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American Research Group vs. Rudy

I've had a bee in my bonnet about this for a little while, so I figure I'll get it out, since American Research Group has released yet another poll making it appear as if Sen. John McCain were the undisputed frontrunner in the race for the '08 GOP nomination.

ARG's recent Rhode Island poll shows McCain with the support of 50 percent of likely Republican primary voters in the state. Mitt Romney comes in second with 14 percent. Newt Gingrich rounds out the top three with 4 percent. Giuliani's name isn't even on the list of candidates respondents are asked to choose from.

When Rudy Giuliani is added to a second question on the GOP primary in ARG's poll, it's McCain 43 percent, Giuliani 19 percent.

So, what does this mean? It means that any candidate added in a second question like this is likely to register a far lower level of support than if they'd been included as a top-tier candidate in the first question. ARG lists McCain, Romney, Gingrich, George Pataki (George Pataki!?!?!?), George Allen, Sam Brownback, Bill Frist, Chuck Hagel, and Mike (I heart) Huckabee as first-tier candidates, but thinks Rudy Giuliani shouldn't be on the table until the second question?

Assuming that these two questions must at least be randomized to make these legitimate polls (so that the order wouldn't matter), I shot an email over to ARG to ask what was up. This is the response I got from Dick Bennett:

We added Giuliani after the first ballot and did not randomize the order of the questions.

While he has been more active lately, there are still no signs on the ground that he will run. I continue to hear from activists that Giuliani will only get in the race if McCain does not.

Hope this is helpful.

Yes, it is. It lets me know that as far as the race between McCain and Giuliani going into '08, ARG's polls not only can, but must, be ignored.

So, how does the other polling on the McCain-Giuliani contest pan out? Well, the polling from Strategic Vision, for instance, shows Giuliani well ahead in most of the states the firm has polled.

Here are their respective percentages in a few states, as measured by SV:

[Giuliani / McCain]

PA: 39 / 28
WA: 35 / 28
FL: 39 / 28
GA: 27 / 22
N.J.: 45 / 32
WI: 28 / 25
N.Y.: 53 / 13

One exception in the SV polls is Michigan, where McCain leads 39 / 22.

[except for New York, all those samples are of likely voters -- in New York, the sample is of registered voters]

So, lastly, why does all this matter? Well, because in crucial primary states such as Iowa and South Carolina, ARG polls show McCain with a commanding lead. But it's likely this lead is entirely illusory, based more on a poor survey design than a reflection of reality.

As Giuliani's intentions have become more and more obvious -- and are at least on par with Newt Gingrich's as far as seriousness, to say the absolute least -- ARG should correct this immediately.

Below the fold is a look at two states, IA and MA, where ARG polling seems to conflict rather baldly with other public polls.

IOWA

ARG (likely Republican caucus voters, April 25 - May 2, 2006)

without Giuliani

John McCain: 26
Bill Frist: 10

with Giuliani

John McCain: 23
Rudolph Giuliani: 16

Victory Enterprises (potential Republican caucus attendees, Aug. 8-10, 2005)

With Giuliani on first question

Rudy Giuliani: 22
John McCain: 22

VE also polled the candidates' favorable/unfavorable/no opinion numbers:

McCain: 44/33/17
Giuliani: 66/9/16

[note that McCain has far lower favorables in Iowa, and far higher unfavorables]


MASSACHUSETTS

ARG (likely Republican primary voters, April 25 - May 2, 2006)

Without Giuliani

McCain: 48
Romney: 17

with Giuliani

John McCain: 42
Rudolph Giuliani: 21

Boston Globe poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire (likely Republican primary voters, Aug. 9-17, 2005)

Rudolph Giuliani: 29
John McCain: 26
Mitt Romney: 19


Now, admittedly, in both cases the Rudy-optimistic poll was taken in 2005 and the Rudy-less-optimistic poll was taken in 2006. But I haven't seen one poll over time that's shown such a massive drop-off in support for Rudy. This is clearly a methodology question. And ARG's wreaks havoc with Giuliani's numbers.