Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Clinton < 50% vs. Ron Paul

Hillary Clinton can't seem to break 50% in a hypothetical head-to-head throw down with Ron Paul. Not among people who know who Paul is. Not among people who have no idea who Paul is. Says Patrick Ruffini: "[T]his is the most compelling evidence I’ve seen that we’re back to the 50-50 divide that marked our politics from 2000-2006."

Ruffini's assessment of the Rassmussen poll seems reasonable given Clinton's moderate views of the world and Paul's, um, "eccentric" policy positions, but I wouldn't be so quick to conclude that this horse race will come down to a photo finish. Team Clinton has taken the long view of building support by building a sense of inevitability among voters and so far it's worked. She faced some stiff competition in the Democratic primary and has slowly widened the gap between her and Obama and Edwards and there's every reason to assume that she will be using the same strategy against her general election opponent.

That being said, the same kind of sharp polarization that Karl Rove manipulated to great success in 2004 may be a current by-product of a apparent Hillary Clinton nomination, but one that could change in the future, according to Charlie Cook:

The pattern from the polls is clear: Clinton never wins big, generally holding a lead of 2 to 8 points over Giuliani and 10 to 13 points over Romney. But her leads are consistent. She has a high floor and a low ceiling, like a stock with a fairly narrow trading range. She doesn't trail, but she doesn't ever blow the Republican opposition away, either.

What seems to be happening is that Hillary Clinton is not really becoming more likable, she is becoming less unacceptable. She doesn't seem to convert people so much as wear down their opposition to her.

Hillary Clinton may evoke a divisive split among public opinion at the moment, but she's going to grind out her opposition and slowly try to erode any voter objection to her during this campaign. We may be experiencing a 50-50 divide now, but it's entirely reasonable to suggest that this split will slowly and undramatically begin to tilt in Clinton's favor during the next 12 months.

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