Wednesday, August 3, 2005

The 2008 presidential election may be 1,170 days away, but Gallup already has declared that Republican candidates edge out Democrats in hypothetical matchups, while Sen. John Kerry’s approval ratings have sunk into lukewarm doldrums.

The Massachusetts Democrat has gone from 57 percent favorability a year ago to 42 percent now, according to a poll released yesterday.

But it will be more than three long years before the nation votes. Is Gallup premature with its White House numbers?

Not in the current political landscape.

This is the 21st poll on the 2008 race to be released by such pollsters as John Zogby, Fox News, Marist and Quinnipiac colleges, Newsweek and others. The polls began emerging Nov. 2 last year.

“I sense these things are getting under way earlier than ever,” Mark Wrightson, a political scientist with the University of New Hampshire, said yesterday. “I got my first 2008 questions from the press in April, when I was still decompressing from 2004. I was quite taken aback.”

Future presidents also fixate on C-SPAN, which already is profiling candidates du jour on “The Road to the White House,” a Sunday night staple full of curious moments and eager politicians.

This weekend, the network will showcase former Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat, on his recent sojourn to New Hampshire to attend a birthday party for Democratic state Sen. Lou D’Allesandro and two pig roasts.

The show has also featured Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, speechifying in Ohio, New York and Colorado, plus former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Georgia Republican, in Iowa.

“These appearances are practical organization building for potential candidates,” Mr. Wrightson said. “There’s some public interest in it. And nothing is ever too early for political junkies.”

Gallup concurs.

“Even though the next presidential election is more than three years away, those who might pursue the office are already testing the waters in New Hampshire, Iowa and at other gatherings where party power brokers are present,” said Gallup pollster Jeffrey Jones.

In a survey of 1,010 adults taken July 25-28, Gallup found “Republicans have an edge at this point.”

In trial heats for 2008, the poll revealed that Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani won over Mrs. Clinton, 50 percent to 45 percent, in both matchups. Messrs. McCain and Giuliani also beat Mr. Kerry, 54 to 41 percent in both matchups.

Gallup also found that 64 percent of the respondents had a favorable opinion of Mr. Giuliani, while 51 percent viewed Mr. McCain favorably.

Fifty-three percent had a favorable opinion of Mrs. Clinton, but the poll specified that “Clinton’s unfavorable ratings (43 percent) are nearly twice as high as McCain’s (22 percent.)” Mr. Giuliani’s unfavorable rating was 19 percent, while Mr. Kerry’s was 48 percent.

While early findings are not likely to predict 2008 winners, Gallup advised, “the data do give a sense of the candidate’s basic appeal at this time.” Contenders pay attention to the numbers, however, to help determine “whether or not they will formally seek the presidency.”

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