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May 12, 2007

Strange But Sweet Polling Treat

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

On May 2, SurveyUSA released some interesting single-state head-to-head primary polls featuring Clinton, Obama, and Edwards against Rudy Giuliani.  Unfortunately, SUSA has recently become resistant to putting all their data on a single easy-to-use chart (this data is on 33 different pie graphs!) so I had to do the work.  As always, Democratic victory is in blue while Republican victory is in red:

State Clinton-Giuliani Edwards-Giuliani Obama-Giuliani
California 53-41 49-42 46-45
Iowa 45-48 54-40 49-44
Kentucky 46-48 47-44 38-54
Massachusetts 52-40 46-45 41-48
Minnesota 48-45 49-41 43-49
Missouri 45-48 48-43 42-50
New Mexico 45-47 43-46 40-50
New York 53-42 44-49 42-51
Ohio 48-45 50-42 40-51
Virginia 44-49 45-45 38-53
Wisconsin 44-45 49-39 43-45

These were relatively small surveys -- about 550 people each, with a margin of error a little above 4%. 

The set of states sampled is most favorable to Clinton among the Democrats, and probably inflates Giuliani's strength -- New York is in the mix, but neither Obama's IL nor Edwards' NC are.  Only two Southern states are surveyed, which probably strengthens Rudy overall. 

Obama's poor performance is surprising.  He usually does better than this in head-to-head polls.  How should we explain the disparity between his showing in national head-to-heads and his showing here?  One factor -- though it probably can't be the whole explanation -- is that he has a tremendous level of support in heavily populated Illinois, which props him up in national polls despite his less spectacular numbers elsewhere. 

Regarding an Edwards-Giuliani race, there is a spectrum of ways to go with this data.  On one side, you can take the data at face value and go with something the 1976 flipped-regions scenario.  Giuliani's home state advantage will hold and he'll win New York.  Edwards' regional advantage will hold in a New-Yorker-fearing South, and he'll make it up down there.  On the other side, you can assume that as the race progresses, home-state advantages mostly dissipate.  Edwards wins New York while Giuliani wins the majority of the South. I'm closer to the second of these poles, but perhaps not as close to it as most people are.  (I could see us trading NH for AR, and maybe there would be more flippage.)

Whether you flip the regions or not, Edwards gets the Midwest and wins the election.  He absolutely dominates in the traditional swing states.  Edwards crushes Giuliani in IA, has solid leads in OH, MN, and WI, and is the only one to win WI and MO.  If you regard Giuliani's new solidly pro-choice positioning (which emerged after this polling) as the end of his quest for the GOP nomination, Edwards' strength in the Midwest compared to the other Democratic contenders is still the major take-home message of this poll. 

(Just to express a pet peeve, again: Do you people at SurveyUSA not want anybody to look at your data?  Just a couple months ago, you'd put up your monthly 50-state tracking polls of approval ratings all on one sheet like this, sortable across 6 different criteria.  When I heard that a new sheet of polls was out, I'd get all giddy.  Dissecting those numbers was political strategy nerd heaven.  Now every candidate is on a separate page and nobody can make comparisons without actually writing stuff down to remember it all.  And putting the data above on 33 different pie charts, none of which are labeled on the page with the state they're from, borders on the sadistic.) 

May 12, 2007 | Permalink


Excellent analysis, Neil. I think Edwards has broad strength in various regions. I found it interesting that Obama does relatively poorly. I think we are beginning to see the end of "Obamamania." The idea of an African American candidate was exciting for folks, but now they are getting used to it.

I think it is good, because we never will have to go through this again: the first African American candidate with a good chance. On the other hand, now people will look at him and his stands on issues. At that point, he no longer can be all things to everyone. I think his support will continue to fade, notwithstanding his large war chest of campaign funds. In the end, it may well be Edwards and Clinton.

Posted by: Tom Wells | May 12, 2007 4:16:36 PM

"Do you people at SurveyUSA not want anybody to look at your data?"

Yup. It is pretty weird.

Posted by: Petey | May 12, 2007 5:34:12 PM

SUSA is not a source for polling data that I'm comfortable believing, but thanks Neil for the work.

But I'll repeat my 'too early' warning for the record. And my heartfelt cry that for any Repub to be this close to the leading Dem. candidates makes me think the public has lost its mind on national politics - have they learned nothing from the last 6 or 30 years?

So, I'l reach back to the past and recall (again) the transition from the Roman Republic to Empire, and observe that it takes a while for the embers of representative government to be extinguished by one person rule, but the process doesn't seem reversible. All hail, Rudy (or whomever) the Leader-Decider!

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | May 12, 2007 6:04:06 PM

"SUSA is not a source for polling data that I'm comfortable believing"

Why on earth not?

Posted by: Petey | May 12, 2007 6:08:01 PM

I would like to see States like Wash, Org, FL, and some other states where Edwards anti free trade stance will likely hurt him. Most of those states are where it plays well....

Posted by: Paul8148 | May 12, 2007 7:03:05 PM

You can always quibble with individual pollsters, but I think in general you've demonstrated that what empirical evidence there is suggests that Edwards would be the strongest candidate in the general election. This doesn't get talked about very much and I'm glad to see it here.

Sooner or later (maybe after the first set of primaries), there needs to begin a sustained chorus of HILLARY CAN'T WIN. I don't actually think that's exactly true, but it's a blunt way of making the same point that this post does -- that Hillary will be a relatively weak candidate in the general.

I do worry about NY if Rudy is the nominee, however. (Those who are writing his obituary already are jumping the gun big time.) I tend to assume, like others, that NY will not, in the end, turn red. But if there's reason to think that's not true, there would be an argument in favor of Hillary just because losing NY would suck pretty hard (it would be like the GOP losing Texas). Unless Edwards really can steal enough Southern and Midwestern states to make up the difference.

This is why I'm praying for a Mitt Romney candidacy. E. Klein said at Tapped that he thinks Romney has a decent chance in the general, but as I see it a Romney victory is close to impossible. At least Giuliani puts NY in play, and McCain makes Arizona a more likely GOP hold. But Romney won't win Mass. He brings absolutely nothing to the table electorally. There's no way he would take any state that Bush didn't win in 2004, and he would certainly lose Ohio and Iowa at the very least. He cannot win. Which is why they'll never be stupid enough to nominate him.

Posted by: Jason | May 12, 2007 7:15:12 PM

I think you're right about Romney, Jason -- certainly that's how the current polling makes it look. Romney underperforms the generic Republican, often losing by over 20 points in head-to-head matchups. I'm not super confident in my analysis, though, because Romney is such a grab bag of weird attributes that it's hard to know what to make of him. He's the wildly flip-flopping well-funded Mormon from Massachusetts who passed universal health care and is slick on TV. I'm pretty sure that America would basically go "WTF?" and he'd lose in a landslide. I don't think chimeras can win general elections. But he's just such a bizarre entity that I feel unusually tentative making predictions.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | May 12, 2007 7:59:59 PM

Once the curtain goes down on the Republican convention and the entire mass media gets behind the Republican nominee and pushes, hard (and there's no use pretending they won't), I'm not completely convinced that a dead hamster couldn't win the general. Look at the last two election cycles.

Posted by: Chris | May 12, 2007 8:28:27 PM

Its way, way, WAY too early to count Romney out. I see him winning the nomination. With Giuliani about to openly supportabortion, he is done.

The thing with Romney is, his biggest problem is not issues, its name recognition. 37% or higher still do not know who he is. He is doing well in the debates - and by July, should have that number much lower.

He is leading NH, UT, and MI. He has the best shot, IMHO.

Posted by: Matt A | May 12, 2007 8:31:33 PM

"I'm not super confident in my analysis, though"

Romney has zero chance at the nomination, and even if he got the nomination, would have have zero chance at the general election unless he can somehow neutralize the LDS stuff.

If he could neutralize LDS, he'd be a perfectly decent candidate for the nomination, and a reasonably strong general election candidate. But I think the chances of him being able to neutralize LDS by 2/5 are pretty damn low.

I think his gameplan is to run strongly and get LDS aired and discussed enough that it recedes as such a showstopper for him. If the gameplan works, he becomes a viable choice for the VP slot, where he'd fit nicely.

But I'd be absolutely astonished if he could win the nomination. I've said it before and I'll say it again: your GOP nominee is either McCain or Thompson, likely McCain.

Posted by: Petey | May 12, 2007 8:39:27 PM

I think his gameplan is to run strongly and get LDS aired and discussed

He'll be talking about it on 60 Minutes tomorrow.

Posted by: Sanpete | May 12, 2007 8:56:43 PM

I think someone over at mydd made a really excellent point. Unfortunately HRC is benefiting from 2004 where Democrats feel they didn't vote what they want despite perceptions of electability. I think this absolutely is a mistake. It's one thing to say that electability is not everything. It's another to not consider it a factor at all. I hoped we were passed simplistic analysis, but seems to be the way things are going- yet another simplistic solution. this one being electability shouldn't be a factor.

Posted by: akaison | May 12, 2007 9:08:50 PM

"Obama's poor performance is surprising. He usually does better than this in head-to-head polls. How should we explain the disparity between his showing in national head-to-heads and his showing here?"

I think the large Edwards lead over Clinton and negligible Edwards lead over Obama in head-to-head general election polls will always be larger than in these kind of state by state polls.

Or put another way, Edwards' margin over Clinton and Obama as a general election candidate should be larger in the electoral college than it is in the popular vote.

Edwards is not piling up the kind of big margins in solid blue states that Clinton and Obama are getting. But he runs much better in purple and red states than Clinton and Obama. (We don't much care how candidates run in red states, other than the support it will provide Dem House and Senate candidates, but we should care a lot how candidates run in purple states.)

Note how Clinton does better than Edwards in 4 of the SUSA states above. 3 out of those 4 states are New York, California, and Massachusetts. Obama does better than Edwards in none of the states, but comes closest in New York and California.

Posted by: Petey | May 12, 2007 9:12:06 PM

but his margins don't need to be large in blue states. they need to be big in purple. so should the other candidates. hrc and obama will need to win florida and ohio to win the presidency. thats why this poll should worry primary voters if this dichotomy continued as the primary come up in the primary season next year.

Posted by: akaison | May 12, 2007 9:18:39 PM

By the way, in electoral votes Edwards only gets 5 more than Clinton in these results (if I counted right). All still too early to count on, of course.

Posted by: Sanpete | May 12, 2007 11:09:51 PM

Of course, I agree with Petey and akaison. My comment that Petey cites is more registering surprise that Obama generally underperforms Clinton in these polls than that he and Clinton underperform Edwards.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | May 12, 2007 11:11:12 PM

in electoral votes Edwards only gets 5 more than Clinton in these results (if I counted right)

The NY numbers really throw a monkey wrench into everything, because the polls have only Hillary beating Rudy there, which almost completely offsets any other geographical advantage.

I gotta say, if I'm a Republican, I'm looking at those numbers and salivating over the possibility of NY even being in play. With those numbers, how do you not nominate the guy? I realize he's not anti-abortion, but geez. Do most GOP voters really care that much about abortion? Everybody's writing Rudy off, but I'll believe it when I see it. I think most GOPers care more about tax cuts than they do about abortion.

Abortion politics is weird. It's one area where it's just kind of accepted that politicians don't really give a shit about it either way, and they routinely get away with the most blatantly politically motivated positioning. Does anybody REALLY believe that Mitt Romney AND his wife are really opposed to abortion now, when just a few years ago they were both pro-choice? In 1996, Steve Forbes went nowhere, and apparently the consensus was that it was his pro-choice views, so come 2000 Forbes is back just the same as before except now he's pro-life! See also Al Gore circa 1988, Dennis Kucinich circa 2004, etc.

I mean for god's sake - Giuliani is pretty much openly admitting that he's changing his position in the middle of a campaign and nobody really blinks an eye. There's plenty of talk about whether his position will hurt him or not, but surprisingly little about the fact that his position is entirely strategy-driven.

Posted by: Jason | May 13, 2007 12:45:33 AM

anyone who believes NY is in play is delusional.

Posted by: akaison | May 13, 2007 12:57:49 AM

There's plenty of talk about whether his position will hurt him or not, but surprisingly little about the fact that his position is entirely strategy-driven.

I think the reason you don't hear that talk is that it's regarded as the position he actually holds. Certainly, the lack of any strategic advantage from going the other way freed him up to go the way he's going, but that's a different matter.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | May 13, 2007 2:00:07 AM

Does anybody REALLY believe that Mitt Romney AND his wife are really opposed to abortion now, when just a few years ago they were both pro-choice?

They're certainly opposed to abortion on moral/religious grounds, but were formerly pro-choice anyway.

Giuliani's position hasn't changed much from what he was saying months ago.

Posted by: Sanpete | May 13, 2007 3:08:51 AM

A couple things:

Rudy isn't going to win the nomination. No way. McCain is still the frontrunner. Despite what some Dems think, the GOP base really does care about abortion and homosexuality, and even those who don't would want to risk triggering a third party "pro-life" challenge from Pat Buchanan or someone else.

If by some miracle Rudy won the nomination, he would never win New York. New Yorkers wouldn't hand the presidency to a Republican.

Posted by: davidmizner | May 13, 2007 7:40:04 AM

There's plenty of talk about whether his position will hurt him or not, but surprisingly little about the fact that his position is entirely strategy-driven.

Actually, I think the reason for this is that while sincerity and consistency count for something, they aren't essential. The bigger issue is that if a movement doesn't have the clout to make a candidate adopt its language (even if it is disingenuously), then it doesn't have the clout to force them to adopt their policies.

Posted by: Royko | May 13, 2007 10:13:01 AM

How should we explain the disparity between his showing in national head-to-heads and his showing here?

How about this. These polls are all extremely soft measures and utterly unrepresentative of the real race. You really need to stop obsessing about these polls Neil, you're just going to end up miserable if you stake your hopes on them.

P.S. There's no way Rudy Giuliani will beat Barack Obama (or any Democrat) in Massachusetts.

Posted by: Mikef | May 13, 2007 10:47:31 AM

Yeah, what's with Massachusetts being so close? Obama losing to Giuliani there by seven points? Edwards-Giuliani being a dead heat?

Either there's something wrong with this poll, or the usual image of Mass as deep blue are way out of line, or Giuliani has a somewhat frightening amount of blue-state appeal.

And why the hell does Mass like Hillary so much?

In any case, while those who urge caution about polls aren't wrong, it does seem to me that we need data like this in order to confirm or refute our intuitions about which candidates are the most electable. This is one of many bits of data I've seen that support the idea that Edwards is the most electable. I can't help but take that overall picture seriously.

Posted by: Tom | May 13, 2007 11:13:29 AM

This is almost meaningless in May 2007. The Iowa numbers are sort of interesting - perhaps people are paying some sort of attention there given their status in the primaries. I would discount all of the other states. What really matters in picking a nominee is what these number look like at the begining of next year . . .

Also as pointed out above this seems to be an outlier. Somehow I doubt that the national Obama numbers are being driven by IL (4.3% of US population).

Posted by: ikl | May 13, 2007 12:14:20 PM

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