[Washington Babylon ]Questions for Pollster John Zogby About the 2008 Campaign | Harper's Magazine

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[Washington Babylon]

Questions for Pollster John Zogby About the 2008 Campaign


John Zogby, president and CEO of Zogby International, is one of the country’s best-known pollsters. I recently interviewed him at his Washington office about next year’s elections.

What is current state of race? Is it likely that the nominations for both parties will be locked up after the February 5th Super Tuesday votes?
Everything could be over by February 5th, but it’s still early. People are only now really starting to pay attention. Phase one is over, which was based on name recognition. So on the Republican side Giuliani has been leading in the national polls, of course, and Mitt Romney was ahead in Iowa and New Hampshire, because he spent millions of dollars. And Hillary Clinton has been leading on the Democratic side, of course. Now there are rumblings. John Edwards and Barack Obama are very competitive in Iowa. On the other side there’s the rise of Mike Huckabee, along with the question of whether Romney set the expectations bar too high for himself by leading by so much so early.

Who are the frontrunners at this point?
There are no clear frontrunners. Giuliani and Clinton are still ahead in the national polls but there is no national vote–it’s a sequential process. Anything is conceivable. But we do know that if Giuliani or Romney flag in the early states, they will still have plenty of money for February 5th, and the same is true for Obama and Hillary. That’s not true for the other candidates.

How far can Mike Huckabee go?
Conservatives have been looking for a candidate and he comes pretty close to what they want. He’s a genuine conservative with appeal to evangelicals, and even to independents and some Democrats. They see him as affable, the type of guy you can do business with. But he has no money or organization and there’s a premium on both this year because the schedule is so tight. So where does he go after Iowa if he does well there? Maybe he gets a bounce in New Hampshire and South Carolina, but will he have the money to be competitive on February 5th? He may get some money if he wins in the early states–there is a lot of Republican money that’s still holding back–but we’ve never had a situation like this year where you’ve already had a year of intense campaigning and there’s such a tight schedule for the primaries.

Are you surprised by the fact that Fred Thompson hasn’t done as well as many people expected?
I called the Freddy Fizzle back in May because he never gave a compelling reason for running–his numbers were artificially inflated because Republicans were generally unhappy with the field.

Are there any independent candidates who could seriously impact the shape of the campaign?
Three could matter if they decided to run: Michael Bloomberg, Lou Dobbs, and Ralph Nader. No one else is on the horizon right now. With Bloomberg, if you have a dream and $1 billion to spend it’s amazing what you can achieve. When we ask people what characteristics they are looking for in a president, the top three are a competent manager, the ability to work with the opposition, and someone who can command the armed forces. Bloomberg does well on all three, if you include his commanding the New York police and fire departments as mayor. If he runs and either party nominates a candidate who is seen as being too far to the fringes, Bloomberg could drive a truck through the middle, he could win 30 to 35 percent in some key states. Under certain circumstances, I would not rule out a Bloomberg victory. It depends on the major party nominees, who might prove tiresome, especially if the nominations are wrapped up early in the year.

When we ask Christian conservatives who have someone in their family with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, or ALS, support for stem cell research goes up 25 percent.

And Nader and Dobbs?
We saw in 2000 that if you’re looking at a competitive election between a Democrat and a Republican, one or two percent of the vote matters. And we probably are looking at a competitive race in 2008, especially if Hillary Clinton is the nominee since she generates a lot of hostility. Our latest polls show that Hillary is weaker, in terms of electability, than Obama or Edwards. Obama is ahead of all five of the top Republican candidates and Edwards is tied or ahead of all five. Hillary is running behind all five. So if it’s competitive and you have Nader driving a few percentage points on the left or Lou Dobbs getting a few points from conservatives, it could make a big difference.

If Giuliani is the nominee does he stand a chance of surprising in any blue states?
I don’t think so. He has tilted so far to the right and there’s a perception of mean-spiritedness about him. He’s seen as having been a successful mayor in New York but he alienated half the city and it was only 9/11 that revived his image. He could win the presidency but of the Republican candidates out there, he’s the least likely to win a blue state. He would not win New York against any of the Democrats.

If Obama is the nominee, could he win any red states, especially in the South?
Obama wins the lion’s share of younger voters and would heighten turnout among them. And instead of winning 88 to 90 percent of the African-American vote, which Gore and Kerry got, he gets 93 to 94 percent. That could be critical in some red southern states, notably North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, and even Mississippi. He could definitely win a southern state.

Will Republicans be able to get good mileage, as they have in the past, out of social issues?
Gods, guns, and gonads have helped the Republicans but those issues aren’t going to be as potent this time around. New social issues are emerging and causing little earthquakes. There’s global warming, which might lead to some crossover voting among Christian evangelicals, who are very concerned about that issue and some might go Democratic. Health care is a big issue for Christian conservatives and for blue-collar voters who previously supported Reagan and Clinton. For a lot of people, health care costs are the difference between being working-class and middle-class. A third social issue is embryonic stem cell research. That could be off the table because of technology advances, but if it’s not, it could be important. Christian conservatives tell us overwhelmingly they oppose it but it’s interesting: when we ask Christian conservatives who have someone in their family with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, or ALS, support for stem cell research goes up 25 percent. Personalities are going to be a big issue too. If Hillary Clinton is the nominee, a voter would have to be 46 years old to have voted in a presidential election where their choice wasn’t a Bush or a Clinton. We’re starting to see a bit of that in Iowa.

What about Iraq?
That’s still the top issue for voters in both parties right now, but it’s fallen from being the top position for 56 to 60 percent of voters a few months ago to 28 percent in our last poll. There’s some Iraq fatigue. Translated, that means there’s a dead rat in the kitchen but no one knows how to get rid of it–voters are not hearing how to get out of Iraq. The mega-issue is the economy. In our last poll, that was the top issue for 26 percent, and health care, which is basically an economic issue, was the top for 24 percent. Democrats have a distinct advantage on the economy because they are identified more as being the party of middle America. Whether they take advantage of that remains to be seen. Immigration is another mega-issue. Right now it is also a plus for the Democrats–if they hold their ground and refuse to let the Republicans define the issue. The sheer numbers of Hispanic voters–about 13 million in 2008–plus the fact that they could be energized to vote, should help the Democrats.

How bad do things look for the GOP in terms of the congressional elections?
Republicans are entering 2008 with both hands tied behind their backs. They have disadvantages on the issues and in regard to the numbers of senate seats in play. A growing number of Republican senators have retired and some of those states are going to be competitive, and in some of them Republicans are going to have to defend seats they didn’t plan on defending. At the same time, Congress’s job approval ratings are at record lows and it’s hard for Democrats to say “Send us back and give us a bigger majority,” because there is a lot of disillusionment towards the Democratic Congress among independents and Democrats. The Democrats have not ended the war in Iraq and have not made big achievements–it’s hard to run by making excuses and blaming the other guy. Also, the Democrats will not be running against George Bush as president. There will be a fresh face and someone promising change, because no Republican is going to really run under the Bush banner. So it’s possible that the Democrats will make gains–but not as much as people are thinking today.

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