Friday, March 30, 2007


Time Poll Paradox

Time Magazine released a new poll today with the "surprising" finding that the top Republican presidential candidates are still beating the top Democratic contenders, despite the clear unpopularity of the war in Iraq, President Bush's dismal approval ratings, and the growing air of doom and gloom on the right about 2008.

According to the Time poll, Hillary Clinton loses to John McCain, 42%-48%, and to Rudy Giuliani 41%-50%. Even though Clinton maintains a 7% edge over Obama among Democratic respondents, Obama fares better in the general election matchups. It's so close that it's a statistical dead heat, but Obama still loses: 43%-45% to McCain, 44%-45% to Giuliani.

When you dig below the surface, though, this seeming paradox is not all that puzzling.

First, other polls have shown that outside of the hard-core anti-war movement, voters tend to give the bulk of the blame for our failures in Iraq to Bush and not Republicans broadly. The same is true for Katrina and the big scandal du jour, the politically-motivated firings of eight federal prosecutors.

Second, McCain and Giuliani's broader appeal is due in large part because stand out as different kind of Republicans -- they are not known first as conservatives or party guys but as independent-minded reformers. So it stands to reason they would be more immune to the taint of Bush's incompetence and hard-partisanship or for the corruption scandals in the Republican Congress.

Third, Clinton and Obama both come with fundamental flaws that happen to match up directly against McCain and Giuliani's greatest strengths. Hillary is seen by many in the middle as too calculating, and McCain and Giuliani are in contrast seen as strong leaders with deep independent streaks. With Obama, the biggest question is on experience, particularly when it comes to national security, and McCain and Giuliani arguably have the best commander-in-chief credentials of anyone in the field.

Now, it goes without saying that it is way too early to read anything definitive into this poll or any other. But it does suggest that there is a real danger for Democrats in counting on Iraq alone to carry them to the White House and overestimating the drag Bush will have on whomever the Republican nominee is -- especially if it's one of the two straight talkers currently leading the field.

(Cross-posted on Political Insider. . . )

guiliani's limited in international affairs experience.
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