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Why Polling for the 2008 Presidential Race is Premature

Topics: 2008 , The 2008 Race

(Today's Guest Pollster's Corner contribrution comes from Greg Smith, president of Greg Smith & Associates, which conducted public polls in Idaho in the 2006 races for governor and congress.)

But, what the heck, it's still fun to talk about it! For pollsters, an objective look at a future scenario such as the 2008 U.S. Presidential race is always appealing. Further, the thought of having insight and uncovering variables contributing to the outcome of just such a scenario is downright enthralling! As pollsters, we need to not be overanxious and in too much of a hurry to examine the 2008 election, despite our zeal. For example, the majority of polling at this point seems to be of the "head-to-head" variety" (e.g., "if the election were held today, ....."). Further, and at this point in time, findings are so much a function of such interrelated factors as current levels of name awareness, exposure by the media, etc. We all can cite recent examples tending to say that Republicans favor Senator John McCain of Arizona, whereas Democrats would choose Senator Hillary Clinton of New York.

I'm not saying these polling efforts are a waste of time. Instead, one should take them simply for what they are -- largely reflective of name awareness. Remember, (1) the election itself won't be for 23 more months. Now is the time for campaigns to build effective organizations, raise money, etc. There will be plenty of time to do more meaningful polling. And, (2) we determine our nominees on a state-by-state basis, not in one national vote. So, even in later polling (i.e., mid- to late 2007), we would generally want to talk to voters in Iowa, then New Hampshire, etc.

However, given our overall interest in the subject, we political pollsters enjoy discussing the 2008 Presidential election, the developing attitudes and perceptions of the electorate, and certainly a brief look at potential campaign scenarios:

One scenario suggests that neither McCain nor Clinton will ever again be as popular as they are now. In McCain's case, he talks a good conservative game, but his actions and votes suggest that he is not conservative enough to win the GOP nomination -- certainly a requirement in recent years (or, at least to campaign as if he is a conservative). And, there is nothing to suggest that likely Republican primary voters in 2008 will be any less conservative in 2008. Clinton will be the target of every conceivable Democratic opponent as the front-runner. Her stances on Iraq are not of help: She has certainly flip-flopped on the Iraqi conflict, which will ultimately bring into questions of credibility on other viewpoints and issues, not to mention the fact that those who comprise the Democratic party at the national level are increasingly liberal.

In my opinion, Al Gore is the most likely 2008 Democratic Presidential nominee. He has "been to the mount", has and will have tremendous financial backing, and can make the argument that he won the 2000 Presidential election and we wouldn't be in the national and international messes we are in today had he "been rightfully installed" in 2000. There are no Democratic governors currently on the horizon (with the exception of Tom Vilsack of Iowa, who has virtually no base of support outside of Iowa), although you never know. Witness Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, who both went from single digits early on to become President. And, John Edwards has yet to demonstrate a support base of sufficient magnitude, although this could change quickly, since he represents a fresh face. Barack Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, certainly deserves a mention, although in all likelihood needs a few "gray hairs" (read, more experience and "seasoning") before he deserves serious consideration. Should he decide to run, he will likely not significantly impact the eventual outcome. John Kerry ran a poor 2004 campaign, and continues to commit fax paus after fax paus.

Regarding the 2008 Republican ticket, both McCain and former New York mayor Rudy Guiliani are admirable, although neither sufficiently possess "the right (conservative) stuff" to win the nomination. Then, whom? I personally feel that, at this point, it will be one of three people: Condoleeza Rice, Newt Gingrich, and (most likely) Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. Ms. Rice brings a high level of credibility and intelligence to the race, but we pollsters will both quantitatively and qualitatively detect some degree of anti-black sentiment (unfortunately). Further, her positions on issues are largely still unknown. We pollsters will reveal a perception of Newt Gingrich relating to a high degree of intellect, but his messy marital breakup, assertive personality, and "being yesterday's news" will create some angst among certain elements of the electorate. Gov. Romney is very well positioned as a strong conservative with specific accomplishments, certainly in the area of health care. Further, his background is squeaky clean. Public perception, however, will ultimately reflect hesitation toward (1) his religion, the LDS faith ("What is a Mormon?"), and (2) his relatively late transformation into a "pro-life" advocate. At this point in time, his Mormonism is not yet akin to JFK's Catholicism in 1960.

We pollsters can and will play an important role in revealing voter attitudes and preferences as they arise. We simply need to exercise good judgment, however, so that our work later in the election cycle is not adversely affected.


Greg Smith & Associates is a marketing/public opinion research and consulting firm headquartered in Eagle (Boise), Idaho, with a variety of clients in both the private and public sectors within Idaho, regionally, and nationally. Greg Smith, the president of the firm, is well known within and outside of Idaho for his political survey research, analysis and commentary. Smith received his M.B.A. from Northwestern University.

 

Comments

Why would you think Rice is running? She has declared her noncandidacy until she is blue in the face (so to speak).l

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proud southern democrat:

Re: your claim regarding the lack of Governors running on the Dem side. What about Bill Richardson? I can't imagine that he has a "base" outside New Mexico, but he certainly has a lot of contacts and could raise a lot of money nationwide.

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Greg Smith:

Thanks to you both for commenting. I look forward to other reactions as well.

Michael, your point is excellent about Rice saying repeatedly that she isn't going to run. Nothing against her personally, but most potential candidates in her position say exactly the same thing. So, unfortunately, she is painted with the same brush.

Proud southern democrat, your point about Bill Richardson is also well taken. I think you very well pointed out his shortcoming (lack of base outside of New Mexico), and as well he simply isn't that attractive of a candidate (from a marketing standpoint). That may sound a little cruel, but I believe it is realistic nonetheless.

Again, I look forward to other comments as well.

Greg

President
Greg Smith & Associates
Eagle (Boise), Idaho
208.921.9458 (cell)

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proud southern democrat:

Thanks for your response. I'm hoping you might explain a little more about why you don't believe Richardson is an attractive candidate from a marketing perspective. He's very personable and has a great resume. Furthermore, from a fundraising point of view, his experience can be used to credibly tap interests like international trade, energy (both traditional and alternative) and transportation.

Also, I conceded Richardson's lack of base perhaps a bit too easily. He is giving up his chairmanship of the Democratic Governor's Association, and in that role he helped raise a lot of money all over the country. Ask George Bush what having your party's Gubernatorial association as a base can accomplish. He also has an opportunity to develop the hispanic community as a base, which could be powerful.

I'm a Democratic fundraiser based in Alabama (not working for any Presidential candidate), so I'm largely speaking from that perspective. Marketing isn't my ball of wax.

Anyway, I see Richardson as potentially a top tier candidate in the primaries. Also, I see Obama as being a lot stronger than you think. He will be a very potent candidate in the South. I see him winning a lot of the Southern primaries. His major weakness, as I see it, will be fundraising (which will be in part due to his lack of experience).

As far as the Republican side, I think McCain's conservative credentials may be a little healthier than you believe. He's made a lot of friends in Alabama since the last time he ran, and I would be surprised if this didn't hold true throughout the South. I also believe that we're about to see a re-emergence of deficit hawks as a major conservative infleunce, and McCain will have a lot of support from this constituency. I also see Huckabee as a potential player on the Republican side. Frankly, I think we're seeing the kind of "east-coast bias" normally reserved for baseball coverage rearing its head in the early Presidential race. Romney's home in a major media market is much of what has put him in the top tier early on. It's also what has made Guiliani into a major player (he's clearly not). I'm not sure that media market familiarity will hold up over the next 10 months, as candidates begin to focus on Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

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proud southern democrat:

One more thing (I'm sure I've written enough already): Edwards will be plenty potent. He hasn't lost any of his base of support among Southern trial lawyers (trust me on this claim), and I would be surprised if his support from labor hasn't strengthened since 2004.

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Greg Smith:

Again, excellent comments, proud southern democrat. Let me give you my "take" on them with your permission on a paragraph by paragraph basis.

With regards to Richardson's lack of marketing attractiveness, I'll just come out and say it. To the voter watching him on TV, he looks somewhat short, and certainly overweight Whether or not it's right, we Americans like at least minimally striking people to head up organizations -- companies, not-for-profits, the U.S. Government. Richardson's current "ump-dee-dum" look, unfair as it may be, would certainly not be appealing today. I don't doubt his accomplishments in terms of money raised. Remember, however, money can only help get votes. To paraphrase the NRA, "Money doesn't vote for people -- people vote for people". With regards to developing the Hispanic community as a base, Richardson will hardly have that as a strength that no other Democrat would have -- even given he is Hispanic.

Regarding Obama, he is not going to go through the South like Sherman. There will be simply too many formidable Democratic candidates for any one person to do that (except after the momentum builds for someone). Again, I think it's too much too quickly for Obama. His time will come, when he will have the chance to be the star.

Finally, regarding McCain, one must realize that without an implicit blessing from the evangelical right, he will never get the nomination. Currently, he is held in high esteem by that segment, because of certain stances I'm sure you're familiar with. And, recall that in 2000 he went to Charleston and told the evangelicals (essentially) that they could stick it where the sun doesn't shine. They won't (nor should they) forget that so easily.

Like the saying goes, opinions are like noses -- everybody's got one. I may be wrong, but that's my "take" on it today.

I look forward to responses/comments from any or all of you!

Greg Smith
President
Greg Smith & Associates
Eagle (Boise), Idaho
208.921.9458 (cell)

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How about Wesley Clark? He ran in 2004, and he's spent the past couple years raising money for candidates and appearing both on Bill Maher and Fox News. He's not mentioned much among contenders, but he appears to me to be keying up for another run.

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Greg Smith:

Thank you for your comment, seamus. You raise good points -- he certianly is raising his profile and exposure, and (as you mentioned) is broadening this exposure via both Bill Maher and Fox (who are hardly political bedfellows).

My only thought is that the Democratic Party (or, its key influencers/decision-makers) at the national level is certainly becoming increasingly liberal. If one agrees, then one has to admit that the chances of a more moderate candidate such as General Clark are even more diminished in 2008 than in 2004. I'm reminded of the words Ronald Reagan once said, when someone asked him why he wasn't a Democrat any more:

"I didn't leave the Democratic party -- the Democratic party left me."

Again, thank you for your comments and insight, seamus. As well, I look forward to "hearing" from other people with interest in this subject.

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