PRINCETON, NJ -- The latest national USA Today/Gallup poll shows that former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani remains in the lead for the Republican nomination, although his percentage of the vote is trending downward. Meanwhile, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has moved into a four-way tie for second place, only nine points behind Giuliani.
Giuliani receives 25% of the Republican vote in the Nov. 30-Dec. 2 poll. That's down three points from mid-November and nine points from his recent high point of 34%, which he has reached twice since September. Technically, the current 25% share of the vote for Giuliani is the lowest Gallup has recorded since November 2006, when it began tracking national Republicans' nomination preferences -- although it is not statistically different from the 28% recorded in November of this year and at two points in late 2006.
The big news among Republicans surrounds the mini-surge of Huckabee, who has been the center of much national news coverage as the result of his strong showings in polls of likely Iowa caucus goers, and who has been deemed by critics to have performed well in recent Republican debates. There is little doubt that this publicity has been behind the national gains measured in Gallup's weekend poll. Huckabee gets 16% of the Republican vote in the poll -- up from 6% at the beginning of November and 2% as recently as August. As a result, Huckabee, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson (15%), Arizona Sen. John McCain (15%), and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (12%) are essentially tied for second place.
Huckabee's Name Identification
Huckabee has seen a significant increase in his name recognition and positive image among all Americans over the last several weeks. Gallup first asked Americans about Huckabee in August, and at that point 31% knew enough about him to have an opinion. Now, 49% have an opinion, and those opinions have become much more favorable than unfavorable.
At the same time, there have been more modest increases in Americans' favorable ratings of McCain, Thompson, and Romney in this poll compared to previous surveys. Along with Huckabee's ratings, those Republicans' favorable ratings are at or near their 2007 highs. But Americans have become slightly less positive about Giuliani.
Among Republicans, Huckabee's image has improved and become competitive with those of Romney and Thompson. Although slightly fewer Republicans know Huckabee than know either of these other two candidates, their favorable percentages are comparable. Huckabee's negatives are actually smaller than is the case for the other two.
McCain has higher percentages of both positive and negative ratings than Romney, Thompson, and Huckabee, as does Giuliani, who -- as befits the front-runner -- has the highest positive image of any candidate.
One of the key questions in the Republican presidential race at this point is the impact of the early caucus and primary outcomes on the position of front-runner Rudy Giuliani at the national level. If Giuliani does not make a strong showing in Iowa and New Hampshire -- as the polls in those states would suggest may well be the case -- the focus will be on the damage done to his front-runner status as the primaries progress.
At present, the trend-line data at the national level show that Giuliani's lead is shrinking, suggesting that he is far from invulnerable. The current data would make it hard to argue that any of the other candidates is in a demonstrably better second-place position than the others. Four candidates are within four points of each other behind Giuliani.
There has been some movement this year in the national GOP picture. John McCain, for example, went from 27% of the Republican vote at the beginning of the year to a low point of 11% in August, only to recover modestly to 15% in the current poll. So it would not be unusual to find Huckabee's support moving either up or down once again in the weeks to come, particularly as his candidacy attracts increased media scrutiny. But at the moment, about one month before the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, Huckabee clearly is the Republican candidate with the most momentum.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,006 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Nov. 30-Dec. 2, 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 425 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.