Monthly Archives: December 2011

Latest Iowa Poll: Santorum Rising, But Race Still Fluid

The Des Moines Register just released the results of their highly anticipated Iowa poll and the top line is consistent with what recent polls are showing: although Romney is in the lead, Santorum is surging.  The poll, conducted Tuesday through Friday (margin of error =/- 4%) of likely caucus goers, shows Romney leading with 24%, followed by Paul at 22% and Santorum in third at 15%.  However, if one looks only at the most recent two days of the four-day survey, Santorum is at 22%, and Paul at 18% (margin of error 5.6%), suggesting Santorum may finish with stronger numbers.  If this trend continues, Mitt may experience deja vu all over again, only this time it will be Santorum reprising the Huckabee role from four years ago.  Note that in the two-day sample Romney’s numbers are unchanged, indicating he may have peaked. All this is consistent with what I have described in recent posts.  If the conservatives do consolidate behind Santorum, he may yet win this.

Keep in mind, however, that a whopping 41% of those surveyed said they may still change their mind in the final few days.  The rest of the poll numbers read Newt Gingrich, 12%, Rick Perry, 11% and Michele Bachmann at  7%.   Of perhaps more interest, however, is the breakdown of the poll by party ID and ideology.  Typically, the Des Moines paper does not weight their polls to arrive at the “proper” distribution – they let the numbers speak for themselves.  So it is interesting to see what they are showing in terms of likely turnout come Tuesday.  Alas, the full poll internals won’t be available until tomorrow.   When it is released, I’ll be back on.

Until then, have a Happy New Year, and I’ll see you next year.


Advertising, Iowa and Newt: It’s Not Over Until The Big Head Croaks

Did Newt Gingrich make a mistake in not responding in kind to the onslaught of negative advertising directed at him in Iowa this past month?  Most political observers are blaming Gingrich’s decline in the polls – his support has dropped by about half in the span of a month – to his decision to take the high road despite the media blitz targeting him. Figures released by the Campaign Media Analysis Group show that 45% of all the ads aired to date in December have been negative attacks on Gingrich.  Much of that advertising has been funded by SuperPacs who operate on behalf of candidates, but without – in theory – any direct connection to those candidates. In contrast, Mitt Romney largely escaped a similar fate; CMAG figures indicate that negative ads against Romney comprised only 20 percent of all television ads in Iowa this month.

Pundits are claiming that this more than 2-1 ratio in negative ads is the primary reason that Gingrich’s lead over Romney has evaporated. But are they correct?  Political scientists’ views toward the effectiveness of campaign advertising have evolved through the decades.  Initial studies in the 1940’s and 50’s suggested that advertising had “minimal effects” on voters’ attitudes and behavior, but more recent studies have painted a more nuanced picture, suggesting for instance that advertising may have substantial effects on voters preferences and turnout. But this is an evolving field of research, and much of the work on media effects in general is based on research conducted in simulated settings. For reasons of research design (and money), it is much harder to gauge the real world impact of paid advertising.

If there is growing evidence that campaign advertising does have an impact on voters’ preferences, it’s still not clear why.  How does negative advertising work?  One theory is that by providing new information regarding a candidate, negative ads cause voters to update their assessments of that candidate.  So, when watching the debates, audiences were impressed by Newt’s command of issues and his policy pronouncements. However, when told by a multitude of advertisements that Newt lobbied for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, voters began to reassess whether he was a true conservative who believed in smaller government and who really opposed these government-backed mortgage lending giants.  Similarly, ads linking him to Nancy Pelosi and supporting global warming, or advocating for the individual mandate, had the same impact – they provided new information that contradicted the story he was telling.  In short, negative ads have durable effects because they change people’s opinions of candidates.  This is true even though studies indicate that viewers forget the specific content of the ad soon after watching or hearing it.  No matter – the damage has been done.

A second theory, however, suggests that negative ads activate particular memories or emotions that then become a major part of how an individual assesses a candidate at any particular moment. (Whether they activate hidden cues, or simply lead individuals to weight certain cues more heavily, is not clear.) So, when Iowans see an ad that juxtaposes Newt’s claims that he’s a small government cultural conservative with evidence regarding how he has behaved – lobbying for Freddie Mac, multiple marriages, etc. – it evokes a particular emotion – say, Newt is a serial hypocrite.  And that becomes the primary cue by which individuals decide whether to support Newt or not.   In effect, negative ads prime voters to think of Newt through a particular cognitive frame.

Now, these two theories might seem like academic hair splitting. No matter which theory is right, both suggest the obvious: that the barrage of negative ads altered how Iowans evaluated Newt’s candidacy.  And that is consistent with the more recent political science research that does find substantial effects for some type of advertising. However, the two theories have potentially different implications regarding how Newt might have responded to these ads.  According to Theory I – let’s call it the rational model – the negative advertising barrage has fundamentally changed many Iowans’ views toward Newt; he is now viewed much less positively, making it less likely that caucus-goers will support him come January 3.  In short, the advertising has had a durable, lasting impact on voters’ attitudes toward Newt and in the absence of countervailing evidence; these opinions are not likely to change.

Theory 2, however (we’ll call it the priming model) suggests that some of these advertising effects may be more transitory – that the traits or attributes associated with Newt that the advertisements invoked may fade over time.  From this perspective, in the absence of further priming, voters may fall back to their prior views toward Newt – assuming they have strong prior beliefs.  Interestingly, there is some fascinating research done by the team of Alan Gerber, James Gimpel, Don Green and Daron Shaw on campaign advertising during Rick Perry’s 2006 reelection campaign for Texas governor that suggests that the impact of television advertising, while substantial, is also relatively short-lived, consistent with the priming model.

Extrapolating from that and similar research to Newt’s case in Iowa, however, is fraught with difficulty. For instance, the Perry study looked primarily at positive advertising.  Moreover, there may be differences in how individuals react to symbolic ads designed to evoke a particular emotion versus a more information-based ad that provides new evidence by which to judge a candidate. Simply put, there’s a lot we don’t know about the role that advertising plays in campaigns.

Keeping this uncertainty in mind, one could argue that, following the logic of the priming model, Newt calculated that the initial impact of negative advertising might be substantial, but that it would lessen over time.  From this perspective, staying positive and trying to ride out the initial storm may have seemed quite logical. Of course, he likely underestimated the unprecedented volume and the duration of the negative advertising directed toward him. Still, it provides at least a plausible explanation for Newt’s response to the negative advertising.

If this model is correct, however, it suggests that Newt – and his campaign surrogates – have no time to waste if they want to stop the bleeding.  The priming theory indicates that what really matters for Newt’s fortunes is whose advertising goes on the air last, in the final days before the actual caucus. It is the impact of those ads that voters will bring with them into the voting booth.  This means   that Newt’s shadow SuperPacs may still impact this race if they start airing negative ads against his opponents during these remaining three days before Tuesday’s primary.  For what it’s worth, there’s evidence that Newt’s surrogates are pursuing this strategy, beginning with this negative mailer directed at Romney that went out recently.  Meanwhile, Newsmax is funding  this half-hour infomercial, hosted by Ronald Reagan’s son Michael, to run on Iowa television during the next several days.  At the same time, it appears that other candidates are now beginning to target Romney.

Will this be enough to change the dynamics of this race?  In 2008, fully 30% of Iowans made up their mind regarding who to vote for in the last three days of the campaign.  This suggests we may yet be in for more surprises.

The Last Shall Be First? Santorum’s Polling is Biblical

I’m not sure what to make of this just released We Ask America poll, but I pass it along simply because it is the first poll conducted covering the last 24 hours. The most notable finding is that Santorum is now alone in second at 17%, with Paul (14%) now essentially bunched in a group that includes Gingrich (13%) and – surprise! – Bachmann (12%).  Although pundits have declared her candidacy dead, here she is ahead of Perry  (10%) and within striking distance (given the 7% undecided) of a top-three finish.   All of which makes me somewhat skeptical that this poll is very accurate . Note that they don’t release any polling internals, except to say that they have surveyed “Republicans”.  If it is only Republicans, and does not include independents or Democrats, it may be understating Paul’s support.  In any case, without more information,  I have no way to evaluate it.  So, with that cautionary note, here are the topline results.


Bachmann  12%

Gingrich 13%

Huntsman 4%

Paul 14%

Perry 10%

Romney 24%

Santorum 17%

Undecided 7%

At this point, I’m waiting on three last polls: the Des Moines Register, which will come out tomorrow night, and polls from ABC/WashingtonPost  and CBS/NY Times.

It’s interesting how the media has been reporting these latest polling results. There’s been much talk that if Romney wins Iowa, and takes New Hampshire, he could close out this nomination race in a hurry.  Perhaps, but keep this in mind.  If Romney’s current polling numbers hold, he will win Iowa with the lowest winning total in this caucus – Republican or Democrat – since it began back in 1972.  That, to me, doesn’t inspire much confidence in a Romney sweep, particularly as the field is winnowed and support begins to coalesce behind his opponents.

Here are the previous Iowa caucus winners and their vote percentages, as listed in Wikipedia (so I can’t vouch for the accuracy of these figures).



Bob Dole, in 1996, is perhaps the closest parallel to Romney today – and we all know how that turned out!  Although he did win the nomination, he didn’t do so well in the general election.

Addendum (5:28 p.m.): It appears that PPP will run one more survey beginning Sunday into Monday.  Meanwhile, I’m not certain that either WaPo/ABC or CBS/NYTimes are going to field one more Iowa survey.  So at this point I know there’s at least two more polls coming out before Tuesday.

Iowa Leaning to Santorum?

NBC Marist came out with their Iowa poll today, and it contains few surprises.  Note that although the poll was released today, it was conducted from Dec. 27-28, so it is not giving us any newer information than the polls I cited yesterday.  That means it doesn’t do much to help our interpretation of what’s happening in Iowa. In releasing the poll, NBC has been trumpeting Santorum’s rise, but his support as reported by NBC includes the undecideds who are leaning toward him.  For comparison purposes, I’ve posted the candidates’ support among potential caucus voters in the first column, and the totals including the undecided who are leaning in the second column.  The second column is what is getting reported.  (Candidates in order as they were listed in poll summary.)

Newt Gingrich 13 13
Mitt Romney 22 23
Michele Bachmann 5 6
Rick Santorum 11 15
Jon Huntsman 2 2
Ron Paul 19 21
Rick Perry 13 14
Undecided 16 7

As you can see, Santorum gets the biggest boost when we include the leaners.

The three big takeaways from the NBC poll are, first, that there are still a good chunk of undecided voters.  Even among “likely voters” (not shown here) 12% considered themselves undecided.  That’s enough – if they all broke the same way (they won’t) – to provide the winning margin to almost any of the top five candidates.  At the very least it suggests the race is still fluid. Second, there’s no evidence yet that the conservative vote is coalescing around a single candidate although Santorum has picked up some of their support. He’s considered the true conservative by 23% of likely voters, compared to Paul with 21%. Third, as I’ve said before, there’s not a lot of love in Iowa for Romney, who still can’t seem to break out.  Note however, that he’s the second choice of 21% of those polled – that leads the field.  Interestingly, Perry is the second choice of 20%. If current trends hold, Romney is poised to win this by default.

We should see a couple more polls before Tuesday.  Everyone is waiting for the Des Moines Register poll, which should be released Saturday night, because it proved accurate four years ago, and because  it is likely to provide the last bit of evidence regarding trends in support.  For now, I’ve included the NBC survey in the table composed of all the post-Christmas Iowa polls. Note that although NBC has been touting the fact that their survey included about 30% cell phones, the results don’t differ at all from the non-cell robo-call results posted by Rasmussen.

Candidate Public Policy Polling (12. 26-27.11) CNN (12.21-24, 12.26-27.11) Insider Advantage


American Research Group (12.26-28.11) Rasmussen (12.28.11) NBC/Marist (12.27-


Romney 20% 25% 17.2% 22% 23% 23%
Paul 24% 22% 17.3% 16% 22% 21%
Gingrich 13% 14% 16.7% 17% 13% 13%
Santorum 10% 16% 13.4% 11% 16% 15%
Perry 10% 11% 10.5% 9% 13% 14%
Bachmann 11% 9% 11.8% 8% 5% 6%

Meanwhile, there have been a couple of other developments pertaining to recent blog posts that I’ll address separately.

Two More Polls: Where Things Stand in Iowa

At this rate I’ll never get my grading done.

Two more polls just in and (fortunately!) they are consistent with my earlier analysis posted today.  The first poll is a Rasmussen automated survey conducted Dec. 28, and the second is a telephone survey by American Research Group (ARG) from Dec. 26-28 (both polls have a margin of error +/-4%).  For ease of interpretation I’ve put the five most recent Iowa polls in the following table. (Note, however, that the CNN poll took place with a day off for the Christmas holidays.)

Candidate Public Policy Polling (12. 26-27.11) CNN (12.21-24, 12.26-27.11) Insider Advantage(12.28.11) American Research Group (12.26-28.11) Rasmussen (12.28.11)
Romney 20% 25% 17.2% 22% 23%
Paul 24% 22% 17.3% 16% 22%
Gingrich 13% 14% 16.7% 17% 13%
Santorum 10% 16% 13.4% 11% 16%
Perry 10% 11% 10.5% 9% 13%
Bachmann 11% 9% 11.8% 8% 5%


Once you account for differences in sampling and the dates of these polls, they tell somewhat similar stories. Keeping in mind all the usual caveats about polling a caucus state, what do these more recent surveys suggest is happening in Iowa today, five days before voting?  I offer the following observations.

  1. Romney is going to get about 23% of the vote, give or take a few percentage points.  That is, he’ll finish close to what he did four years ago.  Whether that is enough to win depends on several other factors.  See below.
  2. Paul’s support, I think, may be softening just a bit, probably because of doubts, fueled by negative campaign ads, regarding his foreign policy views.  Note that his unfavorable ratings have risen in the last week and are now in negative numbers.  Of course, with him it all depends on the relevant turnout of independents and younger voters.   Will the college crowd be home for the winter break?  Will they turn out? We know that he has a core group of supporters who will show up no matter what.  But I don’t think that constitutes much more than 20% of likely voters.
  3. Gingrich seems to have weathered the avalanche of negative ads directed at him and is stabilized at about 16%.  In my view, he has a greater potential upside than either Romney or Gingrich, primarily because his support cuts across demographic and party lines.  His biggest problem is extremely high unfavorable ratings.  Much depends on whether his last-minute advertising pitch can swing voters his way.  He is now, finally, on the air with new television ads.  Unlike Romney and Paul, however, he lacks a campaign infrastructure for getting out the vote.
  4. Santorum seems to be benefitting from the “last Christian standing” dynamic; the evangelicals have danced with everyone else not named Mitt or Ron at least once (please, no touching on the dance floor), so it now appears to be Santorum’s turn.  He’s peaking at the right moment, has high favorable ratings (because no one has bothered to attack him) and could challenge for third place.
  5. Perry is a wildcard – he’s blanketed the state with advertising and has made a strong pitch for the conservative vote but it’s not clear that he’s attracting more than 12% support.
  6. Bachmann is in danger of getting winnowed.  The key question, for me, is whether her supporters peel off in the caucus room and switch to Santorum.  Note that unlike in Democratic caucusing in Iowa, where there’s plenty of jockeying for position, there’s not a lot persuasion that goes on in the Republican meetings, and the vote is by secret ballot.  So it’s a lot easier to dump the one you brought to the dance.

The results five days from now, it seems to me, hinge on two factors.  What is the relative percentage of independents (and even Democrats) that turn out?  And do the evangelicals coalesce behind a single candidate, or two, or three?  I think Romney’s and Paul’s support is what it is in the polls.   I’m less confident about the other four.

More as polling comes in.