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An In Depth Look at Who Votes & Decides the GOP Primaries: A Commentary by Douglas Schoen

by Douglas Schoen

Rasmussen Reports polling has recently shown Fred Thompson leading the race for the Republican Presidential Nomination while most other polls place Rudy Giuliani in the lead and Thompson in second.

The difference is primarily the result of the fact that Rasmussen screens for Likely Primary Voters while others do not. Understanding this difference leads one to conclude that the conventional wisdom is currently overestimating Giuliani’s strength as a potential nominee.

For example, the latest Gallup Poll of adults shows Rudy Giuliani leading Thompson by eight percentage points, 30% to 22%. That poll also shows John McCain in third place with 18% of the vote, well ahead of Mitt Romney at 7%.

But, of course, we know that all adults don’t show and vote… especially in a party primary. When Gallup considers the results “Among Republicans Who are Extremely Likely to Vote in the Primary/Caucus in Their State,” Giuliani’s lead shrinks to three points, 29% to 26%.

It gets even more interesting when Gallup combines their last four surveys and takes a look at the more informed voters. Gallup says “Indeed, among Republicans who have an opinion of the four leading candidates -- less than half the party base -- the ballot looks very different, with Thompson at 33% support, Giuliani at 26%, Romney at 15%, and McCain at 10%.”

Those Gallup numbers are very similar to the Rasmussen numbers. Not only does Gallup’s sample of informed voters show Thompson ahead of Giuliani, they also match Rasmussen by showing Romney ahead of McCain.

Why does Gallup’s sample of informed voters look so much like the Rasmussen sample of Likely Voters? Because those more informed voters are precisely the kind of people who show up and vote in a primary.

The fact that a Likely Voter sample shows more support for Thompson than a sample of all adults also makes intuitive sense because we know that primary voters tend to be somewhat more conservative that Republicans in general. And, as Rasmussen data has shown, Thompson is perceived by voters as the most conservative candidate seeking the GOP nomination.

The implications of this analysis are clear: Fred Thompson is in a much stronger position among the people who will actually decide Republican primaries and caucuses than most observers understand. And Rudy Giuliani's support is sufficiently soft and is made up in part of voters who are attracted to his celebrity and have a much lower likelihood of actually voting.

Douglas Schoen is a founding and former partner of Penn Schoen & Berland, and a Fox News Contributor.

Schoen was President Bill Clinton's research and strategic consultant during the 1996 reelection campaign.

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