Mark Blumenthal | October 12, 2007
Topics: 2008 , The 2008 Race
As just about everyone knows by now, former Vice President Al Gore was named the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize earlier today. Inevitably, political observers have started to speculate about the impact of this event, including those with access to polling data. Here are two examples, plus some thoughts of my own.
ABC's Gary Langer looks at poll questions on global warming that "show levels of alarm below Gore's own." Langer is dubious that Gore's award will move public opinion:
What ultimately could move public opinion on the issue may not be so much whether scientists are seen to agree about it, or whether Gore's group itself can change public attitudes, but personal experience. Forty-one percent of Americans in our poll last spring said average temperatures in their area seem to have been going up lately; more, 54 percent, said overall weather patterns where they live have been "more unstable." To the extent that these experiences evolve, public attitudes well may follow.
Meanwhile, Gallup Guru Frank Newport sees no "pent-up demand" in Gallup's data for a Gore presidential candidacy:
As I have pointed out, we simply don't find - at this point - any strong indication that Democratic voters are waiting desperately for Gore to enter the race. Hillary Clinton has an 84% favorable, 11% unfavorable rating among Democrats. Gore? He does less well, pulling in 73% favorable, 20% unfavorable ratings from his fellow Democrats.
Plus, when we included Gore in our list of potential nominees in this past weekend's poll, only 10% of Democrats said he was their first choice for their party's nomination. Hillary was the first choice of 43%.
So we just don't see in the data any evidence that Gore would transform the race overnight should he jump in.
An analysis by Gallup's Jeff Jones presents the same data in more detail.
Gallup's data is consistent with other national surveys showing Gore's support at about 10% in trial heat questions (our own estimates show Gore at 10.8%). That number probably reflects that many potential Gore supporters are taking him at his word, accepting that he will not be a candidate and opting for others on poll questions.
Back in August, however, when the Michigan polling firm EPIC/MRA asked the vote questions a little differently, they showed much more potential for Gore. They first asked about the declared candidates and then played "what-if" and presented an "expanded list" that included Gore. Where Clinton led the declared field with 45% of the vote, she trailed Gore narrowly (36% to 32%) once the former Vice President's name was included among the candidates. As I wrote back in August, EPIC/MRA's question order said to respondents, in essence (though not in so many words), "imagine that Al Gore decides to run." The results - in a state presumed to be less enthusiastic about Gore's calls to reduce greenhouse emissions -- were very different that what the national polls have been showing.
All of this is interesting, but probably irrelevant. In a recent and widely quoted interview with 02138 magazine published last month, he seems to come as close as ever to ruling out a White House bid:
A recent poll shows that if you entered the presidential race, you would handily win the New Hampshire primary**. Isn't that tempting?
Sure. But I am old enough and have been a candidate enough times to have a very high level of resistance to temptations of that sort. I trust my instincts, and it doesn't feel like it's the right thing for me.
But if you believe global warming is such a crisis, wouldn't you be more effective within the White House than outside it?
I'm under no illusion that there's any position in the world as influential as that of president. But it doesn't feel like the right thing for me to be a candidate at this point...
Will you endorse a candidate in the primary?
Odds are that I will.
I haven't made that decision yet.
Do you feel some obligation to endorse the wife of your
Uh ... no. I have friendships with her and with the other candidates,
and they're all on equal footing at this point as far as I'm concerned.
What we probably should be considering is what poll data have to say about the potential power of Gore's endorsement to reshape the race. For those interested in speculation about Gore's endorsement having nothing to do with survey data, see Marc Ambinder, Ben Smith and Chris Cillizza. Readers, any thoughts?
**I have no idea what "New Hampshire poll" they were referring to.
Oops: As James points out with his comment, the New Hampshire poll in question was conducted by Suffolk University back in June. What's truly embarrassing is not just that I could have discovered it with a quick search of the Web, but that I wrote about it back in June (Gore did better there for essentially the same reason as in the Michigan survey).
Needless to way, Friday's post was a bit rushed. MysteryPollster needs a vacation. Sorry about that.