Not Necessarily a Romp for the Democrats This Year?

Frank Newport

In many ways, it's a promising year for the Democrats to win the presidency. Gallup's Jeff Jones has just finished the calculation on American party identification in 2007, finding that at 27.7% this is the lowest yearly average since Gallup began consistently measuring it with telephone polls back in 1988. Favorable ratings for the Democratic Party are now running 13 points higher than favorable ratings for the Republican Party. Generic ballot measures that ask voters which party's candidate they would like to see win the presidency in November -- but without specific names -- show the unnamed Democratic candidate beating the unnamed Republican candidate consistently -- often by double digits. The significant majority of Americans want the next president to bring change to Republican President George W. Bush policies, and, logically, a Democratic president is most likely to bring about these changes.

But for months now, we have found that when we translate the abstract to the concrete by putting the actual names of candidates before the voters, we often find that the GOP candidate holds his own in a hypothetical trial heat ballot.

In our Jan. 10-13 poll, we pitted Republican John McCain against Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The results: McCain had a slight lead over both. The lead wasn't statistically significant, but it's certainly an indication that if the election were held today, at least one Republican candidate would not be going down in flames, but, instead, would be making it a competitive race.

It's not just that Hillary Clinton evokes strong negative reactions from voters, because McCain does just as well against Barack Obama.

John McCain is an unusual Republican in some ways because he has a strong appeal to independent voters, but he typically hasn't shown the same strong appeal to Republican voters as other prominent Republican politicians have. Some recent polling by other organizations shows that other GOP candidates don't fare as well as McCain. In fact, in our own poll, the lesser-known Mike Huckabee loses to Clinton and Obama.

But the point is that the right GOP candidate, with the right positioning, can make this a real contest next fall -- not a romp for the Democratic candidate. At least that's what the data show at this point.

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