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Giuliani Still on Top as Republicans Debate in Michigan

Giuliani Still on Top as Republicans Debate in Michigan



PRINCETON, NJ -- As the Republican presidential candidates square off in the latest in a series of debates -- this time in Dearborn, Mich. on Tuesday -- new Gallup polling shows former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani continuing to hold onto his status as front-runner, 12 points ahead of former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson and 16 points ahead of John McCain. Thompson -- for whom this will be the first national debate since officially declaring his candidacy -- is still less well-known to Republicans nationwide than Giuliani and McCain, suggesting that the debate could be an important opportunity for him to fill in the blanks in the minds of GOP primary voters. The poll also finds former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee moving within two points of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, whose nationwide support among Republicans remains mired in single digits.


The Race as of Oct. 9


The basic structure of the national Republican race for president has remained relatively stable since early September. A new Gallup update on the status of the GOP race, based on interviews conducted Oct. 4-7, shows that Rudy Giuliani remains the front-runner, followed by Fred Thompson and John McCain.


If there has been a change of note over the last several months, it has been the failure of Romney to capitalize on his mini-surge when he won the Iowa straw poll in early August. McCain has, at the same time, recovered his standing after slipping in August. There has been a slight but steady increase in support for Huckabee, despite his very low name identification. Huckabee has gone from 1% of the vote as recently as May to 7% today, within two points of the better-known (and much better financed) Romney, and clearly separating himself from the other “minor” candidates competing for the GOP nomination.


Here are the details:


Giuliani’s share of the national GOP vote has been in the 30% to 34% range since July. The former New York City mayor had reached as high as 49% of the Republican vote in March (prior to the inclusion of Thompson on the ballot), but his share has settled back down and has shown little change in recent months.


Giuliani is the best known of the major candidates among Republicans, and is also the best liked, with a 72% favorable rating and only a 15% unfavorable rating.



Some news media reports have focused on Thompson’s failure to catch on with voters after declaring his candidacy, and supporting this, Gallup data show that while Thompson’s vote share has not increased in polling going back to mid-June, it has also not decreased. The former movie and television actor now has 20% of the GOP vote, within a few points of where he has been in every Gallup Poll since the middle of June.


Thompson’s name identification among Republicans is still relatively low. Thirty-seven percent of Republicans nationwide say they don’t know enough about Thompson to have either a favorable or an unfavorable opinion, which is a lower than the corresponding figures for Giuliani (13%) and McCain (15%), and about equal with those for Romney (40%). Among those who do know Thompson, however, his image is quite positive, with a better than 5 to 1 ratio of favorable to unfavorable opinions.


McCain is in third place among Republicans nationwide with 16% of the vote. With the exception of one Gallup Poll conducted in mid-August, this is essentially where he has been since July. In one mid-August poll, conducted shortly after Romney had won the Iowa straw poll, McCain fell behind Romney into fourth place with only 11% of the vote, but he has since recovered. Still, McCain is nowhere near the 26% to 28% of the national Republican vote he was receiving in late 2006 and in Gallup’s first poll of 2007, at which time he was essentially tied with Rudy Giuliani as the GOP’s front-runner.


McCain’s image, although still quite positive on balance, is the most mixed of any of the major candidates among Republicans. The former naval officer has a 61% favorable and 24% unfavorable rating among this group.


There are few signs in these national data of change in the positioning of Romney. The former head of Bain Capital is in fourth place with only 9% of the GOP vote, just a couple of points ahead of Huckabee. The gap between Romney and fifth place challenger Huckabee is the smallest of the election year, and the trend lines of vote support between the two have generally been growing closer together. It does not appear outside the realm of possibility that Huckabee could surpass Romney at some point in the future -- and climb into fourth place nationally among Republicans.


Despite the large amount of national publicity Romney has received, including a recent cover story on Newsweek magazine, he is still not all that well-known among Republicans -- 40% say they don’t know enough about him to have either a positive or negative opinion. Among those who do have an opinion, Romney’s image is favorable by a 3 to 1 ratio.


Potentially good news for Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas who lost more than 100 pounds in a highly publicized weight loss campaign, is that two-thirds of Republicans don’t know enough about him to rate him. (His image is 26% favorable and 9% unfavorable among those who do know him.) This means Huckabee has the opportunity to make significant advances if he continues to make favorable impressions as the campaign progresses.


Paul, who made waves last week with a strong fundraising performance in the third quarter, still has not gained any traction in the polls. The Texas Congressman and former medical doctor is now supported by just 2% of Republicans nationwide, even after the widespread reporting of his recent $5 million campaign haul. To date, his top performance in nationwide GOP polls has been 4% in a mid-September poll. Paul has a very substantial name identification problem among Republicans, 72% of whom say they don’t know enough about him to have either a positive or negative opinion.


A couple of other notes of interest prior to Tuesday's Republican debate:


  • Half of Republicans say the U.S. economy is getting worse rather than better. Although this is significantly more positive than the views of Democrats, it still indicates that the average rank-and-file Republican has failed to accept the Bush administration contention that the economy is doing well at this point.


  • Only a third of Republicans say they trust the news media to report the news fairly and accurately, and more than 7 out of 10 say the news media are too liberal [See “Republicans Remain Deeply Distrustful of News Media” in Related Items]. This may be germane to Tuesday's debate given the grumblings in some quarters about co-moderator Chris Matthews’ perceived bias and sympathy for Democrats.


Survey Methods


Results for this report are based on telephone interviews with 1,010 national adults, and 409 Republicans and Republican leaners, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 4-7, 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 Republicans, 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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