Jonathan Singer has found an intriguing trend in public opinion: John McCain and Rudy Giuliani are becoming less popular with the voters.
When asked a year ago by Opinion Dynamics would, could or would not support Giuliani in a presidential election, a whopping 71 percent of voters said that they "definitely" vote for him (33 percent) or "might" vote for him (38 percent). Today [PDF link] just 59 percent would support (15 percent) or consider voting for him (44 percent). Note the drop of 12 points overall and the decline of 18 points in hard support.
A year ago 70 percent of the electorate stated they would definitely support McCain (30 percent) or might support him (40 percent). Today, just 51 percent of voters would consider voting for him, with a mere 9 percent giving him hard support and another 43 percent stating a willingness to support him. Note here that McCain's potential for support dropped by 19 points overall and his percentage of core backers fell a stunning 21 percent. [link added]
Assuming that people who were hard supporters a year ago are more likely to move to soft support than no support and soft supporters are more likely to trend away from supporting either candidate, what seems to be happening is those people who once were firmly in the McCain or Giuliani camps are now soft supporters. The shift from hard to soft is happening at a faster rate for both men than the shift from soft to non-support. This is evidenced by the large drops in hard numbers and slight rises in soft support.
It's possible that the shift in commitment can be explained by the proximity of the 2008 elections. As the election nears voters are hearing more about candidates they hadn't thought about (or even heard of) before. Everyone's commitment becomes plastic and voters enter a period where they're willing to be persuaded in a new direction. This would explain the shift from hard support to soft support, but does it account for the shift from soft support to non-support? That is, if someone is only weakly supporting a candidate does open-mindedness account for their movement away from that support?
No. This is where the actual loss in popularity (voter support) manifests itself. McCain and Giuliani's loss of soft support is indicative of...wait for it...a loss of support. McCain and Giuliani just aren't appealing enough to hold on to the high levels of support they once had.
The rub is that voters shifting from a period unthoughtful certitude to open-mindedness is not hitting Democratic candidates the same way it's damaging the McCain and Giuliani candidacies. Singer writes, "Hillary Clinton -- the only Democratic candidate polled both last year and this month -- did not see any significant shift in overall support, with her hard support falling 17 percent but her potential support dropping just 2 percent." Clinton kept her soft supporters, McCain and Giuliani lost theirs.
Singer thinks it is the downward trend - and not the gross numbers - for the top-tier Republican candidates that is most important in comparison to the Democratic numbers, which hold strong. While I agree that these numbers likely reflect a generic advantage for Democrats going into 2008, I think the shift in support is more likely connected to people getting to know McCain and Giuliani better and just not liking what they see. McCain is hated by the religious right and is a main proponent of escalating an unpopular war. Giuliani is considered too socially moderate for the Republican base and his recent propensity to equate New York City and Baghdad is pissing off more than a few voters. Both have marital histories littered with adultery, multiple marriages, and in Giuliani's case, a borderline incestuous marriage.
It's possible that the trends Singer highlights mean that McCain and Giuliani are not candidates who will gain voters as scrutiny increases. We shall see, but for now it's clear that the shine is wearing off from the McCain and Giuliani bandwagons.
Cross posted at The Right's Field