For months now, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has led polls in the race for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. Not a small number of those supporting him have expressed the sentiment that while he may not be the candidate who most closely shares their beliefs, he is the most electable Republican candidate.
Is this true?
The belief in Giuliani's electability stems from several factors. He generally leads nationwide polling for the Republican nomination. Some polls suggest that he does best against the likely democratic nominee. He was elected in liberal New York City. He holds many moderate or liberal positions that would supposedly attract voters that Republicans have not previously won.
Let's examine these factors. Whether Giuliani is actually most likely to get the nomination is questionable. Mitt Romney leads polls in key early states that affect perceptions in later states. Leading the race for a nomination implies a certain level of credibility, but it doesn't say much about electability. Bob Dole was always the frontrunner for the nomination in 1996, but that didn't make him the most electable candidate in the general election.
Early general election polls have been inconsistent. In any case, they cannot reliably predict the results of a campaign before it has been run. Such polls are mostly based on name recognition and superficial perceptions. During election campaigns, candidates debate issues, qualifications, and character. This debate is almost certain to change people's minds between the start and end of the race.
Giuliani was indeed elected in New York City, but under circumstances very different from the current campaign. New York was in dire straights, with crime and welfare spending out of control. Foreign policy and many social issues were not at issue. Today, crime and welfare are not major issues, and there are many different issues in play.
Finally, there are Giuliani's moderate or liberal positions on many issues. The media and some moderate Republicans have promoted the notion that these positions will help attract voters. But such positions will also repel some voters, who will vote for a third-party candidate or not vote at all.
The question that needs to be asked is what is the net effect. That is, will a given position attract more voters than it repels? Polls asking people's positions on the issue specifically are irrelevant, since the question is whether people will change their votes based on the issue.
Consider abortion. Studies have shown that significantly more people vote for a candidate because he is pro-life than because he is pro-abortion. Thus being pro-life is a significant net benefit to a candidate.
The same is true of gun rights. Far more people vote for a candidate because he is pro-gun than because he is anti-gun.
The same is true of marriage and "gay rights".
While there is less available evidence, there is good reason to believe that the same is true for immigration restriction.
Giuliani is on the wrong side of all these issues. Thus he would surrender the Republican Party's best issues, and the voters who can be won based on them. If these issues are off the table, the election will be fought more over education, health care, and social security, which are usually very strong issues for democrats.
Then there is the war in Iraq. Giuliani is strongly identified as a supporter of the war. This won't help him, and may hurt him so much that victory is impossible.
Another major factor in many elections is scandal. Nothing can sink a candidate faster than a scandal. Giuliani has significant problems on this front. His close associate Bernard Kerik, who Giuliani recommended to become Homeland Security Secretary, has been indicted on corruption charges and may be on trial for a good part of the election campaign. Giuliani also has a troubled personal life, including an affair and messy divorce while mayor of New York.
Giuliani does have some things in his favor. He did well as mayor of New York, and is charismatic and well-spoken. But there is no reason to think that he is more electable than the other Republican candidates, and good reason to think that he is less so.
None of this is intended as criticism of those who sincerely believe that Giuliani is the best choice to be the next President. It is intended to criticise the belief that Giuliani should be supported solely because he is the most electable candidate. Those who wish to cast their vote based on this criterion should at least avoid accepting the advice of the liberal media as to who is the most electable candidate.