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Parsing the Polls: Surveys Spotlight McCain's Broad Appeal

The Fix gets excited when even a single 2008 presidential poll gets released, so you can imagine the thrill when the American Research Group released the results of seven -- yes SEVEN -- statewide surveys earlier this week.

Primarily clumped in the Northeast, the states are Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island -- as well as the influential states of New Hampshire and South Carolina. ARG surveyed hypothetical Democratic and Republican primary matchups as well as a head-to-head general election ballot test between Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) in each state.

There's a ton of interesting information here that can be sliced, diced and parsed a thousand different ways. Here's The Fix's take.

Let's look at the primary matchups first. It's not too surprising to see Clinton and McCain leading their respective fields in all seven states. It is interesting, however, that while Clinton averages 34 percent of the vote across the seven states, McCain performs nearly ten points better (43.4 percent). Why? Well, in the Republican field, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who typically runs second to McCain in most national polls, is not included.

Given Giuliani's profile -- a personality-driven candidate with moderate issue positions -- it would make sense that McCain, who has made a career as a maverick reformer, would pick up the vast majority of potential Giuliani votes. Giuliani remains coy about his political plans, although many in Republican circles are betting that he will ultimately decide against the 2008 race.

The Clinton number would seem to indicate that there is room for at least one other prominent Democrat in the field as a considerable number of those polled in New Hampshire (37 percent) and South Carolina (34 percent) were already behind one of the other 10 candidates listed.

With Clinton's and McCain's clear frontrunner status in the ARG surveys, the battle for second among the rest of the field is a crucial marker of who has the potential to make a real run for the parties' nominations. In this sweepstakes, the only states that really matter are Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina -- the three early primary and caucus states that typically thin the field. So let's throw out ARG's polls everywhere but New Hampshire and South Carolina and see what they tell us.

Clinton's strongest challenger in both South Carolina and New Hampshire is former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.). Edwards takes 15 percent (to Clinton's 30 percent) in South Carolina and nine percent (to Clinton's 32 percent) in New Hampshire. Edwards's strength in South Carolina makes sense as it is was the one primary he won during his 2004 presidential bid. His strength in New Hampshire is a bit more difficult to understand as the former North Carolina senator placed fourth in the 2004 Granite State primary -- taking just 12 percent.

John Kerry -- the party's 2004 nominee -- received a surprisingly low seven percent support in the ARG New Hampshire survey; in the South Carolina poll he took just four percent -- good for fourth place behind Clinton, Edwards and former Vice President Al Gore (eight percent).

The struggle for second among Republicans at the moment is between former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and outgoing Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. In New Hampshire, Romney took nine percent -- good for second place -- while Gingrich received eight percent. The results were flipped in South Carolina, with Gingrich in at second with nine percent and Romney in third with 5 percent.

Gingrich, who has made no secret about his interest in a national bid, remains an extremely high-profile figure in the Republican Party thanks to his prominent role in winning back congressional majorities in 1994. It remains to be seen how his often tumultuous personal life would weather the primary process. Romney, on the other hand, has worked as hard as any candidate other than McCain to organize support in early primary states -- especially in New Hampshire and South Carolina where he must perform well if he hopes to knock off the Arizonan. Sen. George Allen (Va.), who is widely seen as the candidate best positioned to beat McCain in the primaries, remains an unknown figure in New Hampshire and South Carolina; one percent of voters in each state expressed their support for his candidacy in the ARG surveys.

Looking at the general election results, one thing becomes clear: McCain is not viewed as your average Republican politician in the seven states ARG polled. Although six of the seven states went for Kerry over President Bush in the 2004 election, McCain at the moment has leads over Hillary Clinton in all but one (Connecticut). Least surprising is his 20-point edge in South Carolina, which has become extremely friendly ground for Republicans running statewide over the last decade. Most surprising? How about McCain's nine point margin over Clinton in Massachusetts -- a state that on average has given the Democratic nominee a 17-point margin over the past ten presidential races, according to the indispensable Almanac of American Politics. (One likely explanation for McCain's Bay State strength is the need to buy Boston television to reach voters in New Hampshire, meaning that Massachusetts voters got a strong helping of McCain commercials during his upset win in the 2000 Granite State primary.)

The ARG general election numbers likely have Republicans salivating about McCain's potential coattail effect on downballot chances in blue states. And if GOPers are salivating, Democrats are sweating as the ARG results seem to confirm -- for the moment -- their fears that Clinton is too divisive a figure to be electable against the popular McCain. You can be sure that strategists for Edwards as well as former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh are moving these numbers around the D.C. political community as evidence of the need to nominate the most "electable" Democrat.

By Chris Cillizza  |  February 15, 2006; 11:35 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008 , Parsing the Polls  
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It's a shame that Senator Hagel isn't getting more of a look for the nomination yet. He didn't really register in the polls from the article, but that is probably because he doesn't have the name recognition already and he hasn't been traveling as much as other candidates. I don't think that he is one that should be discounted too soon, though, especially given how strong he would be in a general election.

Posted by: Charlie | February 20, 2006 3:28 PM | Report abuse

I support Bayh. He's got what it takes to haul in both Democrats and moderate Republicans. Middle America is looking for someone to represent them. We don't want someone who comes across as ONLY representing liberal or conservative views.

Posted by: marie | February 18, 2006 5:47 PM | Report abuse

Would McCain make a good general election candidate...yes? Dems could go dirty like Bush did in SC primaries and make up some stuff, but they got too much integrity to stoop that low. McCain has bucked from your normle far right, and he will be judged for that in the primaries. They have the money, and the power, so I think he will be like last time. Lead at first than a politician that caters to the far right will win. George Allen comes to mind.
For Dems, Warner, Bayh, and Edwards will win the nomination. Clinton's campaign will fall apart. Whomever is nominated should and ought to pick General Wes Clark to be their VP to provide national security and foreign policy strength to the ticket.

Posted by: Josh | February 16, 2006 6:23 PM | Report abuse

In a race between Hillary and McCain I would have to vote for hillary, If I am going to vote for a democrat It might as well be for someone that admits they are a Democrat

Posted by: HRH | February 16, 2006 12:28 PM | Report abuse

Amen to that! Goodnight, Irene.

Posted by: Judge Crater | February 16, 2006 10:20 AM | Report abuse

And we are officially... off topic.

Posted by: Chicago Typewriter | February 16, 2006 10:11 AM | Report abuse


Exactly. The sad thing is Hadia's post is real. The far left propaganda it spews is the reason the Dems will continue to lose national elections. The mayor of NO is a black democrat. The governor of LA is a democrat. Do they have no responsibility? Bush wants to steal the land from the black people there? That statement proves the ignorance of the writer. What else? Bush takes candy from babies? Bush's environmental policies in the last 6 years caused Katrina? Hadia, why don't you repeat your propaganda on Michael Moore's or Barbra Steisand's websites and leave this one to more intelligent, informed people.

Posted by: aj | February 16, 2006 8:44 AM | Report abuse

Is Hadia's comment real? It's so uniformed and moronic that I can only assume that someone plced it to make Democrats look silly. No reason to invade Iraq? How about the Iraqi intelligence agency's plot to kill George Bush in 1993 nad his use of chemical weapons on his own people? How about the 17 U.N. resolutions they either ignored or broke during the 1990s? How about their joke of a compliance report when given one last chance to comply with U.N. resolutions in the months before the invasion (even French officials called it a joke). Just as important, can you call Iraq a sovereign country when the U.N. implemented no-fly zones over 2/3 of the nation and bombed it on numerous occasions during the 1990s (not to mention the Oil for food program)? The Clinton administration warned the world about the danger of Saddam Hussein's WMD programs throughout the 1990s and favored strict economic sanctions on the nation that killed more Iraqis than the current administration has? On a side note, the Clinton administration, not the current Bush, first linked bin-Laden and Iraq in a 1998 Justice Department indictment; it also argued that Saddam would use WMD if the U.S. did not employ sanctions and employ military force to insure U.N. compliance. As for oil, the oil for food debacle suggests that French officials let oil interests run their foreign policy much more so than in the U.S. By God, Halibrton favored ending U.S. economic sanctions on Libya and Iraq (has an intimate working relationship with the French government). One more point: France let 15,000 people die during a heat wave a few years back because of a lack of air conditioning. What does Hadia make of that? I could go on about all her other stupid assertions, but why bother.

Posted by: Randy | February 16, 2006 1:35 AM | Report abuse

Al Gore is obviously too intelligent for the American Public but he would be welcomed for his thoughtful, intelligent views on a World scene. We need someone with a little more grey matter for President if we are going to regain any face after this sham of not one but 3 evil stooges in the White House.... it is hard to tell who the President is... is it Cheney or Rove calling all the shots or is Bush really as uncaring and downright mean that he would let a good (brown) portion of the population of New Orleans drown and then try to steal the land of the survivors. Shame on these Co-Presidents for not caring enough to allow this. Not to mention turning on their own citizens with opressive tactics like arresting anyone not "WITH THEM" or torture or building a jails with our money for the Iraqi citizens we went to liberate or parceling up Iraq for their oil buddies before they even made up the reasons for going to war against a sovereign nation who we actually had no reason to attack (unless you count that they wanted their oil)

Posted by: Hadia | February 16, 2006 12:05 AM | Report abuse

We need a Democaratic Candidate who cannot be bought by Big Corporate Business.... who has enough of her own money to be above all that. We need a candidate who cares about the people and their needs and who doesn't need to spy on them because they would openly tell her how they felt and what was going on.... We need Oprah Winfrey for President with Tom Hanks and her running mate!

Posted by: Hadia | February 15, 2006 11:57 PM | Report abuse

If McCain runs and gets the nomination he would be a heavy favorite. He has a reputation for independence and is not an ideologue like Bush. But he will be 70 years old in 2008 and conservatives are not in love with him.

Everyone keeps bashing Hillary but she is likely the best candidate that the Democrats have. Hillary is where George Bush was in 2000. She will have the most money, best organization and is the heir apparent. She is the one to beat. What she has to overcome is her likability and the sense that she is calculating. As a resident of NY in 2000 I saw her rise to the occasion and win a tough race. Don't underestimate her.

The other potential candidates like Mark Warner are potentially strong but are untested. Warner has no foreign policy experience and his recent appearence on This Week was unimpressive. He has to show he can generate excitementAl Gore ran the worst campaign in history in 2000 and John Kerry still cannot decide what his position on Iraq is.

Posted by: Steven | February 15, 2006 7:54 PM | Report abuse

I wonder if McCain really is politically deft enough to do what he'd have to do to win the Republican nomination (make nice with the religious right, etc.) without destroying a lot of his appeal to independents and democrats. I mean, if you really look at his record the guy is VERY conservative.

I tend to hope that having to PROVE that during a primary might finally make Dems/Independents realize he's not the "moderate" some people think he is. Regardless, he would clearly beat Hillary, although I think there's no chance she wins the nomination. How great would a Warner/Obama ticket look...

Posted by: Colin | February 15, 2006 6:18 PM | Report abuse

McCain's showing doesn't surpise me. I'm a lifelong Democrat and I can see voting for him. The Democratic party has turned into a shell of itself. Their utter refusal to take on the Bush administration over the war and several other transgressions that probably warrant impeachment makes me hungry for a fighter. McCain is forthright and unafraid to take a stand. I like that

Posted by: rocking rudy | February 15, 2006 5:47 PM | Report abuse

This poll is pure name recognition. I firmly believe that Hillary Clinton will NOT be the Democratic nominee in 2008. I am a staunch Democrat, most of my friends and family are staunch Democrats. And not ONE of them wants Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic nominee. And it's not just because she'd be so "polarizing". It's because she is a pandering, calculating political automaton. That bothers Democrats more than any of her views, whatever they are, or her relationship with Bill.

About McCain, you ignore George Allen at your peril. He just came in first place in the CPAC straw poll, which should show you what the GOP base wants. The only interesting thing is the poor performance of Mike Huckabee at the CPAC conference. Conservatives see George Allen as another George W. Bush, hopefully to them without some of the big government expansion of the current President. Allen unites evangelicals and business conservatives in a way that McCain could never do. The only reason McCain is leading in many of these polls is that everybody knows who he is. Very few people know who Allen is. There is only one thing that will derail George Allen and that would be a James Webb victory in the Senatorial race against Allen in November. A loss to Webb would end Allen's career, and shunt the CPAC gang support over to a guy like Huckabee, Sanford (SC) or maybe even, God forbid, Bill Frist.

Posted by: Elrod | February 15, 2006 5:37 PM | Report abuse

Hillary McCain

I think the result would be too close to call. The evangelical Repubs would probably sit this one out, their loathing of Hillary only slightly beating their loathing of McCain.Which means it would be anyone's election.

Also, McCain divorced his first wife a derisive comment you still hear here in the deserts of Arizona.

But then again, it could tilt the other way with their loathing of McCain not outbeating their loathing of Hillary whom is regarded much as Jane Fonda was by the same people nearly half a century ago.

It may take a generation or two to get the neo-cons out of our system. Their noon has passed, but their day still lives on.

Posted by: Kurt | February 15, 2006 5:10 PM | Report abuse

Chris why do you always ignore Wesley Clark? It seems others like me will mention him but you *NEVER* do.

Posted by: Intrepid Liberal | February 15, 2006 5:06 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Bill Maher. I like H. Clinton, I don't want to ride the "hillary boat" off a cliff. She'd never win conservative Democrats. But..I dream of a Gore/Clinton or Gore/Obama ticket.
Something and someone to get behind.

Posted by: TJ IN LA | February 15, 2006 4:00 PM | Report abuse

Can this poll finally put to rest the notion that John Kerry is a serious candidate? Please?

Posted by: Glenn Gervasio | February 15, 2006 3:58 PM | Report abuse

This is off-topic but I am reading the AP report of the outrageous Fox interview with Cheney and even tho he says "it was not Harry's fault," he then relays his initial reaction:

"I said, 'Harry, I had no idea you were there.' He didn't respond," Cheney said.

"I had no idea you were there" ??????? But NOT, "Oh my god, call an ambulance, I'm SO SORRY FOR SHOOTING YOU IN THE FACE"?!?!?!

NO apology?! STILL?!?! I just cant believe someone would have so little human decency.

It's beyond me why anyone would want this idiot to remain the Vice President of the United States.

Posted by: FairAndBalanced? | February 15, 2006 3:40 PM | Report abuse

McCain and Clinton are running on name recognition this early. Obviously they both will have enormous banks, so that is an advantage. I see Brownback having a huge shot because he'll be the lone religious right candidate. McCain and Allen might split some votes. On the Democratic side, moderates like Clark, Warner, and now Clinton I guess will split votes. If Gore ran, he would be the true anti-war lefty candidate for the base to rally around. How contentous and divided would we be over a Gore vs. Brownback match-up, yikes!

Posted by: brianr | February 15, 2006 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Who is more like Bush? Clinton or McCain? Who is secretive (remember the Clinton health care plan?), and clearly in their position because of nepotism? Who panders to extremists on the right? The Democrats should not let it be the case that a vote cast in reaction to the excesses of this administration is for a Republican and against a Democrat. I'm a lifelong Democrat, but I care more about freedom and democracy than party, and in this contest, McCain would be the first Republican vote I've ever cast.

Posted by: Nathan | February 15, 2006 2:12 PM | Report abuse

I wish, for election 2008 we americans can really vote for the issues, the things that really matter and affect us as a nation. We have become a bitter/hateful people, totally divided, which is not nice at all.We are no longer leaders in the world if we take a look at canadians elections,they voted on the issues(corruption in harper Administration) and not just a party. We have allowed these nasty policitian to cause this divide among us. There's a lot for us to learn about these past years with this adminstration and administrations past and it seem, we are not learning how to select our leaders.

It's time we stop taking about left and right and be honest and see your current leaders including those corrupt senators that tell us one thing in town meetings but something else when they reach DC.

I must say there are just a few honest senators/congressmen.

Who elected the rest that are so dishonest?

Posted by: Curtis | February 15, 2006 2:01 PM | Report abuse

Hey Caped Composer... your stealth candidate is already here..his name is Mark Robert Warner

Posted by: Tim | February 15, 2006 1:49 PM | Report abuse

These polls just reflect whose name the voters recognize. At this stage of the game four years ago, Joe Lieberman was the frontrunner. The question for interested partisans to think about is not who has a lead in voter name recognition, since good presidential candidates can make a name through the process, but rather who would make a good nominee, or even, God forbid, a good president.

Posted by: cbkd | February 15, 2006 1:41 PM | Report abuse

btw, James, I didnt mean to put words in your mouth, apologies... but you get my gist, right?

Posted by: FairAndBalanced? | February 15, 2006 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Exactly corbett, exactly.

James: "The conservative TV media machine - and the Republican Party, for that matter - would put far too many of their resources towards investigating......"

They would do this for Hillary but NOT for anyone else? You've gotta be kidding me. Let's get real, the GOP "swiftboats" decorated war veterans, what's to stop them from sliming any Dem candidate? This "but Hillary is polarizing" argument plays right into the Right's hands.

Posted by: FairAndBalanced? | February 15, 2006 1:32 PM | Report abuse

McCain may have been attractive in 2000; he was. But with his advocacy of MORE troops in Iraq, his obscene sucking up to Bush, and his still evident hot temper I think we should count him out in 08.

Posted by: candide | February 15, 2006 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Andy B.,

Save the blather. If Hilary Clinton is nominated as the Democratic nominee, I may as well write in Jon Stewart. The conservative TV media machine - and the Republican Party, for that matter - would put far too many of their resources towards investigating her or whatever for this country to benefit in any way, shape or form. I totally support Bayh as a candidate, as I would John Edwards. As much as I would have preferred to have seen McCain as the nominee in 2000, his deferrment to Bush is fairly unsettling to me. Given the catastrophe the last six years has been, I bet it's weighing on McCain's mind as well.

Posted by: James | February 15, 2006 12:52 PM | Report abuse

I'm wondering if this blog needs a new, more accurate name: The McCain/Giuliani Fix

Posted by: corbett | February 15, 2006 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Okay, so these polls are all entertaining and whatnot . . . but, at this point in 1990, had anyone even heard of Bill Clinton? Nope! Everyone was so sure that Mario Cuomo would run, or that one of the other big-name candidates would get the nomination. And, bang! Out of nowhere came the Arkansas governor. Nobody saw it coming. Well, something like that could happen again. In the world of politics, six months is an eternity, and predictions often amount to nothing more than pie in the sky.

Posted by: The Caped Composer | February 15, 2006 12:41 PM | Report abuse

I wouldn't read too much either way about these polls. There's so little recognition of most of the potential candidates right now, although Clinton should be concerned, and McCain should be pleased.

All that said, I still don't see the Republican machine allowing McCain to be their candidate, despite the fact that he'd probably win the general election.

Posted by: adam | February 15, 2006 12:39 PM | Report abuse

If there's anything these polls show, it's the "buyer's remorse." Republicans are sorry that they made Pres. Bush their nominee (over Sen. McCain) in 2000 while democrats wish that they had put Sen. Edwards at the top of their ticket in 2004. Hindsight is always 20/20.
I think Gov. Mitt has some big obstacles; being a Mormon may elicit strong opposition or apathy at best from Evangelical Christians. He also has "faked prochoice" positions as the Gov. of Mass. On the other hand, he has some things going for him. He is the most serious likely candidate who is not a legislator. I think a lot of voters are turned off, come election day, by people who make their careers in DC. It's been a long while since a legislator was elected president.

Posted by: BFair | February 15, 2006 12:29 PM | Report abuse

At this early stage all we've got is name ID. McCain & Hillary keep getting all the press and stay high on all lists. But what are their positions on all the "Hot Button" issues?

Slowly but surely Al Gore is getting more press than one thought possible for a "loser". He is becoming the "Dark Horse" for "08".

Posted by: Peter L. | February 15, 2006 12:10 PM | Report abuse

First off the Romney boost in New Hampshire is strictly because he is the Governor of Mass. I bet he didn't get 2% in South Carolina. He won't ever win so can we please stop talking about him. Also I think it shows that if McCain gets nominated (his most difficult task) he will win against whomever the Democrats put up.
Also I know that the insider take is that Allen will win the primaries, but I just don't see it. McCain can raise tons of money, is liked by folks across the political spectrum, and is seen as a honest and a sraight shooter. I think it is time to start calling him the front-runner for the GOP nomination.

Posted by: Andy R | February 15, 2006 11:49 AM | Report abuse

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