Poll after poll shows dissatisfaction with President Bush and an “enthusiasm gap” working against Republicans heading into next year’s elections, yet the top Republican presidential candidates are running even with or ahead of the top Democrats in head-to-head matchups.
“A major cautionary note for the Democrats at this point in the election cycle is the disparity between Americans’ partisan preferences for the next president in the abstract and their preferences between specific candidates being offered up to the voters,” the Gallup Poll said in a analysis.
In a Quinnipiac University Poll released last week, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani leads Democratic Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton in the three swing states of Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. The same poll shows that Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, leads Mrs. Clinton in Ohio and Pennsylvania and is tied with her in Florida, and he splits with Mr. Obama, leading in Ohio, trailing in Pennsylvania and tied in Florida.
In Gallup’s national poll, Mr. Giuliani and Mrs. Clinton are virtually tied — and other polls have shown similar results.
However, polls asking voters whether they prefer a generic Republican or generic Democrat for president give the Democrats a strong advantage. A Bloomberg-Los Angeles Times poll taken April 5 to 9 found 49 percent of registered voters wanted the Democratic Party to win the White House, 10 percentage points more than favored Republicans.
“It is an apparent contradiction. The explanation lies in the difference between the approval and disapproval of one president versus a comparison of two different candidates,” Republican pollster Whit Ayres said.
“A lot of people who disapprove of both the war in Iraq and President Bush’s handling of it do not necessarily want Hillary or a Democrat as president. That is particularly true of independents who voted overwhelmingly for Democrats for Congress in the 2006 election, but they split fairly evenly when the choice is Rudy or Hillary,” he said.
Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said it proves that the candidates matter.
“It tends to be a situation where the presidential nominee is more important than anything else, and that would override to some degree any party inclinations,” he said. “George Bush is not on the ballot in 2008, so the animus a lot of Americans feel toward George Bush may or may not be translated to the Republican nominee.”
He said much will depend on whether Democrats can successfully tie the top Republicans to Mr. Bush.
Asked Sunday about the top Republicans’ strong performance, presidential hopeful John Edwards, the former North Carolina senator who was the Democrats’ vice-presidential nominee in 2004, said he had seen a poll that showed him beating all of the major Republicans, including Mr. Giuliani.
“Having said all that, I think that we’re so early now, I wouldn’t put a lot of stock in it,” he said.
Still, the polls provide a strong argument for Mr. Giuliani, who is trying to convince Republican voters he is the candidate with the best chance to beat Democrats in 2008.
“The more people find out about his tax cutting and his fiscal conservatism, the more people are attracted to him,” said Jim Dyke, an adviser to Mr. Giuliani. “Generic polling is not that great of an indicator because people typically vote for a candidate, and not only do they vote for that candidate, but vote for that candidate when compared to another candidate.”
A big reason why the electorate’s anti-Republican mood does not appear to be hurting the poll responses to Mr. Giuliani or Mr. McCain is that they “have a personal favorability image that is not connected to their being Republicans,” said pollster Bill McInturff at Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican polling firm.