A softening of underlying confidence in Rudolph W. Giuliani, including some damage on the abortion issue, could hearten his current -- and future -- opponents for the Republican presidential nomination.
Giuliani's hardly in trouble; he maintains large leads over his opponents on key personal attributes including leadership and electability. But he's lost ground on empathy, honesty and inspiration; his support is not strong -- and a third of Republicans now flatly rule him out because of his position on abortion, up from just under a quarter earlier this year.
Giuliani remains the Republican frontrunner, with overall candidate preferences stable compared with an ABC News/Washington Post poll in mid-April. But just 36 percent of his supporters are "strongly" for him, and his backing is notably lower among conservatives -- a core Republican group -- than among moderates. Indeed, it's moderate Republicans (and the party's relatively few liberals) who propel Giuliani to a clear lead.
On the Democratic side of the 2008 contest, Hillary Clinton continues to lead on most personal attributes and in voter preferences alike, with no significant changes in her or Barack Obama's positions. Support has slipped slightly for John Edwards.
Clinton owes her frontrunner status to women; they're much more apt than men to favor her for the nomination, and significantly more likely to pick her from among the leading candidates as the best on a range of personal attributes. Democratic women, for example, are 16 points more likely than men to pick Clinton over Obama as the "most inspiring" candidate. (Men are nine points more likely than women to pick Obama as inspirational.)
And 53 percent of Clinton's supporters are "strongly" for her, substantially higher, for example, than Giuliani's strong support.
A potential concern for Clinton is that she does best with less-educated Democrats, whose turnout is less assured; another is that Obama leads her on honesty and trustworthiness. Still, experience is her trump card, she remains competitive with Obama among African-Americans, does best with committed Democrats (as opposed to Democratic-leaning independents) and stands the most to gain if Al Gore stays away.
The candidates meet in another of their debates this week -- the Democrats tonight, the Republicans on Tuesday.
There's room in the Republican race for Fred Thompson, the ex-senator-turned-actor who's climbing into the contest. Including Thompson (and leaving out former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who's flirted with the race but not committed), Giuliani has 34 percent support among leaned Republicans, John McCain 20 percent, Thompson 13 and Mitt Romney 10. Each is within three points of his mid-April position.
Among the Democrats, setting aside Gore, Clinton has 42 percent support, Obama 27 percent and Edwards 11 percent. Edwards did six points better in April.
None of the other candidates, in the Republican or Democratic contest, receives more than two percent support. Results are essentially the same (within two points on all candidates) for the subset of leaned Republicans and leaned Democrats who report being registered to vote.
Focusing on the two leading candidates underscores both their stronger and less strong suits. Clinton's supported by 51 percent of women vs. 32 percent of men. Indeed, among men only, Clinton and Obama are essentially tied.
Clinton wins support from 47 percent of African-Americans (Obama, 42 percent) and 38 percent of whites (Obama, 25 percent). Clinton does 12 points better with Democrats than with Democratic-leaning independents, and 18 points better with those who haven't gone beyond high school than with college graduates.
For Giuliani, the most notable gap is ideological: He does 18 points better with moderate or liberal Republicans than with conservatives. Indeed, among conservatives, Giuliani and McCain are virtually even, with 27 and 21 percent support, respectively; it's among moderates (and the relatively few liberal Republicans) that Giuliani takes the clear lead.
Giuliani's comparative weakness among conservatives looks linked to his past support for legal abortion and gay civil unions. Overall, half of leaned Republicans say they're less likely to support him given this issue; among conservatives that rises to 60 percent, nearly twice its level among moderate and liberal Republicans.
Further, among those less likely to support Giuliani because of these issues, two-thirds (67 percent) say there's no chance they'd vote for him -- up from 49 percent earlier this year. Again, conservatives are twice as likely as moderate or liberal Republicans to rule out Giuliani entirely on the basis of abortion and gay marriage.
Giuliani has very sizable leads over McCain and Romney (the two against whom he was tested in this poll) on several personal attributes -- being able to handle a crisis, being the strongest leader, most inspiring and having the best chance to win. But it's a much closer call against McCain on being the most honest and trustworthy candidate, and McCain has the edge on having the best experience.
As noted, Giuliani's score on several of these is down from February, with the decline occurring mainly among conservatives, evangelical white Protestants and women. Moreover, across all these attributes his ratings among conservative Republicans are nine to 18 points lower than they are among moderate and liberal Republicans.
McCain, for his part, has lost some ground on one attribute: There's been a 12-point decline in the number of Republicans who think he's best able to win in November -- 22 percent now vs. 34 percent in February. On the other hand, fewer Republicans now say they're less likely to vote for a candidate for president who's older than 72, as McCain will be next year.
Among the top Democratic candidates, Clinton leads Obama and Edwards particularly on the related qualities of experience, leadership and trust to handle a crisis, as well as on electability and closeness on the issues. She and Obama are close on their inspirational qualities -- with the divisions noted above; and the category of honesty and trustworthiness is a clear Clinton weakness.
War and Bush
Democrats are nearly twice as likely as Republicans to cite the war in Iraq as the most important issue in their vote, and much less likely to cite terrorism. (Other top issues for Democrats are the economy and health care, while Republicans divide among the economy, immigration, "leadership" and abortion.)
Indeed views on the war, and on George W. Bush, pose an interesting tightrope for Republican candidates. Despite his unpopularity more broadly, two-thirds of leaned Republicans (65 percent) nonetheless say Bush is leading his party in the right direction. And nearly four in 10 say they're more likely to favor a presidential candidate who supports Bush's policies in Iraq.
On the other hand, independents -- the key swing voters in presidential politics -- are by a 3-1 margin more likely to oppose than support a candidate who backs Bush on Iraq. The trick for Republican candidates, then, is to steer close enough to Bush to please the party -- but not so close as to ill-position themselves for the general election.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone May 29-June 1, 2007, among a random national sample of 1,205 adults, including an oversample of African-Americans for a total of 284 black respondents. The results have a three-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.
For more ABC News polls visit the Poll Vault at http://abcnews.com/pollvault.html.