Gallup is out with a poll today on how much Americans trust the leading presidential candidates on major issues, and it has what I believe to be a significant finding that offers some hope for Republicans, and should worry Democrats. Despite President Bush’s low approval ratings and overwhelming public opposition to the war, the poll found that Americans trusted Rudy Giuliani and John McCain to handle the Iraq War slightly better than any of the leading Democrats. Specifically, 55 percent trusted both Giuliani and McCain, 54 percent trusted Obama, 51 percent trusted Clinton, and 50 percent trusted Edwards (just 39 percent trusted Thompson and 37 percent trusted Romney). What this suggests to me is that Americans are not necessarily looking for somebody in 2008 who opposes the war, but somebody who is competent. Because both Giuliani and McCain are well regarded by the general population, Americans are inclined to trust them on Iraq, even if they may disagree with their actual stances on the war. For Democratic candidates, this means that merely opposing the Iraq War will not be sufficient to earn American’s confidence.
To me, this poll also reinforces the electability case for Giuliani. If Republicans have any chance of winning in 2008, they have to choose a candidate whose own brand transcends the Republican brand, which is badly damaged. The public’s trust in Giuliani extends beyond his signature issue of terrorism (in which 69 percent trust him, more than any candidate on any issue). Giuliani is also the most trusted Republican on economic and healthcare issues. Based on this poll, you could also make a general election argument for McCain, who still performs competitively among the broad electorate. As for Romney and Thompson, it seems as though both of them perform as generic Republicans might, that is to say, not very well. Thompson still has an excuse. For Romney, the “low name recognition” defense for his weak showing in national polls is wearing thin.