Sunday, November 18, 2007

In Which I Attempt to Cheer Up Steve M.

Or, perhaps, encourage further shocking displays of irrational exuberance1 on his part. One or the other.

Anyway, a while back a lot of people were talking about Clinton's 'ceiling'--the percentage of people who would never vote for her--and treating it as a nearly insuperable obstacle in the general (with one wingnut blogger saying flat-out that she's unelectable). And yes, nobody who has lived through the last 15 years could fail to have noticed that there is a sizable (and very vocal) percentage of the population that hates her with a fiery passion.

And that got me wondering what the 'ceiling' was for other candidates--particularly because I had a gut feeling that the top Republican candidates had at least as much of a problem.

What I found at Polling Report were two polls taken about 6 weeks apart, with slightly different wording, showing remarkably consistent results. First the poll (scroll down) that asks the exact question I was looking for, taken September 27-30. Here are the percentages that "definitely would not" vote for the following candidates:

Hillary Clinton 41
John Edwards 43
Rudy Giuliani 44
John McCain 45
Barack Obama 39
Mitt Romney 57
Fred Thompson 54
And here's a more recent poll (scroll down), taken November 2-4, that asks which candidates respondents would be "unlikely" to vote for:
Barack Obama 47
Hillary Clinton 48
Rudy Giuliani 49
John Edwards 50
John McCain 54
Fred Thompson 61
Mitt Romney 64
And here's a graph of the two results (blue is "unlikely", red is "definitely would not"), ordered by the "definitely would not" number:
(Click on image for full size version)

Note that all three top Democrats have a lower "definitely would not" number (i.e., a higher theoretical 'ceiling') than all four top Republicans. Among the Democrats, Edwards has the highest "unlikely" number (at 50%); of the Republicans, only Giuliani is below 50% (at 49%). Two of the Republicans (Thompson and Romney) have a majority saying they "definitely would not" vote for them. In other words, as 'unpopular' as Clinton is, all of the Republicans (including Giuliani) are even more unpopular.

It's possible that the highest numbers (Thompson's and Romney's) reflect unfamiliarity with the candidates--in which case, their numbers may be more 'generic Republican' than Romney or Thompson as such. That said, I'm pretty sure Romney's actual numbers are around there; a sizable percentage of the GOP base simply will not vote for a Mormon, even if Clinton is the alternative. Giuliani is, not surprisingly, apparently the most competitive Republican--but even he has a pretty low ceiling.

Don't expect the narrative to change anytime soon, of course. The visceral hatred of Clinton is such an established part of the landscape that every poll gets fit into the frame of her 'unpopularity'--even when she consistently polls ahead of every Republican. The reality, though, is that it's the Republicans who are unpopular--within as well as outside of their own party.

1That's a joke.