Friday, January 25, 2008

McCain is Most Electable, Poll Finds

Further data from the new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that John McCain's overwhelmingly seen as the most electable candidate in the presidential race this year:

The leading Republican presidential candidates all claim to be the best-suited to overcome the Democratic tide expected in the general election. But opinion polls clearly favor Arizona Sen. John McCain in that regard.

In the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, 37% of respondents said Mr. McCain has the best chance to win in November against the Democrats. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was far back in second, with 16%, followed closely by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani at 15% and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at 12%. Those results are mirrored in other polls.

Mr. McCain also did the best in hypothetical matchups with the two leading Democrats. The poll shows him beating New York Sen. Hillary Clinton by 46% to 44% and tying against Illinois Sen. Barack Obama with 42% support. Messrs. Romney, Giuliani and Huckabee all lose handily in polling matchups with Sens. Clinton and Obama. Statistically, the results are about the same -- a dead heat -- whether Mr. McCain's opponent is Sen. Clinton or Sen. Obama because the poll has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

Many Republican primary voters face a quandary this year: Whether to choose the candidate they like best or the one they think has the best shot against a formidable Democratic opponent in November.

"We have got to figure out who's the most electable. That's the hard part," said Ron Dahlstrom, a 67-year-old retiree living in Naples, Fla., who says he hasn't decided on a candidate. The self-described religious conservative likes Mr. Huckabee, but says the Baptist preacher is too religious to get elected. That leaves him undecided between Messrs. Romney and McCain. "Anybody but Hillary," he said Tuesday.

The Journal's findings come on the heels of a new Gallup survey showing McCain as the most "tested leader" in public opinion.

Yet polls also indicate that few people vote on the basis of "strategic preferences" in the primaries, so it remains to be seen how the electability and leadership factors influence the vote in upcoming primaries.

Florida's now considered the make-or-break state for all of the remaining candidates in the GOP field.

The focus next Tuesday, however, is on McCain and Mitt Romney.

The most recent surveys out of the Sunshine State show a dead heat.

This could shift over the weekend, although the big news this afternoon is Mel Martinez's endorsement of McCain in Florida.

Martinez is a GOP Senator from Florida and the outgoing RNC chair. Martinez's endorsement signals not only increasing Republican establishment support for McCain in Florida on the eve of Tuesday's vote, but could be of significant help in securing the state's Hispanic vote for McCain as well.

Photo Credit: Washinton Post


UPDATE: Jennifer Rubin at Commentary adds some perspective to the SurveyUSA data on Florida cited above (via Memeorandum):

The latest SurveyUSA Florida poll shows McCain at 30 percent, Romney at 28 percent, Rudy at 18 percent and Huckabee with 14 percent. Some interesting internal numbers jump out. First, with Hispanic voters, McCain leads 60 percent to 16 percent over Rudy, while Romney draws only 10 percent. These voters are 10.7 percent of the GOP electorate and were thought to be a source of strong support for Rudy. But the numbers tell a different story. McCain may get a further bump today with the endorsement of Senator Mel Martinez, who may not be the favorite among conservative Republicans nationally but is very popular with Florida’s Hispanic population.

Even more startling is this nugget from the poll: McCain leads 37 percent to 25 percent over Romney among voters who say the economy is the number one issue. This seems counterintuitive in light of Romney’s improved messaging and his obvious command of economic issues. However, there may be something missing in his appeal. In a speech today at the Latin Builders Association he added some lines that we haven’t heard before:

I’ve had settings where I’ve had to lay people off. It’s an awful feeling. No one likes laying someone off . . . Someone who thinks that you’re a bad person if you lay someone off doesn’t understand. You feel bad. Its probably the hardest thing I’ve done in business.

Could it be that Romney comes across too corporate or too upscale and is now attempting a slight course correction? There is some evidence this is a problem for him. In New Hampshire, for example, he lost every economic group except those making $150-199K, and lost 22 percent to 39 percent to McCain among voters who considered the economy the number one issue. His focus on economics has intensified since then, and he has had much more time to demonstrate his expertise, but if the Florida poll is accurate it suggests he still has not connected with the majority of voters on what should be his best issue. Hopefully, he won’t resort to tears, but I do expect more ” I feel your pain” moments before Tuesday. (By the way, we should keep in mind that with over 700,000 early and absentee votes already in, half the voters expected to turn out have already voted.)

Well, things could shift alright!