By Dan Balz and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani continues to lead the race for the Republican presidential nomination, but he has seen a dramatic erosion in his support, which now stands at its lowest point of the year, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Giuliani's support dropped from 37 percent in a July poll to 28 percent in the latest survey, and his decline from February has been even more sharp. Then, he had the backing of 53 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and had a better than 2 to 1 advantage over his closest rival.
Former senator Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.), who formally entered the race last week after months of exploration, now stands in second place in the GOP field, with 19 percent. That is nearly double the support he received in an April poll taken as he began to express serious interest in running.
But for all the anticipation about his candidacy, Thompson is roughly even with Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), whose campaign has had to weather struggles over the Iraq war, immigration and fundraising as well as the resignations of senior staff members. McCain is at 18 percent in the new poll, arresting a slow decline that began late last winter.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney was the only other candidate to finish in the double digits. His 10 percent is generally consistent with his national standing in Post-ABC polls since April, although he performs better in surveys in Iowa and New Hampshire. An August Post-ABC poll of likely Iowa GOP caucus-goers had Romney in the lead.
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who is attempting to parlay a second-place finish behind Romney in the nonbinding Iowa GOP straw poll into momentum for his candidacy, remains far behind in the new national poll, but his support improved from 2 percent in July to 5 percent. The increase was largely the result of more support from women.
McCain's stabilization presents a problem for Giuliani, as both appeal to many of the same voters, particularly GOP-leaning independents and those Republicans unhappy with President Bush and the Iraq war. Considering poll respondents' second choices, without McCain in the race, Giuliani's support would jump to 36 percent, while support for Thompson, Romney and Huckabee would not increase appreciably.
Over the past two months, Giuliani has suffered sharp declines in support among women and self-identified Republicans. In July, he was the first choice of 40 percent of Republicans and 41 percent of women. The new poll showed that 28 percent of Republicans and 27 percent of women back his candidacy.
Giuliani now stands at his lowest point yet among mainline Republicans, men, conservatives and white evangelical Protestants. Until now, the former mayor had led his rivals for the nomination among these evangelicals; now 29 percent support Thompson, while 25 percent support Giuliani.
Giuliani has sought to emphasize his conservative views on economic and national security issues, but his support for legal abortion and gay rights puts him at odds with many Republican voters. In a June Post-ABC poll, half of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents said they were less likely to vote for Giuliani because of his positions on these issues.
But few Republicans in the new poll cited abortion or family values as the top issues for 2008. The Iraq war, the economy and terrorism are the most frequently cited concerns, and it is on these issues that Giuliani focuses his pitch to voters. By contrast, his opponents, who all oppose abortion rights, are likely to highlight his position on social issues as the primary season continues.
Giuliani also has drawn criticism recently from Romney over immigration, a highly sensitive issue among GOP conservatives. Romney has charged that, as mayor, Giuliani adopted policies that made illegal immigrants feel welcome in New York.
Among Democrats, the poll showed no significant change in a race that has been largely stable for months.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) remained the leader at 41 percent, followed by Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) at 27 percent. Former senator John Edwards (N.C.) maintained third place, with 14 percent. No other Democrat received more than 3 percent.
The poll was conducted by telephone Sept. 4-7 among a random national sample of 1,002 respondents. The Republican results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus five percentage points; it is four points for the Democratic results.
Polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.