Results from the first two polls to come out of Iowa since last Saturday’s debate were released today and both show that Mitt Romney is in deep trouble. What is perhaps more interesting, however, is that at first glance, the two polls do not seem to agree regarding who will occupy the “Not-Newt” position in this key caucus state. The first poll, by Insider Advantage, has Gingrich leading the field with 27.1% of the vote, and Ron Paul in second with 16.5%. (The poll was in the field yesterday.) This is entirely consistent with most recent polls that were in the field prior to Saturday’s debate. However, the Insider Advantage poll also shows Rick Perry climbing into third place, at 13.2%, ahead of Romney who has fallen to 4rth, with 11.9% support, followed closely behind by Michelle Bachmann at 10.3%. With the poll’s margin of error at 4%, this suggests that Perry, Romney and Bachmann are grouped together in the “Not-Newt” bunch, behind Paul. Note that Paul only gets 13% support among Republicans – his second place standing is based primarily on support among independents; he leads among the latter group in Iowa with 27.3% of the vote, just ahead of Gingrich at 24.5% In addition, Paul leads among the youngest voters age 18-29 with 39.6% (interestingly, Bachmann is second among this group with 22.6%). All this suggests that Paul is not going to go much beyond 20% in contests restricted to Republicans. More importantly, the Insider Advantage results are not good news for Romney, who only a few weeks ago was leading in Iowa, and as recently as last week seemed to be the most likely “Not Newt” candidate. If, as I have long surmised, Paul does have a ceiling of support at roughly 20% among Republicans, whoever wins the remaining slot in the top three in Iowa has the upper hand in claiming the “Not Newt” slot in the weeks ahead. As loyal readers know, I have been suggesting that Perry, by virtue of his record as Texas governor and his fundraising prowess, is well positioned to overtake Romney for the “Not-Newt” slot. What has held him back to date has been a series of dismal debate performances. On Saturday, however, his exchange with Mitt “All In” Romney may have boosted Perry’s standing in Iowa (more on that below.) Before we blame Romney’s “bet” for his decline, however, note that his support had already been dropping prior to Saturday’s debate. Moreover, Perry’s rise is likely also a function of his strong media presence in Iowa; he has been blanketing the state with advertisements in recent weeks.
But wait. Before you go online to Intrade and place $10,000 of your child’s tuition money on Perry, what are we to make of this second poll by Public Policy Polling? It shows that Gingrich’s lead in Iowa has dropped from 9% to 1% since the debate; Gingrich is now at 22%, essentially in a dead heat with Paul who has 21%. Romney is third at 16%, Michele Bachmann at 11%, Rick Perry at 9%, and Rick Santorum is at 8%. As I’ve noted several times before, polling a caucus is very tricky business; because turnout is so low, it is imperative that the pollster get an accurate sample. And that’s hard to do. In looking at the crosstabs of the PPP poll, we see that Paul leads among those who voted in the Democratic caucus in 2008 with 34% support. Mitt Romney is a distant second among these voters with 18%. However, if we look only at those who participated in the Republican caucus in 2008, Gingrich is comfortably in the lead at 26%, 8% ahead of Paul. Paul also leads among those who describe themselves as very liberal, liberal or moderate, and among self-identified Democrats – but Gingrich is ahead among all conservative groups and he is comfortably ahead among Republicans. What this suggests, then, is that how well Paul does in Iowa come January 3 will depend on how many independents and Democratic-leaning voters show up in the Republican caucus. I can’t tell from the PPP cross tabs what percentage of those surveyed voted in the Democratic caucus in 2008.
My point is that we shouldn’t overreact to the increase in Paul’s support. Although it certainly bodes well for his performance in Iowa, much of his support comes from independents and those who voted in the Democratic caucus in 2008. Neither bloc of voters is likely to determine the outcome of the Republican nomination. It does suggest, however, that Paul may be a formidable third-party candidate.
A couple of other interesting tidbits from the PPP poll: Consistent with my read of the debates as reported in my live blog of that event, Gingrich leads at 30% among those who paid a lot of attention to Saturday’s debate, followed by Paul at 23%. Romney, on the other hand, leads among those who did not pay much attention at all to the debates. (Interestingly, given his marriage woes, Gingrich draws equal support among women and men.) Again, this suggests that the debate bet may have adversely impacted Romney’s support at the margins, at least in the short run.
At this point, the number of those polled who say they may change their mind has dropped to 40% – still a large number less than 25 days before the Iowa caucus, but 20% less than the number of potential undecideds a week ago. Nonetheless, this race is far from over. Thursday’s debate may be the most important one to date, particularly for Perry and Romney, who are duking it out for that coveted top three performance.
Perhaps the most telling result from the PPP poll, however, is this: among those polled in Iowa who view Tim Tebow unfavorably, Paul is the first choice of 38% of them! Among those who view Tebow favorably, however, Gingrich is ahead with 29%. (Paul is second among this group with 25%) To me, that is as clear a sign as any that Paul cannot win the Republican nomination. Because among Republicans, if you don’t like Tim Tebow, you don’t like Mom, Apple Pie and, uh, er…..America.