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A Democrat in 2008?
Not So Fast

Every general indicator of political attitudes this summer points to a Democratic victory in 2008. Yet nearly every specific measure of the presidential race points to another intensely competitive campaign for the White House.

Why is this man smiling? (Reuters)

That dichotomy will fuel a year-long battle for the hearts and minds of independent voters, who may hold the key to victory, and underscores the challenges ahead for the candidates.

By almost any measure, this is an unhappy country anxious for a change from the current administration. More than two-thirds of people polled think the country is going in the wrong direction. President Bush's unpopularity drags down his party. And when asked, more people say they would rather see a Democrat elected president next year than a Republican.

But when Americans begin to think about their real choices for president, a different pattern emerges. The contest suddenly becomes much closer. For all their party's problems, the best-known Republican candidates are more than holding their own against the leading Democrats in most hypothetical match-ups.

A new Gallup Poll sheds light on the reasons why. At this point in the campaign, the poll shows, Americans have about as much confidence in Rudy Giuliani and John McCain to deal with Iraq as they have in Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards -- and considerably more confidence in them when it comes to terrorism.

Fifty-five percent of Americans said they had confidence in McCain and Giuliani on Iraq. Fifty-four percent said the same of Obama, 51 percent of Clinton, 48 percent of Edwards.

"The failure of the Democratic candidates to score higher confidence levels on Iraq is significant given the fact that a substantial majority of Americans say that the war -- initiated and supported by a Republican administration -- is a mistake, and that a majority have opposed the Bush administration surge that has been supported by both Giuliani and in particular McCain," wrote Jeffrey M. Jones and Joseph Carroll of the Gallup organization.

The two Republicans enjoy a clear advantage over the three top Democrats on terrorism, traditionally a GOP strength, while the Democrats have clear leads on dealing with health care, long a strong suit for the Democrats. On the crucial question of who earns the public's confidence to deal with the economy, Obama, Clinton and Giuliani are clustered together at about 60 percent, while McCain and Edwards are just over 50 percent.

The Gallup survey also included Republicans Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson, but they don't measure up as well, in part because many Americans still don't know enough about them.

Behind those numbers is this reality: Giuliani and McCain are more competitive in hypothetical general election races at this point because on Iraq, for example, they engender more confidence among Democrats than Clinton, Obama and Edwards do among Republicans.

On terrorism, a majority of Democrats say they have confidence in the two Republicans, but fewer than a third of Republicans express confidence in any of the top Democrats.

Given voting patterns of the past several elections, it's likely that no matter what Democrats might think of the Republican nominee on issues like Iraq or terrorism or the economy, they will line up solidly behind their nominee -- as Republican voters will do behind their nominee. Clinton is by far the most politically polarizing of all the candidates.

That leaves the battle for independents, whose sentiments with respect to individual candidates are at odds with all other evidence that these voters are now leaning toward the Democratic Party.

In the Gallup survey, independents ranked Giuliani and McCain only slightly below Clinton and Obama on Iraq and gave them generally higher ratings than the Democrats on terrorism. Clinton and Obama enjoy more trust among independents at this point, but a majority also said they have confidence in Giuliani to keep the country prosperous.

In last year's midterm elections, Republican incumbents were overwhelmed by the sour public mood toward the president and the state of the country. In that case, individual attributes of Republican candidates were not enough to overcome clear sentiment for change. A shift among independents was a prime reason why Democrats took back both the House and Senate.

But in 2004, Bush managed to win reelection despite an environment that was clearly favorable to the Democrats. In that case, confidence in Bush -- or perhaps doubts about John F. Kerry -- overcame disappointment in his policies and growing concerns about the war in Iraq.

The overall environment certainly looks favorable for the Democrats. But presidential campaigns reward candidates who earn the public's trust and confidence. At this point, Giuliani and McCain have earned that trust on crucial issues. That shows Democrats may need more than a favorable political climate to win back the White House in 2008.

By Bill Hamilton  |  August 1, 2007; 4:15 PM ET
Categories:  A_Blog , Dan Balz's Take  
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How about Virginia?

Posted by: dime_dropper | August 21, 2007 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Not so fast!
If this electorate is once again stupid enough to elect a Republican president in 2008, they will deserve the disaster that is currently occuring and will continue to befall this country.
Unfortunately, I don't deserve it.

Posted by: kacameron | August 2, 2007 11:27 PM | Report abuse

Well, I commented on the comments but not the base article. Basically, at this point name recognition is a big factor in how the polling numbers are going for individual candidates. But as for Guliani and McCain doing so well, apparently few of those being polled are actually paying much attention to what they are saying right now--right there with Bush on the Iraq war, among other extreme positions.

I think Guliani in particular is riding high on his popularity as the mayor of NYC during 9/11. Of course, he will be a threat in New York and among some social liberals who are still conservative on tax and deregulation issues. His views on abortion don't seem to be hurting him much among religious conservatives, which demonstrates something I've believed all along, that conservatism is not about values but is about money. Conservatives use values as a smoke screen in order to get more tax cuts for the rich and to allow businesses to do whatever they want without any government restraint.

A big part of the Democratic strategy will need to be to tie the Republican nominee to Bush-Cheney as strongly as possible. Every one of the Republican candidates supports Bush's failed Iraq War and "surge." And they are all, with the possible exception of McCain on some issues, such as immigration, racing to see who can capture the most extreme right-wing positions on issues.

The Democrats also need to neutralize the Republicans' perpetual attempt to steal national security as an issue by not only stressing ending the failed war in Iraq but also focusing on the Republicans' mismanagement of the war on terror--including the fact that Bin Laden and Al-Quaeda are now much stronger, and Bush is not doing a thing about that. I think Obama made a good start on this by focusing attention on Pakistan and talking tough about dealing with the terrorist stronghold there. It has become evident that Pakistan, not Iraq, is now the central base of operations for Al-Quaeda.

Posted by: PastorGene | August 2, 2007 10:32 PM | Report abuse

As of now it looks like President Giuliani because the Hillary monster will be easy to demonize. Remember campaigns are about trivialities such as being in a tank, granting leave to criminals for a weekend, whether Kerry got shot on purpose or self-inflicted to get out of the military, whether Gore is acting or is a real person,etc-The campaign ads will decide election and Hillary will be dead meat once the adverising ends. Plus, she is a Heb posing as a Methodist according to her old neighbors in Rogers Park, Chicago, Illinois.

Posted by: mascmen7 | August 2, 2007 10:13 PM | Report abuse

It's hard to believe people are actually saying that the Democratic strategy for 2008 should be to target the South. I hope Democratic Party strategists are paying better attention to the actual electoral map and math than that.

The Republican candidate will win the South, no matter who he is and no matter who the Democratic candidate is. It would be a foolish strategy for Democrats to base their choice on who they believe can win in the South.

Besides holding the states the Democrats have carried for the past 2 Presidential elections, the primary targets would be Florida (not really a "Southern" state anymore) and Ohio. A win in EITHER of these for the Democrats would seal the election, as long as they hold the states they have already been winning.

Another foolish strategy is to believe the Democrats should go conservative. Conservatives will vote Republican, if they vote at all. Liberals will vote Democratic or else for a third party candidate, if they vote at all. Based on the extremism of the Bush years and the extremism voiced by almost all of the Republican candidates for 2008, true "moderates" will likely lean Democratic. The real battle, then, is for those 20 percent or so who will make their decision based on other factors than ideology or assessment of the issues--e.g., personality, the ever ambiguous concept of "leadership," images and themes that have a broad appeal, whoever has the most brilliant campaign strategy, etc.

So the successful strategy for the Democrats will be to "hold the base" (NOT by going conservative) and to field a candidate with the personal magnatism, charisma, and dynamic campaign that will appeal to the unaligned and the "swing voters" in Ohio and Florida primarily.

However, I believe the Democrats may be more competitive--not in the south, other than possibly Virginia, which is evolving politically--but in some of the Western states that have been in the Republican fold, such as Arizona, Nevada, and even Colorado. The Hispanic/Latino vote will be a huge factor in those states, along with New Mexico, which Gore carried in 2000. And after all the Republicans' recent excessive immigrant-bashing, the Republican candidate, with the POSSIBLE exception of McCain, will not have the success among Latinos that Bush had. They will go heavily Democratic in 2008, perhaps enough to swing the states I mentioned. Tancredo may have done the Democrats a huge favor in Colorado, energizing the Latino vote for the Democrats with his extreme anti-immigrant excesses.

Posted by: PastorGene | August 2, 2007 10:03 PM | Report abuse

I am not sure it is appropriate to believe that selection of a US president is a rational process. Since 1982, we have had Republicans running the White House and much of the Congress for all but 8 years.

In that time, they have run up previously unimaginable debts (which are of course even bigger than reported because they hide them by spending Social Security taxes), neglected critical infrastructure, dumbed down the Government to the point that it seems incapable of addressing any significant problem and of course, there is the war that has bred more terrorists than can be counted. Add to that our loss of prestige around the world - US policy rates down there with leprosy in the eyes of much of the world.

Yet, how do they run and how do they get elected? As the party of fiscal responsibility, competence and the only trustworthy guardians of the nation's security. Go figure!

I have concluded that most people decided a long time ago which way they are going to vote and they follow that path regardless. Die hard Republicans will vote for a candidate even if he's running from a prison cell. Democrats are a bit more open to new ideas, but not much.

Posted by: Peter4 | August 2, 2007 5:07 PM | Report abuse

I, too, am a solid independent who has not voted for a party-nominated candidate or incumbent since 1996. I refuse to vote for a ticket with HRC in either position; likewise, having escaped Massachusetts in time to help evict Santorum from the Senate in the 2006 election, I refuse to vote for a ticket with MR in either position. The Dems could win my vote with a Richardson/Obama ticket (experience + new vision with the possibility of an experienced VP to run in 2016!). If McCain would stop supporting the Bush Administration on Iraq, I could possibly be persuaded to vote for a Paul/McCain ticket or the reverse. Short of that, I'll be writing in my fall back ideal ticket: Colin Powell and Sam Nunn.

Posted by: revruthucc | August 2, 2007 3:04 PM | Report abuse

The popular concept of EITHER a Dem or Repub fails to consider the growing groundswell for Unity08. As an indy/third party there is no way that HRC gets my vote, nor Obama (to green for the current times), Edwards is the pseudo-everyman, the Dems in second or third tier don't have the name recognition. On the Repub side, I could support Giuliani due to his moderate position on social issues, McCain has way to much baggage, Romney has no firm stance (he flip-flops more than almost any other candidate), and Thompson has yet to state his platform.

Should Unity08 put the right ticket together, and get on the ballot in all 50 states, then this might be the answer. Personally, I'd like to see a ticket of "the Mayors", Bloomberg/Giuliani. This seems to be the best combination of the financial savvy needed at the moment, a team of consensus builders, and with Rudy a good security background. The only two drawbacks, as I see them, are both come out of New York, and Bloomberg has changed his political party for expediency's sake (Dem->Repub-> Indy).

Posted by: Erisian | August 2, 2007 1:10 PM | Report abuse

The Democrats should look further than Obama. He is a breath of fresh air in a politically polluted nation. His election would be the BEST thing for this nation and the free world. However this nation,dominated by white men will never elect a black man to the Presidency. This nation is so racist, white people who die would rather go to hell than face a black God in heaven.

Posted by: rainesfam | August 2, 2007 12:01 PM | Report abuse

jim.vance, the "moderate Dem"

Why don't I believe you are what you claim to be?

There was an ad on craigslist a while back, recruiting "bloggers" for very perniciousconservative purposes. When you pulled back the layers, the plan was to pester the center and left-leaning blogs with negative statements about Democrats, from people posing as disgruntled Democrats.

Now I'm not accusing you of being one of these paid trolls, but it would seem that, with the many choices available, there must be ONE person you might support.

Any time I read a blanket rejection like yours, I just suspect there's another agenda hiding between the lines.

Posted by: JEP7 | August 2, 2007 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Alan4, you seem to forget the lone southerner in the Democratic race, whose populist candidacy more closely mirrors Carter's 76 and Clinton's 92 political personaes..

Edwards is the only answer so far to all these complaints we are reading from Dems about their own choice of candidates. And if there's only one Dem who has figured out that the Presidenial race is a 50-State project, not a "nationwide" event, it is Edwards.

And, as much as I respect and admire both Hillary and Barrack, and will support either of them (still wish Obama would quit smoking, though, for the children's sake) if they win the nomination, the sad reality is that an articulate, well-educated black man and an articulate, well-educated white woman are two of the "things" southern white males fear most, for a plethora of psychological and cultural (and historical) reasons.

Edwards does not invoke that same blind, ignorant prejudice, he speaks with that southern accent, he's a straight, married Christian male. And thus he is the only candidate on the Democratic ticket who might win the south.

If the Dems really want to win, they need to consider this very seriosly when they pick their candidate.

Posted by: JEP7 | August 2, 2007 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Keep dreaming. If a democrat is not elected in the US, America will be destroyed. If a republican is elected almost every country on earth will turn against the US. The american people better wake up and realize what 8 years of right wing rule has done to them or the end of our society as we know it is near.

Posted by: ron1bo | August 2, 2007 11:34 AM | Report abuse

As a Moderate Democrat I don't like any of the presidental canidiates, Democrat or Republican. I may sit this election out. Both parties have been hijacked by radicals. The left for the Democratss and the right for the Republicanss. The middle is gone?

Posted by: jim.vance | August 2, 2007 11:32 AM | Report abuse

"I am still waiting for this Bush bounce Broder predicted awhile back."

Has anyone here seen a deflated basketball bounce?

Broder's disputing the very laws of physics here.

Posted by: JEP7 | August 2, 2007 11:28 AM | Report abuse

In case you don't remember, Bush was not "popular" before the 2000 election (in which Gore won more votes) or before the 2004 election, when his poll numbers hovered around 48-49%.

Bush is a horrible president, but don't be lulled into thinking any Democrat is guaranteed to replace him. There's a reason only 2 Democrats have won the presidency since the 1960s ended, and its not because the Republicans have done such a good job. It's because most Democratic nominees have no southern appeal. The winners? Carter from Georgia, and Clinton from Arkansas (where Bill was actually ELECTED, unlike his wife).

Ask yourself a simple question: Is Giuliani more likely to win some Democratic votes in NY, or is Hillary more likely to win some Republican votes in Arkansas? If you're honest, you'll understand why Democrats are making a mistake by not having a more competitive primary, with people like Wes Clark and Bill Richardson running and being heard.

Posted by: Alan4 | August 2, 2007 11:25 AM | Report abuse

"Yet nearly every specific measure of the presidential race points to another intensely competitive campaign for the White House."

You gotta be kidding! Those "I'm for more torture" Republican yahoos make their chances slimmer with every debate. McCain's just the tip of a melting iceberg.

You media guys are just begging for more campaign money with this kind of drivel. Convince the loser R's they have a snowball's chance in hell, and they'll throw a couple million campaign dollars at your advertising department.

I told Cilliza on his blog the same thing back in September 2006, that all the media's projections for some wort of Republican victory, were solely to milk money from Republican candidates who had no chance in any scenario to win.

Yet still, the prognosticators and "top poundits" all gave this same sort of lip service to a potential Republican victory.

Every day, the case gets worse for the R's, but as long as you media members continue to woo them for money, you will continue to be enablers of their delusions, and will continue to abdicate your once noble calling as the 4th Estate.

Journalitic integrity has been sacrificed for profit. You may as well be working for Fox news, if you intend to keep writing opening paragraphs like the one I have pasted here.

It is a very transparent tactic you expose here...keep em' thinking they have a chance, and they will keep buying those ads...

Because now, it is only people like you who give them something to delude about, the polls simply will not support your premise.

Posted by: JEP7 | August 2, 2007 11:24 AM | Report abuse

"In review, WHY do Dems win big in '08?", should be the opening of my last paragraph :).

Posted by: mainetimes | August 2, 2007 9:44 AM | Report abuse

Huxster21 summarizes '08 beautifully. I will add a couple of substantiating points to forecast another Blue Wave in '08.

We must fault "conservatism" more than Bush for the terrible shape this country is in. Bush never acted in a vacuum, but followed the desires of Cheney, Wolfowitz, Limbaugh, Pearl, etc. Conservatives throughout Congress and the media cheered along.

In '06, conservatives lost big. Conservative Senators lost in Viriginia, Montana, Pennyslvania and Ohio. Conservative Reps lost in Indiana, Iowa, New Hampshire, Kentucky. This will continue in '08 (conservatives have 22 Senate seats to defend, vs. 11 Dem seats). Conservatism (debt, war, prejudice) will soon be a relick of the 20th Century.

Secondly, the under 30 yr. olds will vote Dem for the third consecutive national election, thereby providing a virtual lock for this generation for the Democrats (as proven by past generational voting patterns).

Lastly, the conservatives are having a terrible time raising money. In every sector, Democrats have a decided advantage (Prez candidates, and Senate and House candidates). The liberals advantage will only widen over the coming months.

In review, who do Dems win big in '08? Conservatism (culture of corruption). Generational change. Money. Indpendents' vote. Anti-war vote. Latino vote. African American vote. A BIG VOTE for change. And the womens' vote, regardless of the Democratic candidate.

Posted by: mainetimes | August 2, 2007 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Go back to the fall of 2006 and look at the at the articles written by the Times and Wpost that talk about GOP doing well in the midterm election even though all the evidence said otherwise. I am still waiting for this Bush bounce Broder predicted awhile back. Thomas Friedman is still waiting for the the next critical 6 months in Iraq, over and over. All these political pundits and journalists are continualy wrong about all of their predictions. Name me one who has been right about anything? The only ones are the people who said NOT to invade Iraq and not elect GW.

The Replublican candidate will turn out his base in 08 but that is it. Independents are breaking with the Democrats. Balz forgets to figure in the latno vote, which Bush had pulled respectable numbers from in both of his victories. The GOP has alienated every immigrant group in this county and their numbers will be super high for democrats.

The Mtn West is going democratic and the Republicans can only count on the South. It has turned into a primarily Southern party.

Hypothetical mathcups are useless from and not vital predictors. Name recognition plays too heavily.

Bush has driven the GOP over a cliff with his broken stubborn policies, the corrupt liars that work for him and his unwillingness to deal with reality in Iraq.

This country does not need more of the same Bush policies and the majority of people in this country realize this.

I wish the Wpost would realize this and stop feeding the Republican party with these talking points.

I had respect for Balz until reading this hack job. Is this journalism or debate class?

Posted by: huxster21 | August 2, 2007 12:15 AM | Report abuse


Certain red states aren't going to be won by anyone but a Republican in the first place. Would Obama or Edwards or east-coast intellectual Thomas Jefferson himself win in Wyoming or Texas? Not bloody likely.

The map for 2008 won't be significantly different in the core states for either party, and will again come down to the handful of purple states who could go either way. That being the case, the candidate with the most appeal to independents in those states is the guy who'll win. If HRC is the Dem nominee, game over for the Donkey team. But Obama polls much better among independents, and if he's headlining the ticket against anyone on the other side who could be tied too closely to the current occupant's policies, his chances would be better than just ok.

Posted by: splooie | August 1, 2007 11:59 PM | Report abuse

bdunn, the electorate was fed up with Republicans after Watergate 35 years ago, too. Democrats nominated someone who had some southern crossover appeal, but then gave national security back to the Republicans. That's why there have only been 2 Democratic presidents in the past 40 years (and note, the last 3 Democratic presidents were from the south--Texas, Georgia, and Arkansas).

Which of the Democrats puts up a strong image on national security? Any war heroes (ones who, fairly or unfairly, can be labeled "Massachusetts liberals" don't count)? Any vets? Which of the current Democrats do you see winning any southern states?

Better draft Wesley Clark, and nominate him this time!

Posted by: Alan4 | August 1, 2007 11:53 PM | Report abuse

TAKE a hike, Mr. Balz.
The electorate is fed up with Republicans and their mainstream media apologists.

Posted by: bdunn1 | August 1, 2007 10:58 PM | Report abuse

The most impressive thing about Giuliani's performance so far is that he has had nowhere near the media support as Clinton, Obama and even Thompson yet he is winning.

The fact is that most Americans have confidence that Giuliani can protect them best on matters of national security and terrorism. This is what matters most to people and that is what is going to drive their vote.

Hillary is far too loathed by the population in general to ever win the presidency and Obama is just not ready yet.

Posted by: gthstonesman | August 1, 2007 9:51 PM | Report abuse

America can always be relied upon to do the wrong thing.

Look at the list of incompetents, criminals and cretins America has selected and elected to the White House.

Not even Eisenhower was exempt from serious moral flaws.

Since FDR it has been all downhill.

Posted by: Mithras | August 1, 2007 9:27 PM | Report abuse

The Democrats will struggle again for 1 simple reason: the electoral map. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will struggle to wrestle a single new state from Republicans.

Until Democrats figure out that elections are won on a state-by-state basis, they will continue to lose presidential elections. Nominate a "Massachuetts liberal". Nominate Hillary Clinton, who motivates the Republican base like only Ted Kennedy can. Nominate a one-term senator for Illinois. YOU DON'T WIN RED STATES THAT WAY.

If the Democrats want the White House, they'll beg Gen Wesley Clark to run again. If they want to be competitive, they'll give Gov Richardson a good look. Those guys can turn red states blue.

Posted by: Alan4 | August 1, 2007 7:46 PM | Report abuse

"But in 2004, Bush managed to win reelection despite an environment that was clearly favorable to the Democrats."

I disagree about the environment. All of the political science forecast models -- which are based on "environmental" factors such as the economy, presidential approval, and war/peace issues -- had Bush winning, most by a percentage that closely matched his final vote total. Most notably, the economy was pretty good, and Bush was just popular enough (over the 50% mark).

I agree that this will be a competitive race. But in the battle between underlying conditions and candidate attributes, the conditions tend to win out (2000 is the biggest recent exception, though). The Independents may say they don't like Clinton, or may be seduced by Giuliani's "toughness" or whatever -- but in the end, most will vote based on the above-mentioned underlying conditions such as disapproval of Bush and the war.

Posted by: schiffer | August 1, 2007 5:28 PM | Report abuse

As was discussed earlier over at The Fix, it appears that this poll is more a measure of name recognition than anything else. The responses to specific candidates certainly don't indicate any real familiarity with specific candidates' policy positions. As time passes and more people begin paying attention to what the candidates are actually saying, I suspect we'll see the polls move. Specifically, I suspect we'll see the numbers dropping for candidates that use more divisive language, and better results for the candidates that rise above partisanship & instead promote a positive vision for America's future.

Posted by: bsimon | August 1, 2007 5:05 PM | Report abuse

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