Summary of Findings
The public is no more engaged by the presidential campaign than it was in the spring, and the candidates’ images remain somewhat blurry. But the personal strengths of several leading candidates are beginning to come into focus for voters.
Views of Hillary Clinton are more sharply drawn than those of other leading candidates in either political party. As many as 67% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters say Clinton is the Democratic candidate who first comes to mind when they hear the word tough and more than half (52%) associate Clinton with the word smart. No other candidate — Democrat or Republican — comes close to Clinton in being linked with each of these traits.
Pluralities of Republican and Republican-leaning voters say Rudy Giuliani is the GOP candidate who comes to mind when the words tough and smart are mentioned. But just 39% say Giuliani is the candidate who comes to mind when tough is raised, and 29% link him, more than other leading GOP candidates, with the word smart.
Clinton’s own image is largely defined by these two personality traits — just a third or fewer Democratic voters associate her with words such as optimistic, compassionate, energetic and down-to-earth. In fact, more Democratic voters associate the words optimistic, honest, energetic and down-to-earth with Obama than Clinton; larger percentages also associate the word friendly with both Obama and John Edwards than with Clinton.
By contrast, Giuliani is the Republican candidate that GOP voters most closely associate with a number of positive personality traits, including energetic, compassionate and optimistic, as well as tough and smart. Roughly half (48%) say Giuliani is the candidate who first comes to mind when the word energetic is mentioned. His closest rival, Fred Thompson, is the candidate least asssociated with the word energetic (8%).
The only words or phrases, among nine mentioned, that Giuliani is not most closely associated with are even-tempered (26% cite Thompson, 19% Giuliani) and down-to-earth (28% Thompson, 27% Giuliani). It is important to note that even among Republicans, Giuliani and McCain are more familiar than either Thompson or Romney.
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Sept. 12-16 among 1,501 Americans, finds there has been little change since July in the races for the Republican and Democratic presidential nominations. Currently, 32% of Republican and Republican-leaning voters say they would most like to see Giuliani win the GOP nomination, while 21% favor Fred Thompson. In July, Thompson trailed Giuliani by nine points (27%-18%).
Thompson, who announced his candidacy earlier this month, has strengthened his hold on second place. He currently leads John McCain by 21%-15%; in July, the two men were running about even (Thompson 18% vs. McCain 16%).
The Democratic presidential contest has remained fairly stable in recent months. Hillary Clinton leads Barack Obama by 42%-25% among Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters; 14% support John Edwards. In July, 44% favored Clinton, 25% Obama, and 14% Edwards.
The survey finds that frontrunners Clinton and Giuliani are viewed by their parties’ voters as the candidates with the best chance of winning the general election. Roughly half of Democratic and Democrat-leaning voters (53%) say Clinton has the best chance of winning the general election, compared with just 20% who say Obama and 16% who choose Edwards. About the same number of Republican and Republican-leaning voters (49%) believe Giuliani has the best chance of prevailing in November 2008, while 19% choose Thompson and 12% McCain.
Overall, 69% of registered voters say they are giving a lot of thought (32%) or some thought (37%) to the 2008 presidential candidates, which is slightly lower than in July (73%).
In April, 66% of voters said they were giving at least some thought to the presidential candidates.
Democrats More Positive About Candidates
Fully 64% of Democrats say they have either an excellent (15%) or a good (49%) impression of the Democratic candidates. Fewer than half that number (30%) rates the candidates as fair (27%) or poor (3%). By comparison, Republicans express far more measured opinions of their party’s 2008 field: 49% rate the GOP candidates as excellent or good, compared with 42% who view them as fair or poor.
Majorities of independents rate both parties’ 2008 candidates negatively. However, significantly more independents say the GOP field is fair or poor than say the same about the Democratic candidates (69% vs. 54%). Only about one-in-five independents (21%) rate the Republican candidates as good or excellent; 37% of independents have a positive opinion of the Democratic candidates.
Not only do Democrats rate their party’s candidates more positively than Republicans rate the GOP field, Democrats also are more upbeat about the 2008 presidential field than they have been at comparable points in past presidential campaigns. In September 2003, just 44% of Democrats had a positive opinion of the Democratic presidential candidates, 20 points below the current measure. In October 1991, just 28% of Democrats gave the presidential field an excellent or good rating.
Candidate Word Association
Fully 78% of liberal Democrats associate the word tough with Clinton, far more than moderate (67%) and conservative (59%) Democrats. Yet liberal Democrats are the least likely to think of Clinton when they hear the word honest. Just 18% name Clinton as honest, only about half the proportion of conservative Democrats (35%). Instead, liberal Democrats are the most likely to name Obama (41%) when they hear the word honest.
Younger and older Democrats also view the candidates differently. Democratic voters under age 50 are the most likely to think of Clinton as tough (71%), but just a quarter say Clinton comes to mind first when the word honest is mentioned. And while voters age 65 and older are the least likely to associate the word tough with Clinton, they tend to favor her when they hear the word honest.
Among Democrats, the views of men and women are largely similar. One slight difference, however, is the greater tendency for women to associate the word tough with Hillary Clinton. Democratic women are 10 points more likely than Democratic men (72% vs. 62%).
Republicans of have similar impressions of the candidates so far in the race, though there are modest differences across ideological and gender lines. Conservative Republicans are more likely than moderates and liberals in the party to associate the word smart with Fred Thompson — though across the board more link Giuliani with this word than any other candidate. Republican men are more apt than women to see Thompson as the down-to-earth and friendly candidate. Among Republican men, 34% name Thompson as down-to-earth while 23% name Giuliani. Among Republican women, 32% name Giuliani as down-to-earth while 20% name Thompson.
Would a Gore Endorsement Help?
A wide majority of Democratic voters (69%) say that if Al Gore said he was supporting one of the presidential candidates it would not make any difference to them, but the number saying it would influence them favorably is not insignificant. About one-in-five Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters (21%) say Gore’s endorsement would make them more likely to support a candidate, while just 7% say his endorsement would drive them away.
Gore’s influence is most positive among women, whites, and liberals. By a margin of 23% to 5%, women say a Gore endorsement would influence them favorably, compared to a narrower 18% to 11% margin among men. And while white voters say they would be more, not less, likely to back a candidate endorsed by Gore by nearly four-to-one (23% vs. 6%), Gore’s influence among blacks is decidedly mixed (15% say more likely, 13% less likely).
The ideological divide among Democrats over a potential Gore endorsement is perhaps the most striking. Among liberal Democrats, 29% say his endorsement would affect them favorably, just 3% negatively. But among conservative Democrats, about the same number say they would be less likely to back a candidate Gore endorsed (16%) as say they would be influenced favorably (15%).