Washington Post/ABC News is out with a new poll (story here, full results here). The headline is that it shows Giuliani’s lead shrinking, and Clinton maintaining her lead. Another finding that has been noted is that a surprisingly high 54 percent of voters, and a third of Republicans, said they “wouldn’t consider voting for” Mitt Romney. (Seperately, his support jumped from 4 percent to 9 percent since the last poll, so he’s back to where he was in January). But I’d like to focus on the effect that Fred Thompson’s entrance would potentially have on the race, and this poll is particularly useful for that purpose.
Pollsters asked Thompson supporters who they would vote for if Thompson didn’t run. The results show that 37 percent would vote for Rudy, 22 percent would vote for McCain, 10 percent would vote for Romney, 7 percent for Gingrich, with the rest of the field fighting for crumbs. This is consistent with other polls showing Thompson eating into Giuliani’s margin.
Partly, the Thompson effect can be attributed to the fact that Giuliani has the highest poll numbers, so there’s statistically more votes to steal–it’s no coincidence that the preference order of the second choices of Thompson supporters tracks closely with the first choices of the general Republican electorate. But there’s more to it. When speculating about this, it’s helpful to think of attributes Giuliani has which overlap with Thompson’s attributes. As I have written before, I think that a certain amount of Giuliani’s support comes from conservatives who view him as the most electable, and who want a strong on defense alternative to McCain. Thompson, because of his charisma, acting background, and general likability, is seen as electable, he has taken strong stands on national security, and social conservatives don’t have to hold their noses when voting for him.
This doesn’t mean that supporters of rival camps should celebrate the entrance of Thompson into the race. If McCain, Romney, or anybody else hopes to win the nomination, they are going to have to peel away at the the softer support for Giuliani. Thompson’s entrance into the race would make that task a lot more difficult.