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Clinton and Giuliani Have the Early Edge For '08, Poll Shows

By Dan Balz and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 14, 2006

New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) and former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (R), who briefly competed against each other in a Senate race in 2000, hold early leads over potential rivals for their parties' 2008 presidential nominations, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Clinton has a clear head start over other prospective Democratic candidates, with Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), who only a month ago expressed interest in the 2008 race, running second and former senator John Edwards (N.C.), the party's 2004 vice presidential nominee, in third.

Giuliani's advantage in the Republican race appears more tenuous: He holds a narrow lead over Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), who is far ahead of Giuliani in organizing a presidential campaign. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who has not disclosed his plans for 2008, is well back in third.

Giuliani enjoys strongly favorable ratings, according to the survey, with two-thirds of Americans giving him positive marks. His leadership after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, earned him widespread praise.

Clinton remains the most polarizing politician among those considering a campaign for president in 2008, but her image has improved perceptibly during her six-year tenure in the Senate.

In contrast, McCain's favorability ratings have declined over the past nine months. Among independents, his support has dropped 15 percentage points since March. Independents were his strongest supporters when he sought the Republican nomination in 2000. The decline comes at a time when McCain is calling for sending more troops to Iraq and has aggressively reached out to conservative groups and Christian conservative leaders.

These early poll results largely reflect name identification among the field of candidates, which includes several political celebrities and many others who remain generally unknown to people outside their states. As a result, hypothetical matchups are often poor predictors of what will happen once the primary and caucus season arrives in early 2008, and as voters learn more about where candidates stand on important issues.

But the findings provide early clues to the shape of the presidential nomination battles while raising questions that will be answered only by months of campaigning, debates, speeches and town hall meetings.

The poll underscores, for example, the degree to which the Republican field is dominated at this stage by two candidates who have never been the darlings of the GOP's conservative base, which is very influential in the party's primaries. McCain warred with conservatives -- particularly evangelical leaders Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell -- when he ran in 2000, though he and Falwell have patched things up. Giuliani enjoys popular support among Republicans, although he supports abortion rights, gay rights and gun control.

On the Democratic side, Obama has made a quick and favorable impression but is still generally unknown and certainly not the only potentially significant rival to Clinton, should both formally enter the race.

Among Democrats, Clinton leads the field with 39 percent, followed by Obama at 17 percent, Edwards at 12 percent, former vice president Al Gore at 10 percent and Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), the party's 2004 nominee, at 7 percent. No other Democrat received more than 2 percent.

When those surveyed were asked their second choice, Clinton's advantage became even more evident. She is the first or second choice of 60 percent of those surveyed, with Obama second at 33 percent.

Clinton receives significantly higher support among women than men (49 percent to 29 percent) and is favored by more moderates than liberals. Obama has almost equal support among men and women but has twice as much support among liberals as among moderates.

Among Republicans, Giuliani is favored by 34 percent to McCain's 26 percent. Gingrich is at 12 percent, and outgoing Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney runs fourth at 5 percent.

The Post-ABC poll also asked Americans to rate some of the potential candidates from both parties. Giuliani topped that list with a 67 percent favorable rating. Clinton was next at 56 percent, followed by McCain at 50 percent, Edwards at 49 percent and Obama at 44 percent. But many people haven't formed solid impressions of candidates such as Obama and Edwards.

Clinton had the highest unfavorable rating, at 40 percent, but Romney had the worst ratio: 22 percent favorable to 24 percent unfavorable, with 54 percent saying they didn't know enough about him to have an opinion.

There was another potentially more significant issue for Romney in the survey. Asked whether they would be more or less likely to vote for a candidate who is Mormon, as Romney is, 35 percent said they would be less likely and 3 percent said they would be more likely. Sixty-one percent said it would make no difference.

Underscoring the fragility of early polls on the presidential race is the fact that most Americans know little about where the candidates stand on specific issues. Just 45 percent said they knew a great deal or a lot about Clinton's positions, by far the highest number on that question.

The poll was conducted Dec. 7-11 by telephone among a random national sample of 1,005 adults. The margin of error for the full poll is three percentage points; it is five points on the 2008 presidential preference questions.

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