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Voters Are Hot on Giuliani, Cold on Kerry

When it comes to presidential elections, personality matters. More so than in any other sort of political campaign, whether or not voters like the parties' chosen candidates plays a major role in picking a president.

Need evidence? Look back at the 2000 presidential election. Vice President Al Gore was by far the more experienced candidate on the national and world stages, but Texas Gov. George W. Bush was the more likeable of the two -- the candidate voters were more comfortable welcoming into their living rooms for the next four years.

It's tough to measure the "likeability" of elected officials, but an interesting survey conducted by Quinnipiac University came across our desk that seeks to do just that.

Quinnipiac carries out this so-called "national thermometer" survey every three months, asking a national sample of voters to rate elected officials from 0 (utter hatred -- my words) to 100 (pure bliss, again, The Fix's translatiuon). The results of the most recent survey, conducted Nov. 13-19 of 1,623 registered voters, provides some eye-opening information.

Let's parse the polls!

As always in this feature, numbers first. Here's a look at the mean scores for the top 10 most-liked candidates with national profiles (some of whom, at least, are potential 2008 candidates); the number in parentheses is the percentage of voters that don't know enough about the candidate to rate him or her.

 1. Rudy Giuliani:       64.2 (9)
 2. Barack Obama:        58.8 (41)
 3. John McCain:         57.7 (12)
 4. Condoleezza Rice:    56.1 (7)
 5. Bill Clinton:        55.8 (1)
 6. Joe Lieberman:       52.7 (16)
 7. Michael Bloomberg:   51.4 (44)
 8. John Edwards:        49.9 (20)
 9. Hillary Clinton:     49 (1)
10. Bill Richardson:     47.7 (65)

It's not terribly surprising that Giuliani leads the pack. In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the former New York City mayor was transformed into a heroic figure in the minds of many people.

Even though Giuliani twice won election as mayor, has campaigned across the country for Republican candidates and has formed an '08 presidential exploratory committee, he retains an un-politician image. That is sure to change if he officially enters the presidential race, as his GOP opponents will make sure to inform voters of his liberal stances on many hot-button social issues including abortion and gay marriage. At the moment, however, Giuliani's numbers remain strong across the board -- 67 percent of Republicans rated Hizzoner at 60 or above, while 38 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of independents gave him a similar score.

Obama, the "IT" boy of the Democratic Party at the moment, also scored extremely highly on the thermometer, with fully 45 percent of Democrats rating him at 60 or higher on the cold-warm scale. He was viewed less warmly by Republicans (just 10 percent scored him 60+), but one-in-three independents gave him a 60-100 score.

One other important note on Obama: Four-in-ten voters in the sample didn't know enough about him to rate their feelings. (It was the highest number of undecideds -- by far -- among the top 5.) Looked at one way, the large number of voters who haven't formulated an opinion about Obama is a good thing, as he has a chance to make a positive first impression. Looked at another, however, he may well find his first introduction to many of these people is during the heat of a presidential campaign -- a tough venue to preserve such stratospheric image numbers.

As always, the Clintons are worthy of attention, as the former president engenders more warm feelings than this wife at the moment. Both Clintons were known by 99 percent of the sample, with Bill Clinton ranking seven points higher on the thermometer than Hillary Clinton.

Much of the former president's strong support comes from Democrats -- 83 percent rated him somewhere between 60-100 on the cold-hot scale (72 percent of Democrats rated Hillary Clinton similarly.) Independents, too, felt roughly ten points warmer toward the former president than his wife (52-42), while Republicans don't harbor kind feelings toward either Clinton -- 67 percent of GOPers gave Sen. Clinton a 0-20 score while 56 percent did the same for the former president.

Since leaving office in 2000, Bill Clinton has undergone an image resuscitation beginning with his heart problems and carrying through his work to aid tsunami victims and help fight AIDS in Africa. Clinton is not the first ex-president to experience the warm glow of history; Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush are each viewed far more favorably now than when they left office.

"Whether that aura can be transferred to his wife in a campaign, and whether it would be an asset to her in the campaign, should she run, is the $64,000 question," wrote Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac polling institute.

These numbers are sure to contribute to the long-running argument as to whether Bill Clinton is a net positive or a net negative for a potential 2008 White House bid by Sen. Clinton. Regardless of where you come down on that question, most strategists agree that Hillary Clinton needs to find a defined role for her husband in the campaign rather than allow him to simply serve as a free agent.

On the flipside, here's a look at the five lowest-ranking politicians in the Quinnipiac survey:

16. Evan Bayh:       43.3 (75)
17. Newt Gingrich:   42 (15)
18. Bill Frist:      41.5 (53)
19. Harry Reid:      41.2 (61)
20. John Kerry:      39.6 (5)

The news is obviously worst for Kerry, who continues to consider another run for president in 2008. While Republicans are strongly opposed to Kerry (78 percent rated him 0-40), Democrats and independents are not all that much more favorably inclined to him. One-in-five Democrats scored Kerry between 0-40, while 48 percent of independents gave him that same rating. It's not as though Kerry is an unknown figure nationally like Bayh, Frist or Reid. Only five percent of the sample did not know enough about Kerry to offer up their feelings. So Kerry is both well-known and not liked -- not exactly the building block for a presidential bid.

There's plenty more to parse in this survey, so make sure to check out all of its nooks and crannies. Feel free to use the comments section below to highlight any intriguing numbers that The Fix may have missed.

By Chris Cillizza  |  November 29, 2006; 9:05 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008 , Parsing the Polls  
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