November 19, 2007

The View from the Other Side

How Republicans Rate the Democratic Candidates, and Democrats Rate the Republicans

by Michael Dimock, Associate Director for Research, Pew Research Center for the People & the Press

Even though nearly all voters with a partisan leaning intend to vote in their own party’s primaries or caucuses, many do have opinions about the candidates running in the other party’s contests. Hillary Clinton’s unpopularity among Republicans is abundantly clear. Just 11% of Republican voters say they would like to see Clinton win the Democratic nomination, compared with 45% of Democratic voters nationwide who back Clinton. The current Republican frontrunner — Rudy Giuliani — is far less polarizing. A slim 25% plurality of Democratic voters say they would like to see Giuliani win the GOP nomination, just slightly fewer than among Republican voters themselves (31%).

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While a 33% plurality of Republican voters express no opinion about the Democratic contest (22% say they want to see “none” get nominated, 11% say they just don’t know), Barack Obama and John Edwards stand out as the most favored Democratic candidates. Roughly a fifth (21%) of Republican voters say they would like to see Obama win the Democratic nomination, and 17% would like to see Edwards win. Notably, Joe Biden also garners significantly more enthusiasm among Republican voters (8% would like to see him win the Democratic nomination) than within his own party (2%).

Both Giuliani and John McCain stand apart from the rest of the field as Democrats view the Republican candidates. While a quarter of Democrats would like to see Giuliani win the GOP nomination, another 21% say they would prefer to see McCain win. Fred Thompson, who wins the support of 17% of Republican voters, is favored by just 8% of Democrats. Nearly a third of Democratic voters express no opinion about the Republican field (23% want “none” to win, 9% say they don’t know).

There is no evidence that a significant number of voters are considering crossing party lines — or voting strategically for the other party’s weakest candidate — in their state’s nomination contest. By overwhelming margins, both Democratic and Republican voters say they intend to participate in their own party’s primary or caucus, though a slightly higher share of Republicans say they are not yet sure which contest they will vote in (11% of Republicans vs. 6% of Democrats).

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And while voters may have a preferred candidate in the other party’s contest, it does not mean that they actually like the candidates who are running on the other side. Nearly three quarters of Republican voters (73%) say that, collectively, the Democratic contestants are “only fair” or “poor” candidates. Democrats are similarly critical of the quality of the Republican field (70% only fair or poor). The more substantial gap in ratings is in how voters evaluate their own party’s field — just 51% of Republican voters say they have an “excellent” or “good” field of candidates to choose from, compared with 64% of Democrats.

Consistent with their overall impression of Hillary Clinton, conservative Republicans are about half as likely as moderate and liberal Republicans to say they would like to see her win the Democratic nomination (8% vs. 15%, respectively). The only candidate who does better among conservative Republicans than moderates and liberals is Joe Biden. One-in-ten conservative Republicans say they would like to see Biden get the Democratic nod — a far higher percentage than among any major Democratic voting block. Republican men and Republican women have a pretty similar view of the Democratic primary field — just 12% of men and 10% of women want to see Clinton win the nomination. However in a hypothetical general election matchup between Clinton and Giuliani, as many as 17% of Republican and Republican-leaning women say they would favor Clinton. Just 10% of Republican and Republican leaning men say the same.

As Democrats look at the GOP nomination contest, conservative and moderate Democrats prefer Giuliani over McCain by a 28% to 19% margin. Among liberal Democrats, 25% favor McCain and just 21% favor Giuliani. A few Democrats also find Ron Paul to be an intriguing option. Overall, 5% of Democrats would like to see Paul win the GOP nomination (compared with 3% of Republicans). But among Democrats who are paying a lot of attention to the campaign, as many as 9% would like to see Paul win. This is substantially more backing than Paul receives from any major Republican voting block.

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About the Survey

Results for this survey are based on telephone interviews conducted under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International among a nationwide sample of 2,007 adults, 18 years of age or older, from October 17-23, 2007 (1,507 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 500 were interviewed on a cell phone, including 199 who had no landline telephone). For results based on Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters (N=837) the margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points. For Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters (N=648) the margin of error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.