Football and politics

Matt Towery

2/8/2005 12:00:00 AM - Matt Towery

For Super Bowl week, we at InsiderAdvantage decided to mix the pastime sport of football with the blood sport of politics for our latest public opinion survey. And wouldn't you know it -- the nearly dead-even political split in the country spilled over onto the football field.

 Thirty-one percent of Americans were rooting for the New England Patriots and 30 percent for the Philadelphia Eagles. The rest had no preference. So New England's narrow 24-21 victory provided a game that doubtless kept all partisans entertained right up until the final horn.

 Now let's switch focus from the instant gratification of a football game to the four-year marathon known as presidential politics. Our Super Poll took an early glimpse at this never-ending war. We asked:

        Whom among the following would you prefer to win the presidency in 2008?

        Hillary Rodham Clinton  19 percent
        John Kerry    12 percent
        Rudy Giuliani    11 percent
        John McCain     9 percent
        Jeb Bush     9 percent
        Condoleezza Rice    6 percent
        John Edwards    4 percent
        Howard Dean    3 percent
        Wesley Clark     2 percent
        Newt Gingrich    2 percent
        Bill Frist     2 percent
        Others     1 percent
        Undecided     20 percent

 The poll was conducted Feb. 2-3, 2005. It sampled 600 respondents and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent. It was weighted against national census data for age, race and gender, and the political questions were weighted additionally for party affiliation.

 These results are what I call a real horse race. Not surprisingly -- and as I have consistently reminded readers -- Hillary Clinton fares well in a crowded field. And when broken down among those who described themselves as Democrats, she led with 31 percent to John Kerry's 19 percent.

 Among Republican candidates, for those who said they vote GOP, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was the clear leader with 20 percent, followed by Giuliani at 16 percent, and McCain and Rice were tied at 10 percent each.

 Of course, predicting a political race four years out is as tough as predicting the exact final score of a Super Bowl tilt. The really big news out of this poll is that there's a lot in a name -- especially if the names are Clinton or Bush. The former first lady appears the one to beat in a battle for the Democratic nomination, and Jeb Bush would be the Republican favorite were he inclined to run. (He is expressing no public interest in the job right now.)

 Dark-horse candidates are by definition nearly impossible to name at this stage. The best example from the 2004 race was, of course, Howard Dean. He went from unknown to a household name overnight, only to see his lack of big-league political experience lead to self-destruction in a matter of days last winter. Someone from near the bottom of the above list could lead the free world in four years -- or at least his or her party's presidential ticket -- or it could be someone now unknown to all but the most veteran political salts.

 Finally, just for fun, let's look at how politics and football mix. In our survey, slightly more Democrats favored Philadelphia in Sunday's Super Bowl, and a few more Republicans rooted for the Patriots. But in both cases, the results were within the margin of error. In other words, these party pigskin preferences were too close to call.

 At this early juncture, naming one's preference for the next president is largely an exercise in name recognition as much as it is a measure of the nation's read on political issues. But that's not to dismiss the results. To the contrary -- name ID now is worth millions of dollars in campaign expenditures as the next presidential election draws closer. With the names at the top of this public survey, one thing is near certain -- plenty of new fireworks await us all.