So Huckabee’s national lead has gone away over the weekend. Obviously, daily changes in national polling are going to fluctuate back and forth and probably have no predictive value whatever. Their main function is to measure media coverage and shifts in momentum among the different campaigns, and so they are useful in that respect. Their basic worthlessness as a gauge of actual voting intention come early January is one reason to disbelieve pro-Giuliani arguments about his chances; the other reason would be Giuliani’s actual numbers in all of the early states. (Naturally, similar speculation about Huckabee–and I have had some fun with this myself–is probably just as groundless, but there is the crucial caveat that Huckabee is currently polling as the leader in two of the first six states and he is polling second in two others, which currently makes him the strongest candidate on paper going into the start of the new year.) At this stage in 2003, Howard Dean and Wesley Clark sat atop the national polls with numbers not so different from Giuliani and Huckabee’s, so based on that example there may be reason to hope that neither one will advance very far. It seems to me that if the GOP nominates Giuliani, Romney, McCain or Huckabee it will deeply demoralise key parts of the party’s base, ensuring even weaker turnout and defeat, and the same may be true of the (now even more unlikely) nomination of Thompson.
P.S. Meanwhile, that Newsweek poll with the extravagant 22-point Huckabee lead may not have been quite as out of line as many have (reasonably) suggested. It is still an exaggeration of Huckabee’s strength, but it does reflect what seems to be a real erosion in Romney’s support. Mason-Dixon released a poll showing Huckabee leading 32-20 (margin of error +/- 5%). Perhaps of some additional significance is the gap that seems to be opening up between the next two candidates: Thompson at 11, Giuliani at 5. If this is right, Thompson is remaining more or less where he has been, while Giuliani is losing what little support he has had. More embarrassing for the ex-mayor is that he is trailing McCain by two points. (Unfortunately for our candidate, only 2% back Ron Paul according to this.)
When looked at in more detail, the Mason-Dixon results are just weird in some places. Unsurprisingly, Huckabee wins among “born-again” Christians 42-8 over Romney (and narrowly loses among those who are not “born-again”), but inexplicably leads among voters who think ”national security and terrorism” is the most important issue and among voters who think immigration is the most important. Again, unsurprisingly, he leads among morality/family values voters by a staggering margin. In short, on the three general issues that are most important to Iowan Republicans, Huckabee has somehow become the leader virtually overnight. Voters who want a general election winner in November prefer Huckabee, as do voters who emphasise leadership as the most important quality in a candidate (what leadership has Huckabee shown that they would have ever heard about?). Huckabee leads among both those who favour a “hard-line” approach to immigration (meaning deportation plus enforcement against employers) and a “comprehensive” (i.e., weak) approach. The most baffling part is that he leads among the “hard-line” voters (who make up the majority of the respondents) by a larger margin (15 points) than he does among the others (7 points). Romney has bigger immigration problems than the people his landscaper hires. After a year of pretending to care about illegal immigration and adopting all the right rhetoric that should please the “hard-line” voter, he is losing (badly) to another former governor who used to be even more pro-amnesty and pro-immigration than he was. This simply makes no sense. According to this poll, over half of Iowa caucus-goers want the government to deport illegal immigrants and they are backing a candidate who is one of the least likely to ever consider doing anything like that. It also makes no sense that Tancredo isn’t doing a little bit better than he is (2% overall and only 4% among the “hard-line” voters). Perhaps craziest of all, those who think the economy is on “the right track” favour Huckabee by 18 points over Romney, while those who think it is on “the wrong track” just barely prefer Romney. Didn’t these people get the memo that Huckabee is the economic populist supposedly worried about the woes of Main Street and Romney is the optimistic venture capitalist who thinks things are in fine shape?
Adding still more to the insanity, Rasmussen now shows Huckabee marginally ahead in what is effectively a three-way tie in Michigan. Yes, I know Huckabee has no money, and I know he has no organisation, so all of this is probably just so much fluff, but it has to say something about how truly uninterested Republican voters are in the others that Huckabee can so effortlessly vault into contention in every primary in the country.