support against the same candidates (three points and zero points, respectively), the differences are not large enough to be considered meaningful from a statistical perspective.

Obama has not improved his standing against any of the leading Republican candidates compared to the poll results from the summer. Obama already enjoyed a sizable lead over Thompson in the summer and continues to do so in the latest poll, so Clinton's improvement versus the actor and former senator mainly catches her up with Obama in their respective matchups with Thompson.

Implications

At this stage in the campaign, the Democratic candidates -- be it Clinton or Obama -- are at worst competitive with the leading Republicans and at best hold a statistically significant lead over them. In a broad sense, that is consistent with the numerous indicators showing a political environment that is favorable to the Democratic Party, including an unpopular Republican president, dissatisfaction with the direction of the country, and more positive ratings of the Democratic Party than of the Republican Party.

However, the fact that neither leading Democratic candidate has a commanding lead over the best-known Republican candidates could be perceived as troubling for the Democrats.

Trial-heat matchups this far away from the election are generally not predictive of the eventual outcome, but they do give an indication that the Democratic nominee -- whoever that may be -- will begin the campaign in what should be a slightly more advantageous position than the Republican nominee.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 897 registered voters, aged 18 and older, conducted Nov. 11-14, 2007. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±4 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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