« South Carolina Shootout Continues | The RCP Blog Home Page | Pre-War Obama »

Giuliani Out Front, Obama Gaining on Hillary

Both ABC News/Washington Post and Diageo/Hotline released major polls on the 2008 campaign yesterday. On balance the numbers were positive for Barack Obama and Rudy Giuliani and mixed -- at best -- for Hillary Clinton and John McCain.

The favorable/unfavorable ratings of Giuliani versus Clinton in these two polls are striking. Rudy sports spreads of +36% in the ABC/WP (64/28) and +33% in Hotline (58/25) compared to Hillary's barely positive spreads of +1% in ABC/WP (49/48) and +3% in Hotline (49/46). The Giuliani/Clinton differential is over 30 points in Rudy's favor.

Giuliani's favorability ratings will only go lower as the campaign progresses and if he does win the Republican nomination, by Election Day there is no chance he will have favorable/unfavorable spreads over 30 points. However, the bigger unknown is where will Hillary Clinton's favorable/unfavorable rating head over the course of the campaign. Usually candidates' favorability ratings deteriorate as a campaign intensifies, which, given where Sen. Clinton stands today, does not bode well for her in both the primaries and the general election. The question is will the fact that she has been such a public and polarizing figure for over 15 years mute the historical tendency for candidates' unfavorable ratings to climb. In other words, does the public know all of Hillary's negatives?

To the degree Sen. Clinton remains the favorite and the likely Democratic nominee there is a floor for how low her favorability rating may fall. But if the shield of inevitability surrounding her continues to crack and Obama (or John Edwards or Al Gore) becomes a real alternative, then Democrats may begin to turn on Clinton. This of course would have serious implications on her ability to hold on to the nomination, but would also negatively affect her general election prospects.

As a point of reference the Final RCP Favorable/Unfavorable Averages going into the '04 election for President Bush and John Kerry were +7.4% for Bush and +1.2% for Kerry -- a differential of 6.2% for Bush. Today's Giuliani/Clinton differential is over 30 points in Rudy's favor. Clinton can potentially close that gap to single digits, if she is able to keep her favorability ratings even. But if her numbers go negative and stay negative, she could be digging herself (and Democrats) an insurmountable hole against a candidate like Giuliani, who today has plus 30% favorability ratings. Giuliani's ratings will fall, but if he is the Republican nominee they will almost assuredly be positive in the spring of 2008.

Democrats are certainly aware of Clinton's vulnerability in this regard, which makes Obama's strong favorability ratings of +23% in the ABC/WP (53/30) and +31% in Hotline (50/19) all the more attractive to Democrats looking for a general election winner. On the back of the Geffen imbroglio (which unquestionably hurt Hillary) the last thing the Clinton machine wants is a consensus to form that Obama would fare better in the general election. Zogby's head-to-head polls also out this week which show Hillary trailing Giuliani and McCain by 7 and 8 points, while Obama leads both by 6 and 4, don't help in this regard.

McCain who is increasingly becoming the odd-man-out has some relatively good news in that his favorability remains quite strong -- +17% in ABC/WP (52/35) and +22% in Hotline (58/26), which bodes well for his general election prospects. However, his horserace numbers in the Republican field have to be troubling to his campaign as Giuliani beats him by 23 points and with Newt Gingrich out of the race by a whopping 30 points (53/23) in the ABC/WP poll. With sustained numbers like that, the general election is going to be irrelevant for McCain.

All the momentum continues to ride with Giuliani and Obama, while the long-time front-runners of McCain and Clinton flounder. McCain lost his front-runner status several weeks ago; we'll see about Hillary's over the next few months.