Calling Bullshit On The Blogosphere's National Trial Heat Narrative
by Chris Bowers, Tue Jan 30, 2007 at 01:10:44 PM EST
Anyone currently dismissing Clinton's massive national trial heat advantage as a figment of name recognition is simply not familiar either with the totality of current national poll numbers or with the numbers from this point in the campaign four years ago. If you think all other candidates need to do is introduce themselves, then you are just wrong. If you think this is the same thing as Lieberman's lead in early 2003, then you have seriously underestimated the task facing virtually all non-Clinton candidates. While not insurmountable, Clinton's national lead over everyone not named Obama is far more significant than Lieberman's lead was in early 2003, and as such will be far more difficult for other candidates to overcome.
Read the analysis in the extended entry.
National Name Recognition, November 2002--February 2003
Lieberman: 68% across six polls
Gephardt: 61% across seven polls (7 behind)
Kerry: 46% across seven polls (22 behind)
Edwards: 32% across five polls (36 behind)
Dean: 20% across five polls (48 behind)
As you can see, apart from Gephardt, Lieberman was well ahead of the field. In fact, compared to Clinton's current advantage on Edwards, Gore and Obama, he was even further ahead than she is now:
National Name Recognition, November 2006--January 2007
Gore: 97% across two polls
Clinton: 96% across nine polls (1 behind)
Edwards: 80% across four polls (17 behind)
Obama: 63% across nine polls (34 behind)
Biden: 49% across three polls (48 behind)
Richardson: 35% across two polls (62 behind)
Kucinich: 27% across one poll (70 behind)
Dodd: 25% across two polls (72 behind)
Vilsack: 19% across one poll (78 behind)
There are currently no polls for either Wesley Clark or Mike Gravel. Even without their numbers, you can see that while well known, Clinton is not even the best known candidate in the field. Gore actually has slightly higher name recognition than Clinton, and Edwards is not far behind. Apart from the second tier, only Obama arguably faces a truly large name recognition gap on Clinton.
Now, let's look at the average of the fifteen national trial heats from the same point in the 2004 campaign, excluding those polls that included either Clinton or Gore:
National Trial Heats, December 2002--February 2003
As you can see, Lieberman was ahead, but his lead was nowhere near what Clinton's is right now. Here are the eight national trial heats from this January, looking only at the current "top-tier":
National Trial Heats, January 2007
Considering that Gore is just as well known as Clinton, but is a whopping 23% behind in national trial heats, his deficit clearly has nothing to do with name recognition. Edwards also trails Clinton by more points in national trial heats (19%) than he trails by in terms of name recognition (16%). At this point in the campaign, he is further behind Clinton (19%) than Dean was behind Lieberman (18%), even though the name ID gap between Edwards and Clinton (16%) is just one-third of the name ID gap that separated Lieberman and Dean (48%). Of the "top tier," only Obama, who trials Clinton by an average of 13% in trial heats, and 33% in national name recognition, is much further behind in name ID than he is in national trial heats. Thus, right now it appears that only he is a position to catch Clinton in terms of name recognition alone.
By contrast to the current campaign, Kerry, Edwards and Dean all had Obama's opportunity to pass Lieberman in 2003 purely through higher name ID. Importantly, all eventually succeeded. Four years ago, among the candidates who at one time or another occupied the "top tier," only Gephardt trailed Lieberman by more in national trial heats than he trailed by in terms of name recognition. Instructively, unlike Kerry, Edwards and Dean, he never succeeded in clearly passing Lieberman in national trial heats. It is not a stretch to argue that candidates like Gore and Edwards face similar problems to Gephardt--actually worse--since their relative name ID / trial heat deficit is worse than Gephardt's (especially Gore's). And we all know how Gephardt's campaign turned out.
The lessons here should be clear. First, simple comparisons of Clinton's poll lead in early 2007 to Lieberman's lead in early 2003 do not hold up under scrutiny. Her lead in national trial heats in much larger than Lieberman's, despite a smaller advantage in name recognition (at least when compared to the so called "top-tier"). This means her lead is far more difficult to dismiss. Second, as I have indicated in the past, Obama is clearly in the best position to move up nationally, as he is in second place in national trial heats, despite being in last place among the "top tier" when it comes to name recognition. It also helps that he has a substantial netroots following, which will be a significant driving force behind any further upward movement on his part. Third, Clinton's recent rise corresponds not only with her announcement, but also with the continued downward trend for both Kerry and Gore. Her lead could thus grow even larger as she continues to draw soft supporters from other extremely high name recognition candidates. Check out the following chart from Pollster.com last week:
With the public's attention now sharply focused on announced candidates, Gore's poll performance will almost certainly continue to drop. Also, there have been precious few post-Kerry polls that truly reflect the distribution of his supporters now that he has announced he is not running. Clinton will, more than likely, receive a plurality, if not a majority, of these supporters.
Now, with that out of the way, I think it is time to finally start laying down some more realistic appraisals of Clinton's national poll lead than those often found within the current, dismissive attitude within the progressive, political blogosphere. Here is what could cause Clinton's lead to shrink, or even disappear:
- The rapid rise of one or more second tier candidates. If candidates currently sporting extremely low name recognition become far better known, Clinton's advantage will begin to shrink. However, it should be noted that such a rise will also draw supporters from other well known candidates. Also, I currently do not see the sort of grassroots, netroots, labor, or "demographic block" support that could propel anyone upward from the second tier at this point in time.
- Increased media focus on polls in early states. Polls from early states, especially Iowa, show a much tighter, and more scrambled race than the national picture. If established media outlets were to run as many polls of Iowa and New Hampshire as they run national polls, it would make a serious dent in any "inevitability" narrative surrounding Clinton, which would in turn lower her standing among soft supporters. However, considering the current, roughly 3-1 pace of national poll production to early state poll production, don't expect that to happen without a lot of outside pressure.
- The rise of Obama. As the only "top tier" candidate with the potential to catch Clinton solely via increased name recognition, if he continues to rise in name ID, expect Clinton's national poll lead to shrink.
- Real netroots and grassroots energy. If any non-Clinton candidate can make a series of strong, repeated demonstrations of grassroots and netroots support (or any other kind of non-insider activist support, such as labor or the immigrant marchers), the resulting energy will make the race a lot closer.
- Going negative. Since her lead isn't going to just entirely dry up on its own via name recognition from most of her opponents, in order for the current polling situation to substantially change, there needs to be a well developed, anti-Clinton narrative that is convincing to the Democratic rank and file. Note that attacking her personality or character won't work, given the repeated right-wing assaults on this front over the past fifteen years. Also, "electability" probably won't work either, since the Clinton's are largely loved in the rank and file for actually winning. It is going to have to be substantive--ideological, activist, or issue based.