There has been some recent attention to the fact that Fred Thompson's impending campaign is largely being driven by the fact that Republicans are mostly not satisfied with the candidates they presently have to choose from. For example, a July CBS/New York Times Poll asked citizens that expect to vote in the Democratic and Republican primaries whether they were "generally satisfied with the candidates now running" or if they wished they had "more choices." While 61% of potential Democratic primary voters were satisfied with their choices, only 36% Republicans were satisfied with their field of candidates. 60% of Republicans wish they had more choices.
(One interesting note regarding the Democratic numbers is that 68% of Democratic women are satisfied with the choices while only 52% of men feel the same way. That is a pretty substantial gender gap.)
To get some perspective on these numbers, I did a little searching over previous campaigns. The first thing I discovered is that this question has not been asked all that frequently in the past, particularly during the year before the election. Curiously, I could locate no questions on this leading up to the 2000 nomination campaigns.
Nevertheless, it is worth taking a look at what was available.
The only time I could find this asked of Republican voters in a previous campaign was the lead up to the 1996 election. Robert Dole, Lamar Alexander, Pat Buchanan, Steve Forbes, Phil Gramm, Richard Lugar, Arlen Specter, Pete Wilson, and Alan Keyes were among the candidates who were in the race at some point during 1995. In November, 1995, 57% of Republicans were satisfied with the candidates while 39% wanted more choices. So, Republicans were far more pleased with their choices then than they are right now. Then again, a year later, Bob Dole would lose the general election decisively.
The figure here compares the satisfaction percentages for Democrats for this year with those in 1991 and 2003. Note that Democrats are far more pleased with their choices this year than they were at roughly similar points in 1991 and 2003. In fact, in 1991, Democrats were not the least bit pleased with their choices--nearly 2 of every 3 Democrats were wishing for more choices in October of that year. This was not surprising since few well-known candidates had come forward to challenge an incumbent president with high approval ratings. In the end, an Arkansas governor captured the nomination and most Democrats ended up being fairly satisfied with their choice.
Perhaps the 1991 Democratic numbers and the 1995 Republican figures demonstrate why one shouldn't make too much of the present dissatisfaction that Republicans have with their choices. After all, a lot can change in the course of a year.