It’s Too Early to Be Measuring Voters’ Enthusiasm for the GOP Field

by John J. Pitney, Jr.

The Washington Post has some new poll numbers on the 2012 presidential race:

Less than half of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say they are satisfied with the field of GOP candidates. That field is still taking shape, but the sentiment is a big falloff from four years ago, when nearly two-thirds of Republicans were satisfied with their options.

However, the 2007 and 2011 figures are not really comparable. As of mid-April 2007, the field was already in place: of those who would make a serious effort, all but Fred Thompson had already filed with the FEC. (See the list here.) As of today, by contrast, only Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty even have “exploratory” committees. (See background here.) Pollsters cannot get a good measure of “satisfaction” with the field until people know who is actually running.

The Post report adds: “Lack of enthusiasm for the candidates came in other measures, as well. When Republicans and GOP-leaners were asked who they would vote for in a primary or caucus, only former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney registered in double digits, with 16 percent.” But is the issue a lack of enthusiasm or simple lack of familiarity? Last month, the Post poll found that a majority of Republicans had no opinion of Barbour, Pawlenty, Huntsman, or Daniels. Once candidates enter the race in earnest, the numbers will change. Who will rise and who will fall? Nobody knows. That’s why we have campaigns.

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