Polls That Move and Polls That Don’t

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We've been seeing a lot more movement in the polls in the Republican race for president than in the Democratic. Stark evidence for that proposition comes from the Rasmussen Report's weekly updates. On Monday came Rasmussen's numbers in the Democratic race: Clinton 37 percent, Obama 25, Edwards 11. That's Edwards's lowest number since the poll reported February 19, but all three candidates have been running within a narrow range starting February 26: Clinton between 32 and 38, Obama between 25 and 33, Edwards between 11 and 18. Rasmussen showed Obama tied with Clinton on April 23 and 2 points ahead on April 30. The latest numbers show Clinton near the top of her February-June range and Obama and Edwards at the bottom of theirs.

We see much more instability in the Republican race. The numbers Rasmussen released Tuesday are a shocker: Giuliani 24 percent, Thompson 24, McCain 11, Romney 11. Thompson is running significantly ahead of where he has been in Rasmussen's surveys since his name was first included (in the results reported April 3). Giuliani is running significantly below the 33-37 percent level he had during most of February and March. McCain's 11 percent is his lowest number yet, and Romney's 11 percent must be disappointing to him after the 15-16 percent he was registering in the preceding three weeks.

Some Democratic columnists have noted, with just a bit of glee, that Democratic primary voters are more satisfied with their party's candidates than Republican primary voters are with theirs. That's an accurate observation, I think, and it's underscored by the apparent greater fluidity of Republican voters (or the greater viscosity of Democratic voters). Thompson is evidently seen by some Republican voters as the candidate they've been looking for, with a reliably conservative record over some period of time. Or the putative candidate, since he hasn't officially announced yet, although there's no doubt he's running.

It's not clear whether Thompson will hold up and prove to be what some significant number of voters think he is. It's not clear either that he's as strong a general election candidate as Giuliani and, to a lesser extent, McCain have been in general election polls. The generic Republican brand right now is a loser. Giuliani and, to a lesser extent, McCain sell better than the generic Republican brand. Thompson doesn't, which may only mean that he is not as well known. But Republicans this cycle, like Democrats in the 2003-04 cycle, sense that their party is behind and want a candidate capable of winning. Can Fred Thompson demonstrate that he can?