Politics

Key Election Trends From 2007

by Frank Newport and Joseph Carroll

Most candidates became better known, but not necessarily better liked

PRINCETON, NJ -- The year 2007 has been an extraordinary one in presidential politics, with vigorous campaigning for both the Republican and Democratic presidential nominations conducted essentially the entire year.

Throughout 2007, The Gallup Poll has tracked Americans' knowledge and evaluations of the candidates, their voting intentions, and the general mood of the country. This document presents a review of this year's key trends in presidential politics, through the eyes of the American public.

The overall "mood" environment in which the campaigning took place became increasingly negative in 2007.

As the year progressed, a number of the major candidates became much better known to the American public, yet their images often became more negative. This was the perhaps inevitable result of the intense media focus on their backgrounds and positions as well as attacks and criticisms from their opponents. As the year ended, Barack Obama, John McCain, and John Edwards had the most positive images of the major candidates for both parties.

On the Democratic side, the year began and ended with the same front-runner. In contrast, the national ordering of candidate support on the Republican side was significantly different -- and more muddled -- in December than it had been in January.

Mood of the Nation: 2007

The public's overall mood ended 2007 as it began -- negative. Only 27% of Americans said they were satisfied with the way things are going in the United States in December, up slightly from the year's low point of 20% in November, but below January's 35% satisfaction level.

Americans' rating of the U.S. economy also dropped as the year progressed, from 52% saying it was excellent or good in January to 28% by December.

Party Identification in 2007

Democrats maintained a slight lead over Republicans in terms of party identification in most Gallup surveys in 2007. At year's end, 33% of Americans identified themselves as Democrats, while 27% identified as Republicans. The largest percentage of Americans in 2007, however, said they were independents, and did not identify with either party (although many said as a result of further questioning that they "leaned" toward one party or the other). At several points throughout the year, as many as 43% of Americans said they were independent; the "independent" figure was 39% at year's end.

Changes in Americans' Awareness of the Candidates Throughout 2007

Hillary Clinton began and ended 2007 with virtually universal name identification. Close to 100% of Americans know enough about her to have an opinion.

Clinton's top competitor for the Democratic nomination -- Barack Obama -- gained visibility as the year progressed but still ended the year substantially below Clinton in terms of his overall national awareness level. Obama's name identification was at 72% in early 2007 (which in turn was up from 53% in December 2006 when Gallup first measured him), and had risen to 87% by year's end.

Despite the fact that Edwards was the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 2004, he began 2007 with just 80% name identification. After a year of active campaigning, Edwards' name identification had risen only marginally to 86%.

Rudy Giuliani and McCain remained the most well-known candidates seeking the Republican nomination throughout the year, with some increase in their awareness factors as the year progressed. Ninety-one percent of Americans were familiar enough with Giuliani to have an opinion of him in December, compared to 79% in January. Eighty-four percent of Americans were familiar with McCain at year's end, up from 72% in January.

The biggest gains in name identification among the Republican candidates in 2007 were for Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. Fewer than 4 out of 10 Americans knew enough about Romney to rate him at the beginning of the year. By December, Romney's name identification was at 67%. Gallup first asked Americans about Huckabee in August, at which time he had 31% name identification; his name identification had risen to 58% by December.

Americans' awareness of Fred Thompson also rose substantially throughout the year. Still, despite extensive news coverage and publicity throughout 2007, a third or more of Americans said they didn't know enough about Thompson to rate him at year's end. Thompson had less than 40% name identification in April when Gallup first evaluated him, but was at 64% by year's end.

Changes in Americans' Opinions of the Candidates

The public's ratings of two of the three leading Democratic candidates for president in 2008 have shown significant changes as the year progressed.

Overall, Clinton's net favorable ratio (the percentage rating her favorably minus the percentage rating her unfavorably) has consistently been more negative than that of Obama or Edwards throughout the year.

Obama's ratings have been the most positive of these three Democratic contenders in each national Gallup Poll conducted in 2007. Still, his ratings ended the year slightly more negative than in the early months of the year.

Hillary Clinton's +18 favorable rating had fallen to +3 by the end of the year, having been in net negative territory at several points before that. John Edwards' net favorable rating stayed essentially constant as the year progressed.

Americans' opinions of the leading Republican candidates have shown significant fluctuation this year. At points early in the year, Giuliani's and McCain's net favorable ratings were higher than Romney's, and initially higher than Thompson's and Huckabee's ratings when those two candidates were initially measured by Gallup in April and August, respectively. But Giuliani's net favorable rating in particular dropped as the year progressed, going from a +45 in January to a +9 in December.

McCain's ratings suffered in the summer, but by December had recovered to the point were his net favorable was on par with where it was as the year began. That put McCain at a higher point than any of the other three leading Republican candidates at year's end.

Romney's net ratings have fluctuated above and below zero all year, ending up at -3. Thompson's ratings had fallen to -4 by December. And Huckabee, first measured in August, saw his ratings rise significantly by Gallup's late November/early December poll, only to fall in the last poll of the year, conducted in mid-December.

Preferences Among Democrats and Republicans for Their Parties' Nominations

The race for the Democratic nomination has remained remarkably consistent at the national level over the course of the year. Clinton has led in every national Gallup Poll conducted this year, with the exception of one poll in early June. Obama has consistently been in second place and Edwards in third place.

Clinton's lead has been large throughout the final four months of 2007. In Gallup's year-end national poll, conducted in mid-December, 45% of Democrats and Democratic leaners said they supported Clinton for the nomination, while 27% supported Obama and 15% Edwards.

The race for the Republican nomination became more complex as the year progressed.

Giuliani maintained a lead in Gallup's national polls throughout the year after eclipsing McCain in the early months of 2007. But Giuliani's share of the vote dropped as the year progressed.

The most significant change of the year on the Republican side came in the positioning of Huckabee, who rose from a consistent 1% to 2% of the vote in the first six months of the year to a year-ending 16%, putting him in a statistical tie with McCain, Romney, and Thompson.

McCain's percentage of the vote dropped as the year progressed, going from 27% in January to a year-ending 14%. Romney's vote percentage went from 7% to a year-ending 14%. Thompson, first measured by Gallup nationally at 13% in March, rose to a high point of 22% in September, only to fall to 14% by the end of the year.

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