Lack of GOP enthusiasm for candidates not unusual at this stage of the campaign
Republican voters are not especially enthusiastic about the potential Republican candidates for president this year, according to the latest polls, but history shows that is not unusual at this stage of the campaign.
An Associated/Gfk Poll conducted last month found just 41 percent of Republicans and those who lean Republican are satisfied with the potential candidates for the Republican nomination, while more - 45 percent - are dissatisfied. In a recent Washington Post/Pew Poll, Republicans were asked to choose a word to describe the field of Republican candidates and 37 percent of them picked a word with a negative connotation. The most popular word choice: "unimpressed."
And a CBS News/New York Times Poll conducted in April asked Republican voters if they were enthusiastic about any particular candidate in the potential GOP field and 56 percent said no.
This level of dissatisfaction with presidential candidates is not unprecedented - particularly at this early stage. Democratic voters expressed some disappointment with their party's potential candidates back in the summer of 2003 when Democrats were gearing up to challenge Republican President George W. Bush. In a field that included Senator John Kerry, former Senator John Edwards, and former Governor Howard Dean, a CBS News Poll conducted in August 2003 found that 40 percent of Democratic primary voters were happy with the candidates, while more - 50 percent- wanted more choices.
In the 1996 presidential campaign, the last time a sitting Democratic president sought reelection, Republican voters had mixed feelings about the Republican candidates looking to take on President Bill Clinton. In January 1996, a CBS News Poll found 47 percent of Republican voters were satisfied with their choices, while 45 percent wished others would get in the race.
In both 2004 and 1996, voters became more content with their party's candidates as the primary season got underway - but not especially so. Sen. Kerry, the eventual Democratic nominee in 2004, went on to lose to President George W. Bush in a close race, and Republican nominee Senator Bob Dole was unable to unseat Mr. Clinton in 1996.
Still, dissatisfaction with a political party's candidates early on may not necessarily be a predictor of defeat in the general election. In mid-October 1991, only 18 percent of Democratic primary voters were satisfied with their candidates, according to a CBS News/New York Times Poll, while 64 percent wanted someone else to enter the race. At the time, incumbent Republican President George H.W. Bush had a 67 percent approval rating and looked unbeatable. Democrats grew more satisfied with their field as the campaign heated up, but a sizable number continued to want more choices.
It was the economy that would matter most come Election Day in November 1992. By the summer of that year a troubled economy dragged Mr. Bush's approval ratings down into the 30s paving the way for a once little known Democratic Governor from Arkansas to be elected president.
Polling shows voters generally like the idea of having more candidate choices and many will take that option when offered it. And while voter satisfaction with presidential contenders in the early going may generate enthusiasm among their party's base, a lot can happen a year and half before the general election. Factors like the condition of the nation's economy and foreign policy events are likely to have a major impact.
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