Confronting the Name ID Argument
The most common objection to my pro-Rudy analysis is the Name ID argument. Which basically boils down to:
1) Rudy's high poll numbers are driven by his near-total name recognition and the fact that he hasn't been in the public eye much. Once people find out about X, Y, and Z, his favorable numbers will go down.
2) No one knows about My Candidate yet. Once people find out about X, Y, and Z, his favorable numbers will go up.
Let's take the different components of this argument one by one. And you'd be surprised to know that I agree with much if not most of it.
Will Rudy's favorable numbers go down once he announces?
Probably. If for the simple reason that they have nowhere to go but down.
So, RudyBlogger, is the sky falling?
Nope, not quite. In fact, this happens to most candidates throughout the course of a general election campaign. They establish a first beachhead of recognition with a big breakthrough win, and that is gradually whittled away at once they start aggressively campaigning and are attacked in earnest. It's happened to every non-incumbent Presidential nominee in modern memory. Eventually, people need to choose sides, either for or against, and people need to rationalize their against votes by moving into the unfavorable column.
What differentiates Rudy is that he starts out so high. He has plenty of room to fall. McCain is already near the breaking point with Republicans. Hillary is at the breaking point with the general electorate. And all of them will take a favorability hit once they start campaigning, not just Rudy.
Won't Rudy's numbers just utterly tank when people find out X, Y, and Z about him?
I'm betting no, at least no more so than a normal candidate who is being re-exposed to the limelight.
What makes me so confident in making this prediction? It's easy. Once someone has established a certain image, and held on to it for so long, it's unlikely to transform into something totally different. Secular factors like being in and out of the public eye may make it fluctuate, but within the same broad range.
Look at Bush's favorables over time. No matter what he does, he'll probably never be loved by more than 51% of the population. Even as his job approval bottomed out earlier this year, his favorable / unfavorable numbers stayed more constant. McCain's fav/unfav probably saw more rapid change in the six weeks when the live bullets were flying in 2000 than in the six years since. Rudy's numbers changed with a transformative event five years ago, and haven't changed much since. Public perceptions of these two are already well formed, and it will be much harder to change perceptions of them than it will be for a lesser known candidate. Both will see natural declines as they re-enter the arena, but the guy with the higher ratings (especially amongst Republicans) still has the natural advantage.
Yeah, Yeah, but isn't Rudy especially vulnerable?
Let's say I'm skeptical that the deeply personal, gut-level connection Rudy has established with voters will be dislodged by repetition of a standard litany of issues. Anti-Rudyites are going to have to swiftboat him on something else. Not saying it's not possible, just unlikely based on the strategy that currently seems to be unfolding.
Won't Romney, Huckabee,
Allen, et al. go up once people find out about them?
Yes! I freely admit this!
Or at least it's possible. They can't all go up. They can't all catch fire. But yes -- one of these guys is bound to impress or become a media darling, which will be an early indicator or a surprise showing in one of the early states, which will be the prelude to big national numbers.
Right now, I agree that the most logical contender is Mitt Romney though we all know how quickly that can change and someone can be Macaca'd out the race.
So how do things shake out?
Probably one of the media frontrunners will survive. They always do. There's a reason supporters of dark-horse candidates always go home disappointed.
But the real question about 2008 is: which frontrunner? Can they both survive? Doubtful. McCain starts off the campaign with a hardcore 41% of Republicans who will not vote for him. Because he's been in the public eye so long, he's unlikely to convince very many of them to change. Rudy starts out with nearly 7 in 10 Republicans willing to at least hear him out. We've seen how McCain already starts falling into the teens with the most intense primary voters, and how he bleeds support to Mitt Romney moreso than Rudy.
Based on all this, I still stand by my prediction of a Rudy-Romney race. McCain fails to make headway with conservatives and eventually just hits a wall (and Republicans have no shortage of electable options at this point). Romney keeps wowing folks. And Rudy is dented by picks up residual McCain support to be a contender till the end.