October 31, 2007

A Year Ahead, Republicans Face Tough Political Terrain

Section 2: The General Election

While the Democratic Party maintains a substantial advantage over the GOP in party identification, Clinton holds a more modest 51%-43% lead over Giuliani among registered voters in an early general election test. Clinton runs particularly well among those demographic groups that typically vote Democratic by wide margins — minorities, the poor and less educated people. And she holds substantial leads over Giuliani among women voters (20 points) and those under age 30 (19 points).

By contrast, Giuliani leads by only a narrow margin among men (49%-44%). And while he runs slightly better among older voters than among the very young, he does not lead Clinton in any age group. Giuliani holds a two-to-one advantage over Clinton among white evangelical Protestants (63%-31%). But a comparison with 2004 exit polls shows that Giuliani trails George Bush’s support among white evangelicals. (For a detailed comparison between the 2004 national exit poll and the Clinton-Giuliani matchup, see p. 23.)

Giuliani leads Clinton by nine points among white non-Hispanic Catholics (51%-42%). And though independents solidly supported Democratic candidates in last year’s midterm elections, Giuliani narrowly trails Clinton among independent voters (by 47%-44%). Giuliani also attracts approximately the same level of support among Republican voters (84%) that Clinton gets among Democratic voters (82%).

The Gender Gap

Gender has long played a role in presidential elections, and the gender gap is again looming large in a possible Clinton-Giuliani matchup. Currently, Hillary Clinton runs 13 points better among female voters (57%) than among male voters (44%). According to exit polls, the gender gap in the 2004 Bush-Kerry race was seven points. The current gap is about the same as it was in 2000, when Al Gore was supported by 54% of women but just 42% of men.

In large part, the gender gap reflects the fact that women are substantially more Democratic than men in general. In the current poll, 42% of women identify themselves as Democrats, compared with 31% of men.

Among Democrats, men and women are almost equally loyal to Clinton in a matchup with Giuliani, but the gender gap is more noticeable among independents. Clinton holds a 12- point lead among independent women (52% to 40%) but trails Giuliani by five points among independent men (43% to 48%).

And while only 9% of Republican men would cross party lines to vote for Clinton, nearly twice as many Republican women (17%) say that if the election were today, they would favor Clinton over Giuliani.

The difference between men and women is particularly striking among younger voters. Women ages 18-29 favor Clinton over Giuliani by roughly two-to-one (66% vs. 32%), while younger men divide almost evenly (48% for Clinton, 51% Giuliani). Clinton’s advantage, while significant, is much narrower among women age 30 and over.

Electing a Woman President

One factor that may be helping Clinton is the view held by some Americans that it would be a good thing to elect a woman to be president. While a solid majority of Americans (55%) say they do not think the gender of the president matters, 33% say it would be a good thing to elect a woman as president, while just 9% believe it would be a bad thing.

Nationally, 42% of women say it would be good to elect a woman as president, compared with 24% of men, and the gap is again largest among younger generations. About twice as many women ages 18-29 as men in the same group say it would be good to have a woman president (50% vs. 24%). By comparison, there is virtually no gender gap among Americans age 65 and over (31% of women and 26% of men say “good thing”).

Views about a woman president in general are highly correlated with party. Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans (42% vs. 21%) to say electing a woman would be a good thing. Among Republicans, men and women are largely of the same view, but Democratic women are substantially more likely than Democratic men (51% vs. 30%) to say it would be good to elect a woman president.

Voters who say it would be a good thing to elect a woman as president favor Clinton by a 70% to 28% margin, while the small minority who says it would be a bad thing back Giuliani by a 73% to 12% margin. The 55% majority who says the gender of the president doesn’t matter is evenly divided: 47% back Clinton and 47% back Giuliani.

Candidates’ Personal Traits

There is little evidence that personal characteristics widely attributed to Hillary Clinton pose a substantial problem for her. Many Americans have a negative view of Clinton; most voters who choose Giuliani in a general election matchup describe their choice as more anti-Clinton than pro-Giuliani. But by two-to-one, those who say their vote is a vote against Clinton cite her positions on the issues, not her personality, as the problem (42% vs. 21%).

In fact, some of the traits most often associated with Hillary Clinton — that she is “ambitious,” “tough” and “outspoken” — are widely seen as positive traits, not negative traits. Fully 93% of voters say they think Clinton is ambitious, and 72% of these voters say her ambition is something they like about her. Similarly, 78% say Clinton is tough, and 81% view her toughness positively. The one trait that has a slightly more negative connotation for Clinton is being outspoken. Fully 84% say this applies to Clinton, and while 68% say they like this about her, 26% say they dislike this trait.

Ambition, toughness and outspokenness are less universally associated with Rudy Giuliani. About eight-in-ten (78%) view Giuliani as “ambitious” (compared with 92% for Clinton), 66% think of Giuliani as “outspoken” (Clinton, 84%), and 68% say he is “tough” (Clinton, 78%). These gaps, to a large extend, reflect the fact that many voters remain less familiar with the former New York City Mayor than they are with Sen. Clinton.

These traits carry, at most, only a slightly more positive connotation for Giuliani than they do for Clinton. While 85% who say Giuliani is tough say they like this about him, 81% who say this about Clinton also view it favorably. And while 73% of those who think Giuliani is ambitious say this is something they like about him, 72% say the same about Clinton. The one more substantial gap comes with respect to being outspoken. Just over a quarter (26%) of those who say Clinton is outspoken say it is something they dislike about her. Among those who say this applies to Giuliani, 18% say it is something they dislike.

The bigger concern, for both Clinton and Giuliani, is that fewer than half of voters say they think the word “trustworthy” describes Clinton (49%) or Giuliani (48%). Among independents, just 46% say they see Giuliani as trustworthy (though 25% do not know enough to say), and only 43% of independents see Clinton as trustworthy.

Is it Female Politicians, or Hillary Clinton?

The positive associations voters express about ambition, toughness and outspokenness are not limited to Clinton and Giuliani in particular. In a separate survey, voters were asked for their views on these same traits as they apply to male and female political leaders in general. Again, all three are seen in overwhelmingly positive terms, regardless of the gender of the politician. In fact, ambition, toughness and outspokenness carry slightly better connotations when associated with female political leaders than with male political leaders.

But there is a Clinton factor — the terms “ambitious” and “outspoken” carry a slightly more negative connotation when people are thinking about Clinton than when they are thinking about female politicians in general. Overall, 21% of those who see Clinton as ambitious dislike this about her, compared with 16% who dislike this in female political leaders more generally. And 26% of those who see Clinton as outspoken dislike this about her, compared with 16% who dislike this in general. There is no such gap when it comes to Giuliani.

About the same percentage of voters dislikes toughness in female political leaders as say that about Hillary Clinton (14% vs. 13%). Somewhat more voters say they dislike toughness in male political leaders than say they dislike that trait when it is associated with Giuliani (19% vs. 9%).

A ‘Clinton Factor’ Among Republicans

The gap between views of Clinton and female leaders more generally is particularly wide among Republicans. Half of Republicans who describe Clinton as outspoken say they dislike this trait in her; just 28% rate this trait negatively in female politicians in general. And 38% of Republicans dislike Clinton’s ambition, while 23% dislike this in female politicians in general. However, a majority of Republicans who rate Clinton as ambitious say that they like this trait in her.

Overall, 26% of men find Clinton’s ambition unappealing, and 30% of those who see her as outspoken dislike this trait. This is somewhat more negative than how women perceive these traits. In addition, fewer men rate the same traits negatively when applied to female political leaders in general.

Democrats, both men and women, find these traits to be almost universally appealing, whether they apply to Clinton in particular or female political leaders in general. Just 7% of Democrats dislike ambitious or outspoken female political leaders, and the same number dislike these traits in Hillary Clinton. Independents, as is often the case, fall in between. Independent voters are more likely to rate both ambition and outspokenness as negatives when they are thinking about Clinton than when they are thinking about female politicians in general.

Both Reps & Dems Focus on Clinton

At this early stage of the campaign, Hillary Clinton receives more affirmative support than any Democratic candidate in the past two decades. Fully 76% of those who say they would support her in a matchup with Rudy Giuliani say they see their vote more as a vote for Clinton than as a vote against Giuliani. Just as significantly, Clinton is the driving force behind much of Giuliani’s support as well. Half of the voters who would support him say it would be a vote against Clinton, while 46% say their choice is a vote for Giuliani.

In this regard, the current landscape is a mirror image of voter reactions to the 2004 election, when George W. Bush was the defining factor for both Kerry supporters (50% described their vote as mostly a vote against Bush) and Bush supporters (76% mostly voting for Bush).

Reactions to a possible Clinton-Giuliani race are similar to how voters viewed the 1996 election between Bill Clinton and Bob Dole. Bill Clinton’s supporters were enthusiastic about his reelection (66% voting for Clinton), while Dole supporters were divided (47% voting for Dole, 48% against Clinton).

And the 1992 election began the same way. In March 1992, two-thirds of the voters who said they would back Bill Clinton in the general election said it would be a vote against incumbent George Bush, not for Clinton. The 1992 election, however, shows that balance of affirmative support can change through the course of the campaign.

By the end of October, 57% of Clinton supporters were saying they were voting for Clinton, not against Bush.

Among Giuliani supporters, the anti-Clinton vote is most prevalent among white evangelical Protestants and older women; six-in-ten of the women older than 50 who back Giuliani say their vote is mostly a vote against Clinton, well above the number of younger women or men who describe their vote this way. Similarly, 60% of white evangelical Protestants who back Giuliani say they do so mostly because they dislike Clinton more than because they like Giuliani. When white Catholics back Giuliani, on the other hand, they mostly describe their position as pro-Giuliani, not anti-Clinton.

Not surprisingly, virtually all of the Republicans who back Giuliani in the primary horserace continue to support him if he faces Hillary Clinton in the general election, and two-thirds describe their support as a vote for Giuliani, not against Clinton. But Republicans who back other GOP candidates for the nomination feel differently about the general election. While 82% of these Republicans say they would support Giuliani if he were the Republican nominee, two-thirds say it would mostly be a vote against Clinton, not for Giuliani.

Leadership & Experience Trump Issues So Far

In a hypothetical matchup between Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, voters are far more focused on personal qualifications and experience than on issue positions. More than two-thirds of Giuliani backers say that what they like most about him is his leadership (46%) or experience (22%). Just 15% say Giuliani’s stand on issues is what draws their support. Issues are raised far more often by Clinton supporters (35% say this is what they like most about her), yet even here roughly half cite either her leadership (27%) or experience (24%) as her best traits.

In September 2004, 52% of Kerry backers said his position on issues was the biggest draw, as did 42% of Bush supporters. And in October 2000, the comparable figures were 48% among Gore supporters and 59% among Bush supporters. There was more of a disparity in 1996 and 1992. In both years, Clinton supporters emphasized his issue positions, while Dole supporters in 1996, and especially Bush supporters in 1992, emphasized leadership and experience.

The emphasis on leadership and experience in Giuliani’s case reflects the strong association people have with his role as mayor of New York City. When asked to describe in their own words what they like most, nearly half of those who cite Giuliani’s leadership or experience make specific reference to his handling of the 9/11 crisis. A number of others referred to the job he did “cleaning up” New York City when he was mayor. Others mention his decisiveness, commitment, and ability to “get things done.”

About half of Clinton’s supporters in the general election also cite leadership or experience as what they like best (51%), and most references are to her time spent as First Lady and the overall length of time she has been involved in major political issues. Among the 35% of Clinton backers who like her best for her stand on issues, health care and Iraq are the most frequently mentioned topics people have in mind.

Dislike of Hillary Focuses on Issues

Among voters who favor Giuliani over Clinton in a general election matchup, a 42% plurality cites Clinton’s stand on issues as what they like least about her. That is double the percentage that cites her personality (21%); even fewer people cite her experience (10%) or leadership (9%) as what they like least. The emphasis on Clinton’s issue positions is most notable among conservative Republicans who support Giuliani; 52% of these voters cite Clinton’s stances on the issues as what they like least about her.

Fully a third of the voters who favor Clinton offer no answer to what they like least about Giuliani. Roughly a quarter of Clinton supporters cite his positions on issues (27%), followed by his personality (21%), his leadership (10%) and experience (9%).

When asked to define what they like least about Clinton’s stand on issues, some Giuliani backers refer to specific policies such as her health care plan, abortion or Iraq. More common, though are general criticisms of her politics — such as that she is too liberal or flip-flops on the issues.

Bill Clinton’s Possible Return

The public has a mixed reaction to the prospect of Bill Clinton’s return to the White House, should Hillary Clinton win the 2008 election. Nonetheless, most Americans believe that Bill Clinton would have a positive influence on the way Hillary Clinton would do her job if she becomes president.

Fewer than half of Americans (45%) say they “like the idea of Bill Clinton being back in the White House;” a third says they dislike that prospect. Republicans are overwhelmingly negative about the prospect of Bill Clinton’s possible return, while Democrats are overwhelmingly positive. Notably, men are much more favorable about Clinton’s possible return to the White House than are women: by 52%-29% men like this idea, while women are divided (40% like/36% dislike).

There is greater agreement that the former president would have a positive influence on his wife, if she wins the presidency. Despite the reservations that women express about Bill Clinton “being back in the White House,” nearly as many women as men say Bill Clinton’s influence on a President Hillary Clinton would be positive (62% of women vs. 67% of men).

The differences are even more striking among groups that express sharply negative opinions about Bill Clinton again living in the White House — Republicans and white evangelical Protestants. About three times as many Republicans say Bill Clinton’s influence on Hillary Clinton would be positive, should she become president, as feel favorably about his possible return to the White House (47% vs. 16%). And while only about a quarter of white evangelical Protestants (26%) say they would welcome Bill Clinton’s return to the White House, 53% believe he would have a positive influence on Hillary Clinton if she becomes president.

Who’s More Liberal?

Sizable minorities of Republicans and white evangelical Protestants say that Hillary Clinton is more liberal than Bill Clinton, which may help explain why large numbers in these groups view him as a potentially positive influence on a Hillary Clinton administration. Overall, most Americans (54%) believe that Hillary and Bill Clinton are about the same ideologically, while 23% say that Hillary Clinton is more liberal than her husband and 16% say she is more conservative.

More than three times as many Republicans say Hillary Clinton is more liberal than her husband than say she is more conservative (35% vs. 10%), while 48% of Republicans see both Clintons as similar ideologically. Similarly, about a third of white evangelical Protestants say Hillary Clinton is more liberal (32%) compared with just 12% who believe she is more conservative.

By contrast, far more Democrats than Republicans see Hillary and Bill Clinton as ideologically similar (63% vs. 48%); among the remainder, slightly more Democrats see Hillary Clinton as more conservative than see her as more liberal (19% vs. 14%). Among independents, 24% say Hillary Clinton is more liberal than Bill Clinton, 20% more conservative, and 48% say the two Clintons are similar.

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say that the Clintons differ ideologically, but most Republicans say that Bill and Hillary Clinton’s styles of governance would be similar. A solid majority of Republicans (57%) say the way Hillary Clinton would govern the country would be generally similar to the way Bill Clinton governed; 39% of Republicans say Hillary Clinton would govern differently.

The general public is divided over this question, as are Democrats and independents. Overall, a slight plurality of Americans (48%) say Hillary Clinton’s governing style would be similar to her husband’s. Narrow pluralities of Democrats (49%) and independents (48%) believe that Hillary Clinton’s approach to governing would be generally different from Bill Clinton’s.

Whether they believe Hillary Clinton’s way of governing would be similar — or different — from her husband’s, Democrats and independents generally say either approach would be a good thing. Republicans who believe Hillary Clinton’s style of governance would be similar say that is a bad thing, by two-to-one (34%-17%). The smaller number of Republicans who say the Clintons’ ways of governing are different are divided over whether that is bad or good.

Patterns of Candidate Support 2004-2007

The general election is still a year away, but already it is clear that many of the patterns of candidate support evident in the last election are likely to persist. Yet there also are some striking differences, aside from the larger gender gap, between a hypothetical Giuliani-Clinton matchup and the 2004 presidential election.

Among white mainline Protestants and white non-Hispanic Catholics, Giuliani fares about as well as George Bush did in 2004. However, while Giuliani draws support from two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants (67%), Bush did significantly better among white evangelical voters (78%), according to the exit polls conducted by the National Election Pool (NEP).

In addition, voters who attend religious services once a week or more divide fairly evenly between Giuliani (52%) and Clinton (48%). In 2004, regular church-goers supported Bush over John Kerry by 61%-39%.

Clinton runs ahead of Kerry in most income and education categories. Voters with some college — those who have attended college but have not gotten a degree — favored Bush by an eight-point margin in 2004. But voters in this group favor Clinton over Giuliani by 53%-47% in the current survey.

Clinton also leads Giuliani by sizable margin among voters in the South (56%-44%), which would represent a major shift from recent elections. In 2004, the South was Bush’s strongest region by far; nearly six-in-ten voters in the South (58%) backed Bush, compared with 42% who supported Kerry. Clinton also runs ahead of Kerry in the Midwest, though not in the East or West.