Giuliani Leads GOP Race; Huckabee, Others Tie for Second

by Lydia Saad

Candidates’ standing the same as two weeks ago

PRINCETON, NJ -- After a recent surge in national Republican support for Mike Huckabee for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, springing him from a distant fifth place in early November into a tie for second at the end of the month, a new USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted Dec. 14-16, finds that Huckabee's rapid rise has leveled off. The latest poll results are nearly identical to what they were in Gallup's late November/early December survey.

More than a quarter of Republicans and independents who lean Republican favor Rudy Giuliani for the nomination, while Huckabee, John McCain, Fred Thompson, and Mitt Romney are closely matched in second place.

Former Ambassador Alan Keyes, who announced his current bid for the Republican nomination three months ago, is tied with Ron Paul in distant sixth place.

The 27% currently supporting Giuliani is a bit below Giuliani's average 34% support level for 2007, and is the third consecutive reading since mid-November in which his share of the vote has fallen below 30%. At the same time, Giuliani's current 11-point lead is no worse than it was two weeks ago, suggesting that his recent erosion among Republicans, nationally, has -- at least for the moment -- been stemmed.

It is important to note that five Republican candidates (Giuliani, Huckabee, McCain, Thompson, and Romney) all now register a significant amount of support for the nomination, each garnering at least 14% of the vote. For most of the year prior to now, only one or two candidates, besides Giuliani, registered national support at least in the teens (at least 13%). The result is more competition for Giuliani today than at any previous time. However, since May, Giuliani's lead over his various chief rivals has not varied substantially. In recent months it has ranged from 8 percentage points to 16 points, with his current 11-point advantage over Huckabee about average.

The Huckabee Challenge

Giuliani's position today would seem stronger if he were not so far behind in the polls in the early voting states -- particularly Iowa, where Huckabee recently replaced Romney as the leader in the polls. Most of the Iowa polls currently show Giuliani in third place, well behind the two leaders.

It was Huckabee's swift -- and to many, surprising -- ascent to the top of the pack in Iowa between October and November that gave him a valuable blitz of media attention and helped fuel his support among Republicans nationally by late November. He has since taken the lead in a number of recent polls conducted in South Carolina, and is inching up in New Hampshire. The current USA Today/Gallup poll, however, provides some evidence that Huckabee's national bounce may have leveled off, at least for the time being.

Gallup's previous measure of the national Republican horse race was conducted in late November/early December, but several polls conducted by other firms since then showed Huckabee tied or nearly tied with Giuliani for first place, with both men receiving 21% to 24% of the vote. (Other surveys in the same time frame showed Giuliani still ahead by as much as eight points.)

Different Angles, Same Picture

About two-thirds of Republicans and Republican leaners nationally say they are "extremely likely" to vote in their state's Republican presidential caucus or primary next year. The preference ranking of Republican candidates among this group of likely voters is essentially the same as it is among all Republicans and Republican leaners.

The picture is also similar when factoring in the second choice of voters. Combining Republicans' first and second choices for the nomination, Giuliani is the most widely favored, chosen by 47%. McCain, Romney, Huckabee, and Thompson are closely matched for second place, with between 24% and 29% choosing each.

Giuliani is also Republicans' first choice for the nomination when paired against Huckabee and Romney in separate measures of Republican voters' preferences if the race narrows down to just two candidates. Giuliani leads Huckabee by 56% to 38% and leads Romney by 57% to 37%.

While Giuliani's lead is substantial in both cases, Gallup trends from earlier this fall on the Giuliani vs. Romney matchup indicate that Giuliani has lost some ground, not dissimilar to the decline in support for him on the overall ballot over the same period. In early September and early October (when 34% and 32% of Republicans, respectively, named Giuliani as their top choice for the nomination), about two-thirds said they would rather see Giuliani nominated for president than Romney. Today, when 27% choose Giuliani on the full Republican ballot, 57% choose him over Romney.

Bottom Line

As the first primaries and caucuses of 2008 come into view, their impact on national preferences for the election is becoming increasingly magnified, as is their potential for transforming the entire race. Giuliani has led the Republican field continuously since February, and remains the front-runner. But he is now in his weakest position nationally all year, in part because the field of competitive candidates is getting more crowded. However, even with all the attention to Huckabee in recent weeks, a majority of Republicans still say they would prefer Giuliani in a two-way race narrowed down to him and either Huckabee or Romney, suggesting that it's still Giuliani's race to lose.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,011 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Dec. 14-16, 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 399 Republicans or Republican leaners, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 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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