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Friday, March 25, 2011

Who Will Take on Obama?

Which Republican is going to win the Republican nomination for president and the right to go up against President Obama next year?  That's an important but difficult question to answer because we don’t know for sure who is actually going to run for the GOP nod.  Some Republicans may be hesitating because they are not sure how beatable Obama will be.  I don't think they are going to have too much luck at this point in trying to figure that out, however.  It's simply too soon to tell how competitive Obama will be in his all-but-certain bid for re-election in 2012.

One basic measure that eventually will be useful in gauging Obama's probabilities of being re-elected will be his job approval rating.  This was at 48% as of Gallup’s last weekly average (March 14-20).  It's at 46% in Gallup’s latest daily update (three-day average of March 22-24).

What does this tell us? Not a lot. Bill Clinton's job approval rating was at a similar 46% in March 1995 and he went on to win handily in 1996 against Republican Bob Dole. On the other hand, George H.W. Bush had an amazing 84% job approval rating in March 1991. He went on to lose to Bill Clinton in 1992. 

Ronald Reagan was at an anemic 41% in March 1983, yet in November 1984 the former television and movie actor soundly defeated Democrat Walter Mondale.  Jimmy Carter in March 1979 and Gerald Ford in March 1975 had pretty lousy job approval ratings of 42% and 37% respectively.  Both lost their bids for re-election, Carter to Reagan and Ford to Carter.  Duke Law School graduate and World War II naval officer Richard Nixon had a 50% job approval rating in March 1991, and went on to crush Democrat George McGovern, himself a decorated World War II bomber pilot, in 1972.

In other words, it’s too early to make predictions based on where Obama's job approval rating stands today. Much can change over the next year and a half. The economy will be a big factor, probably the most important.  Obama's chances of winning re-election will become clearer at about this time next year.

Regardless, the siren call of a run for the presidency seems to have a compelling allure for politicians -- one that is difficult to squelch. Many prominent and not-so-prominent Republican politicians have not yet ruled out a possible run.

The potential GOP candidate with the highest Positive Intensity Score among Republicans at the moment is former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. The minister and former student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, sits above the rest of the GOP pack with a 25 Positive Intensity Score.  He enjoys name recognition second only to that of Sarah Palin.

But it’s not clear that Huckabee is going to run. He is building a big house on the Gulf Coast of Florida and has an apparently well-paying job as a commentator and host on Fox News, among other things. Observers see few signs that he is making the preparations usually considered necessary to mount a campaign.

Which brings us to Alaskan Sarah Palin, who has near-universal name identification among Republicans (97%), but who, at this point, is not generating excessive positive intensity (19). There have been no signs from her camp that she is running. Like Huckabee, she enjoys a nice income from Fox News and other entertainment and speech jobs.

Which brings us to the other two well-known Republicans, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. The former has both a law degree and an MBA from Harvard, the latter a Ph.D. in history from Tulane University. Most observers, including your current correspondent, would probably say that these two gentlemen are going to run. Gingrich has developed an exploratory website showing, naturally enough, that he is exploring the possibility of running. Well over 8 out of 10 Republicans recognize both men.  Neither at the moment is inspiring a great dealt of positive intensity from those who recognize them -- Gingrich with a Positive Intensity Score of 15 and Romney at 16.

Texas Congressman and physician Ron Paul is the other GOP candidate who is well-known, with 76% name identification, but a 14 Positive Intensity Score. 

Which brings us to the question of the moment. Can a relatively obscure Republican politician come from behind and win his or her party’s nomination for president?

One of the candidates who inspires passion from her followers is Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. Although she is recognized by only about half of Republicans nationwide, those who do recognize her have a relatively strong intensity in their views of the Winona State College graduate.  In fact, her Positive Intensity is behind only that of Mike Huckabee on our Gallup Positive Intensity Score scale.

Bachmann is making noise about being a potential candidate. She has done a fair job so far of raising her national name identification through judicious use of the national media, making controversial statements, and taking controversial positions. And, as noted, she has the quality that a lot of politicians would like to emulate -- she creates reactions.

Other, more obscure, Republicans who are probably running include Tim Pawlenty, former governor of Minnesota and graduate of the University of Minnesota. He is known by just about 4 out of 10 Republicans and has what I would typify as an average Positive Intensity Score (16). He doesn’t appear, at least not yet, to generate a great deal of passion. Pawlenty's ability to increase name identification and move up to the forefront of Republican candidates will need to be monitored carefully.

Another relatively obscure Republican is Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who received his law degree from the University of Mississippi. The native of Yazoo City has both low name identification and low positive intensity at this point.
Looking back in time, we just don’t see any recent examples of Republicans who climbed from obscurity to gain their party’s nomination. My colleague Lydia Saad took a look at the history of GOP races. The list of those who gained their party’s nomination in years in which there was not a GOP incumbent sitting at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and running for re-election include John McCain, George W. Bush, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Barry Goldwater, Dwight Eisenhower. All well known.

Jimmy Carter, of course, is the best example of someone on the other side of the aisle who did climb from relatively obscurity to gain his party’s nomination. In May 1975, a little further along in the 1976 election cycle than we are now in the 2012 cycle, Gallup gave Democrats a long list of people and asked them “which of these people have you heard something about?” Edward Kennedy led the list at 90%, while Democrats like George Wallace, Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, and Edmund Muskie all received more than 75% “yes” scores on the “heard about” question.

Carter? Only 23% said they had heard anything about this Georgia governor, U.S. Naval Academy graduate, and former submarine officer. Yet he went on to win his party’s nomination and the presidency in 1976.

So it can happen. The odds, however, appear tilted against one of the more obscure Republican candidates coming from behind to win their party's nomination.


Anonymous said...
March 26, 2011 at 6:53 PM  

And Jan 1 of 2009, Bush had an approval rating of 13% so that previous 83% didn't amount to much. Strange how soon people forget.

Anonymous said...
March 28, 2011 at 12:27 PM  

I believe for Nixon you meant March, 1971, not 1991.

It certainly does appear that some of the current conservative candidates creating excitement are smokescreens (i.e. Huckabee, Palin).

Gingrich may be true fiscal conservative, but I don't know that Gingrich can pass the morality test.

Romney on the other hand,I would think, appreciates 'flying under the radar' for now. I think he may realize that in his last campaign he started too early, and ended up running against an unanticipated liberal contender.

Seeing as how he had no real reason to withdraw from the last contest, he is likely the strongest contender. He also has the pedigree, and probably, has the ability to re-invent himself much like Nixon while demonstrating his Reagan-esque ability to work across the aisle. The question of whether or not he can win is still up in the air, but time is on his side.

Anonymous said...
March 30, 2011 at 7:24 PM  

Great article. Typo, though:

"Richard Nixon had a 50% job approval rating in March 1991."

marazm said...
April 8, 2011 at 7:34 AM  

Another relatively obscure Republican is Mississippi Gov. Some Republicans may be hesitating because they are not sure how beatable Obama will be.

Berenice said...
September 23, 2011 at 12:03 AM  

The person who thinks that some republicans are just putting on a show, has every right to worry and maybe even laugh a bit at how hard they're trying. If they're act fails they just keep making themselves look like idiots. The people running should worry less about how "beatable" Obama will be and focus more on which candidates they can beat. Some are simply thinking way too far ahead.

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