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Despite Campaign, Familiarity With Candidates Has Not Changed Substantially

Despite Campaign, Familiarity With Candidates Has Not Changed Substantially


PRINCETON, NJ -- Despite the remarkably early start on this year's presidential campaign and the high-visibility presence of the major candidates on television news shows and in televised debates, the name identification of the leading candidates or potential candidates has not changed much so far this year.

Hillary Clinton has near universal name identification, the highest of any of the major candidates. Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani is known by more than 8 in 10 Americans, more than is the case for John McCain and John Edwards, whose familiarity ratings are around 80%. Barack Obama's familiarity is at 75%. There has been little change in any of these candidates' recognition factors over the last several months. The least-known of the group of seven political figures included in this analysis are former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, who despite his acting role on prime time television, is known by less than 4 out of 10 Americans, and Mitt Romney, whose name ID remains below 50%.

Giuliani has the highest net favorable image of any of the major candidates, followed by Obama, Edwards, McCain, Fred Thompson, and finally Clinton and Romney. The net favorable ratings for several of these candidates -- including in particular Clinton -- have shown a decline through April, with a modest recovery in May.

Name Identification

This analysis deals with seven confirmed and potential presidential candidates -- Clinton, Obama, and Edwards on the Democratic side, and Giuliani, McCain, Romney, and Fred Thompson on the Republican side. "Name identification" is defined for the purposes of this analysis as the percentage of adult Americans who know enough about the candidate to be able to give an opinion of him or her.

Of these seven, the only one with near universal name identification is Clinton. The former first lady and current senator from New York is well-known enough that almost every American is willing to give an opinion of her.

The next most well-known candidate is Giuliani. Seventy-nine percent of Americans knew enough about Giuliani to rate him in January of this year, a figure that rose to 88% by February, and has remained essentially constant since. Neither the early media buzz about Giuliani's possible candidacy, nor the news coverage of him since he announced have nudged Giuliani into the 90% name recognition range enjoyed by Clinton.

About 8 in 10 Americans know McCain and Edwards well enough to have an opinion of them. The name recognition trends for both of these men have been shown very little change since February. The 20% of Americans who continue to say they don't know enough about both of these candidates to have an opinion is of interest given that both have been in the presidential limelight as candidates in previous election years.

McCain was a candidate for president in 2000, at which time his name recognition briefly reached 85%. He is a war hero and highly visible senator, and has been running hard for the presidency since late last year. Still, his name ID this year has -- so far -- remained lower than it was in 2000.

Edwards was the Democratic candidate for vice president in 2004 (at which point his name identification in one survey in September 2004 reached 86%). Edwards has also been campaigning almost non-stop this year. He received a great deal of publicity when he and his wife Elizabeth made a public announcement that her cancer had returned. (Elizabeth, for example, was on the cover of Time magazine). Still, Edwards has yet to reach the levels of recognition he enjoyed in the 2004 campaign.

Slightly below McCain and Edwards in the name identification list is Obama. The Illinois senator burst onto the national scene with a widely praised speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, a year in which he won election to the U.S. Senate. Gallup's first test of Obama's name recognition -- in December of last year -- showed him with a 53% familiarity rating. By this February, Obama's name ID had shot up to 72%, but has not been much higher since, despite the intense news coverage given to him as he has engaged in active campaigning. His current name identification, 75%, is roughly the same as in February.

Much less well-known is former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Romney's name identification was 36% in February of this year, and has risen to 46% by this month. Still, more than half of Americans do not know enough about Romney to be able to give an opinion of him, with no change between April and May.

The least-recognized candidate among the seven rated in the present analysis is actor and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson. Despite his role on the popular TV show Law and Order and numerous movie roles over the years, less than 4 in 10 Americans know enough about him to have an opinion, and there has been no change in his name identification between April and May.

Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani's Image

The images of the two frontrunners -- Clinton for the Democrats and Giuliani for the Republicans -- have followed similar trajectories this year. The net favorable ratings for both declined though April, and then recovered partially in May. Throughout these months, Giuliani's favorable ratings have remained much more positive than Clinton's. (Keep in mind that these net favorable ratings are for the general public. Both of these candidates do much better among members of their own party).

The drop in the ratings of these two candidates through April can be explained as part of the natural process by which those running for office lose some of their luster as they are subjected to the whipsaw criticisms and intense media attention that comes with campaigning. Why the images of both Clinton and Giuliani recovered in April is unknown, and it will be interesting to track these trends in the summer months to see if the recovery continues, or if their images retreat to more negative territory.

Images of McCain, Obama, and Edwards

All three of these candidates have roughly similar net favorable ratings. Obama has tracked slightly more positively than the other two for the most part this year, although their ratings converged in April.

As was true for Clinton and Giuliani, Obama's ratings dropped in April and partially recovered in May. The net favorable ratings for McCain have dropped since his high point in February, with no recovery in May. The ratings for Edwards, after jumping in March, are a few points lower in May.

Romney and Thompson

There have been only minor changes in the net favorable ratings of Romney since February. He began in that month with a lukewarm image; his unfavorable ratings were the equal of his favorable ratings. Since then, his image has moved slightly toward the positive side of the ledger, but with no dramatic upward tilt.

Fred Thompson's image is in positive territory, but has not changed significantly in the two months Gallup has measured it.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with approximately 1,000 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted between 2001 and 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error for any given survey 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.

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