Gallup Goes Inside the Numbers
Frank Newport reports on a new Gallup poll which tries to get a glimpse into why potential voters prefer a particular candidate, especially so early in the process.
Gallup asked Republicans to choose between the two front-runners for their party’s nomination — former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Arizona Sen. John McCain — and then asked respondents to explain the reasons for their choice. Gallup asked Democrats to choose between New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and to explain their choice.
They did this in an open-ended fashion, allowing people to explain their choices without any guidance, and then grouped “similar responses.”
Newport’s bottom line analysis:
- Giuliani’s strength among Republicans is built on the base of his image coming out of New York and the 9/11 aftermath. He benefits at the moment from a positive comparison to his potential opponent, McCain.
- McCain’s strength is built on the positive image he has developed among his Republican supporters, including in particular his military background and his general experience. McCain also gains support from those who like his positions on the issues.
- Clinton’s strength is her knowledge, experience, and her positions on the issues. Her Democratic supporters seem to know her well, and applaud the specifics of her resume and stance on issues, including the fact that her husband was president for eight years. Some Clinton supporters explicitly cite Clinton’s gender as the reason behind their potential vote.
- Obama at this juncture appears to benefit from Democratic supporters who choose him over Clinton precisely because he is not Clinton and does not have the baggage and negative image she has developed among these Obama-supporting respondents. Obama gains some support because he is a fresh face with new ideas, and because of his positions on the issues.
There’s a lot of detail at the link and I encourage you to read through it. Ultimately, though, this is another data point confirming what most of us probably already suspected: people’s “support” for given candidates at this stage of the game is incredibly vague.
Indeed, even among political junkies that I talk to, few can articulate why they currently favor a given candidate beyond some incredibly vague generalities. We have very impressionistic senses of the candidates and have an image of them as “tough on crime” or “weak on defense” or whatever based on one or two seminal moments. This is especially true for candidates like Obama, who are virtually unknowns on the national scene but have managed to create a “rock star” aura. It should be noted that we’ve yet to elect a rock star president.