The CNN national poll showing McCain with a big lead has some other interesting numbers. Either this poll is badly wrong, or the reason why McCain and Huckabee are doing so well is that…most Republicans approve of them and many are excited about them relative to their competitors. To this you will say, “Yeah, obviously, Larison. That’s redundant!” Yet to listen to conservative pundits, talk show hosts and self-anointed pulse-takers of “the base,” you would think that McCain and Huckabee are radioactive. They are coalition-killers! I would have assumed the same thing myself given the virtual unanimity of activists on this point, but the effect of the nomination of either one is actually better than would be the case if Giuliani or Romney were nominated.
When asked how they would feel after the nomination of each candidate, 31% said they would be enthusiastic about McCain, 46% would be satisfied, 18% would be dissatisfied and only 5% would be upset. It seems as if that 5% is overwhelmingly concentrated in conservative media outlets and activists in their audiences. For Huckabee, the numbers are revealing: 20/52/20/7. Only 7% would be upset with the huckster, whom we have been assured would rend the coalition to bits. For Giuliani the numbers are similar: 21/49/21/8. Romney understandably generates the least enthusiasm and satisfaction put together (14/50) and the highest dissatisfied + upset number (27/6). The choice of many movement conservatives, the champion of the three-legged stool, Romney apparently rallies the GOP less effectively than any of the others. These numbers have obviously changed since November and could always change back (Romney and Giuliani have lost ground in generating an enthusiastic response), but if you were designing the GOP ticket with party unity and enthusiasm as your only criteria you would, bizarrely, be pushed towards selecting McCain or Huckabee. The last one of the four you would select would be Romney. This intuitively makes sense to me, since I think Romney is awful, but it really calls into question the judgement that he is the most “viable” in the field. They did not poll for Thompson, of course, since he is drawing 6% in this national poll, so we don’t if Thompson would generate more or less enthusiasm than Romney as a would-be nominee.
P.S. The Iowa and New Hampshire outcomes seem to have decisively helped the winners in changing attitudes towards them. Not only has McCain seen a big jump in enthusiasm, but far fewer would be dissatisfied/upset with his nomination today than was the case in November. For Huckabee, as he has become better-known, enthusiasm and satisfaction have increased, and the negatives have decreased. That suggests that the concerted anti-Huckabee campaign has failed to damage him and may have generated sympathy for him.