Friday, August 17, 2007

Leveling the Field

It's been five months since the Field Poll surveyed California voters about the 2008 presidential race. That's an eternity for political junkies like me; we've been jonesing for fresh data. What's a wonk to do? Gorge himself on lesser polls with unsound methodology? Yes, it's been the demographic equivalent of bad fast food fries since March, but now pollsters Mervin Field and Mark DiCamillo have laid some filet mignon on us.

By the way, DiCamillo promises us new poll numbers on a more regular basis from here on in. Can't really blame him for a little bit of summer down time before the campaign intensifies. "We'll be very busy from now on," he told me, spitting out fresh numbers between now and California's February 5th primary.

The leaderboard in the new Field Poll is no big surprise: Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani are dominating their respective primary fields. But there are a couple of interesting wrinkles behind the numbers (to see the poll results, click on our Poll of the Week on the Sovern Nation home page. You can also compare Field's findings to the poll done by Survey USA in California earlier this month. And to hear pollster DiCamillo talk about the survey results, go to Featured Audio on the SovNat home page. Our podcast with him should be at the top of the column).

For one thing, Hillary Clinton seems to be right. She told me last month, when I asked her how she could possibly win when half the country hates her, that she wins people over one at a time. She said New Yorkers were skeptical about her too, but now they love her. That when people meet her, and hear her speak, they are impressed, and become Clinton converts. Well, at least in California, it does seem to be happening. She's pulling away from Barack Obama here. In March, when Golden State liberals were buzzing about Obama, he trailed Hillary 41% to 28%. Now the bloom seems to be off the Barack rose, and he's fallen to just 19%, while she's risen to 49%. And since everyone else in the poll has stayed at roughly where he was five months ago, Clinton's new support seems to be coming directly out of Obama's camp, which means she's pulling liberals away from him. Hillary is also winning across the board; Obama does best among younger voters, better-educated voters, and African Americans, but Clinton still beats him soundly in all those groups. Yes, Hillary is winning the black vote in California: she's got 52%, and he's got 28.

On the Republican side, Rudy still leads, but his numbers are static, and he'd better keep an eye on those bubbling under. Giuliani had 34% in March; he's got 35% now. His biggest rival in the spring has had a summer of discontent, and is barely a factor now. Yes, those who were sure last winter that John McCain would be the next president of the United States were probably also investing in subprime mortgage bundlers. McCain has fallen faster than California home sales. He's plummeted from 24% in the previous survey to just nine percent now. He's been displaced as the anti-Rudy by Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson, essentially tied for second. On the one hand, there's a lot here for Romney to crow about. Those who aren't paying close attention still don't know who he is, and a measly one percent of them say they'd vote for him. But of those who ARE following the race closely, 21% like Romney, which means he's scoring in the debates and impressing voters on the stump. That bodes well for the Massachusetts Mormon, and suggest he could close the gap with Giuliani as we get closer to the primaries.

On the other hand, though, the Christian conservatives who often determine the Republican nominee want nothing to do with Romney. Of those who consider themselves born-again Christians, 37% prefer Giuliani, 16% like Fred Thompson, 12% pick McCain, 15% split among the second-tier Republicans, and only seven percent back Romney. Those who identify as strongly conservative also lean towards Rudy, with 38% in his corner, and Romney and Thompson tied at 16%. That means there's an opening for Tennessee's Thompson (if he ever declares and gets in the race already!), to outflank Romney on the right and emerge as the most viable challenger to Giuliani.

We're just over five months from the primary. There will be many more polls, a ridiculous number of debates, and God only knows how many gaffes and controversies. Nothing in these numbers dissuades me from my current belief (held for several months now) that the nominees will be Clinton and Romney. But there's still some good stuff to chew on.