Thompson could benefit the most from raising his
GALLUP NEWS SERVICE
PRINCETON, NJ -- Given the advanced start to the 2008 presidential campaigns, one of the uncertainties hanging over the process has been the degree to which voter preferences for the Democratic and Republican nominations might change as some of the candidates inevitably become more familiar to the public. Do the early frontrunners have a greater chance of being overtaken than early frontrunners in previous elections?
Gallup's initial polling on the 2008 race was conducted at a time when, among the current contenders for the Democratic nomination, only Hillary Clinton was universally familiar to Democrats. By February of this year, 98% of Democrats had either a positive or negative view of her while somewhat smaller numbers knew enough about her chief rivals to rate them. Eighty percent could rate John Edwards and 72% could rate Barack Obama. None of the other active contenders for the Democratic nomination have received more than a few percent of the vote, and can be assumed to have had even lower name recognition.
According to Gallup's most recent survey, 94% of Democrats are familiar enough with Clinton to rate her, 85% can rate Edwards, and 84% can rate Obama. Based on an aggregate of three polls conducted in July and August, 77% of Democrats are familiar with all three of these candidates, while 23% are not familiar with at least one of the three (generally either Edwards or Obama).
This adds up to good news for Clinton. Among all Democrats, Clinton currently leads the Democratic field by about a two-to-one margin over Obama. Furthermore, Clinton leads with 43% of the vote among those who are familiar with all three top contenders, compared to the 30% for Obama. Clinton also leads with 53% of the vote among Democrats who are unfamiliar with one or both of her chief rivals. In short, although Clinton's lead shrinks among the pool of Democrats who are familiar with all three of the top contenders, she is still on top.
The implication of these data is clear: Even as Obama and Edwards build their name identification among Democrats, it would appear unlikely that this increasing public familiarity with Clinton's rivals alone would upset her lead.
Republican Race Appears Less Stable
The picture is quite different on the Republican side.
There are currently four candidates with double-digit support for the 2008 Republican nomination: Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, John McCain, and Mitt Romney. Among these, only Giuliani and McCain have widespread name identification in their party, currently rated either favorably or unfavorably by 91% and 87% of Republicans, respectively. With only 56% of Republicans able to rate Thompson and 64% rating Romney, familiarity with these candidates continues to lag.
As a result, a much higher proportion of Republicans than Democrats falls in the category of being unfamiliar with one or more of their leading contenders for the 2008 presidential nomination. Fewer than half of Republicans (46%) are familiar enough with the candidates to rate all four, while 54% cannot rate at least one of them.
Giuliani has been the frontrunner for the Republican nomination since the start of the year, and according to Gallup's latest poll (conducted Aug. 13-16, 2007) he leads Thompson, his chief rival, by 13 percentage points -- 32% vs. 19%, respectively. According to Gallup's analysis of the relationship between candidate familiarity and vote choice over the past three polls, Giuliani is the clear favorite among Republicans who are not familiar with all of the other candidates in the field. He leads this group with 38% of the vote, compared with 18% for McCain, 12% for Thompson, and only 6% for Romney. However, among the slightly smaller group of Republicans who are familiar with all four candidates, the leader is Thompson with 33%. Giuliani ranks second with 25%, followed by Romney and then McCain.
This represents a stark contrast to the stability of voter choices on the Democratic side. The implication is that Giuliani is at greater risk than Clinton of losing support as the campaign progresses and his opponents become better known.
The leading contenders for the Democratic nomination are people generally familiar to Democrats. Clinton is the most well known, but Obama and Edwards currently enjoy broad name identification as well. Clinton maintains her frontrunner status both among Democrats who are familiar with all three candidates, as well as those who know her, but not one or both of her opponents. This suggests less room for a natural decaying of support for Clinton as the visibility of her opponents expands.
The Republican field is characterized by two well-known candidates: Giuliani who is, and has been, the clear frontrunner, and McCain whose support has faded. There are also two lesser-known candidates garnering significant levels of support, either of whom could eventually challenge Giuliani for the nomination. According to recent data, Giuliani's position is quite strong among Republicans who are less familiar to the broader field; but among those who are familiar with all four, he actually trails Thompson.
One cannot simply project the Republican numbers into the future assuming that Thompson's and Romney's strength will automatically grow along with their recognition. For one thing, the candidates could become less liked -- just as easily as better liked -- as they become more well known. Additionally, Republicans currently familiar with Thompson and Romney could represent a unique group of voters who are simply more apt to support those candidates; that intensity of support could dissipate as they become better known. But, it suggests the possibility for a significant shift in Republican voter preferences as the campaign continues -- and as Romney and Thompson inevitably gain more visibility.
These results are based on combined telephone interviews with 3,016 randomly selected national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted July 12 to Aug. 16, 2007. For results based on the entire aggregate, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±2 percentage points.
For results based on the sample of 1,274 Democrats and independents who lean to the Democratic Party, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
For results based on the sample of 1,441 Republicans and independents who lean to the Republican Party, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 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.