Last night, I complained about the repetitive nature of the questioning at the debates. For the third straight debate, Rudy Giuliani had to state his position on abortion, and Mitt Romney had to answer for his change of position over the last two-plus years. As it turns out, though, CNN may have had a good reason to ask the same plodding questions over and over again, as Pew Research discovered that less than half of the voters have paid attention:
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted May 30-June 3 among 1,503 adults, finds that overall voter engagement in the presidential campaign remains somewhat limited, despite intense press coverage of the race. Just 33% of all voters say they have given a lot of thought to the presidential candidates, up only modestly from December (27%). However, Republican voters have caught up with the Democrats in campaign engagement, after trailing in previous surveys.
Many voters are dimly aware of even heavily covered aspects of the candidates' positions and backgrounds. For instance, just 37% of all registered voters could correctly identify Giuliani as the leading Republican candidate who favors a woman's right to choose when it comes to abortion. Among Republican and Republican-leaning voters, just 43% correctly identified Giuliani.
Let's get this straight. Pollsters asked Republican voters which of the ten candidates supported abortion rights, and less than half of them selected Giuliani. Who did they think it was -- Mike Huckabee?
If anything, this makes it easier for Giuliani to recover from his stumble on this issue last month. If no one paid that much attention, his new strategy -- to bluntly declare his pro-choice political stance -- has a good chance of succeeding. It puts the rest of the field in opposition to him, but that works for Rudy, too. The primary race could come down to Rudy vs Conservative X, which at least keeps Rudy in the top two.
Fred Thompson got good news from this poll. Despite only having a 58% name recognition -- by far the lowest in the top tier -- he has 66% of the voters saying that they would vote for him, and 37% saying that the chances are good that Fred will get their vote. The latter number puts him in a tie with Rudy, and the former puts him ahead of everyone else but Rudy. Mitt Romney gets an overall 60%, which is an improvement from the last poll. McCain gets a 65% overall, but only 20% give him the "good chance" rating.
The no-chance numbers are even more interesting. Despite the sense that Giuliani had been alienating some Republicans, only 20% claim that he has "no chance" of getting their primary votes. That's the lowest number in the field, followed by Fred's 24%, although it did rise from 15% in the February poll. Romney has 32% of the voters set against him, and Newt Gingrich surprisingly has 46% who would refuse to support him. McCain only has 28%, but that number ticked up rather than down since February.
Right now, it looks like a three-man race -- but with Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney challenging Rudy for the nomination. McCain seems to have lost some momentum, and given his high name recognition, he may not have much in reserve to get it back.