Don’t Fear The Reaper? The Latest Iowa Poll Results

What if the Iowa caucus results don’t matter?

I raise the question in light of the most recent Iowa poll that shows Gingrich’s support almost halved during the last two weeks, from about 27% to 14%, putting him third behind Paul (23%) and Romney (20%), both of whom saw their numbers remain relatively stable.

Q2 If the Republican candidates for President were Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Gary Johnson, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum, who would you vote for?

Michele Bachmann ………………………………….. 10%

Newt Gingrich …………………………………………. 14%

Jon Huntsman…………………………………………. 4%

Gary Johnson …………………………………………. 2%

Ron Paul ………………………………………………… 23%

Rick Perry ………………………………………………. 10%

Mitt Romney……………………………………………. 20%

Rick Santorum………………………………………… 10%

Someone else/Not sure ……………………………. 7%

(The best part of the PPP poll? 31% of respondents think Barack Obama was not born in the United States, and 21% aren’t sure.  Donald Trump can still win this race!) The RealClear politics aggregate polling now show Newt (green) in essentially a dead heat in Iowa with Paul (brown) and Romney (purple), but the trend lines are going in the wrong direction for the Newtster.

This is to be expected given the blanketing of the Iowa airwaves with anti-Newt advertising – much of it financed not by other candidates, but by the so-called superpacs working on those candidates’ behalf.  For example, since Newt rose to the top of the polls a Romney shadow PAC called Restore Our Future has spent several million dollars funding at least one attack ad targeting Gingrich and another favoring Romney. Paul, of course, has been running his “serial hypocrisy” ad against Gingrich for a couple of weeks now.  At the same time, these groups are running positive ads for their own candidates as well – here’s one supporting Rick Perry:

All this is taking a toll on Gingrich’s poll numbers, particularly since he still has a minimal media presence in the state.  He is now the second choice of 13% of Iowans, essentially tied in that category with Perry, Romney and Bachmann – but behind “Someone else/Not Sure” at 18%.  His favorability/unfavorability numbers have declined to 46/47, behind the more positive numbers of almost everyone else except Huntsman.

Of perhaps greater significance than Newt’s slide, however, is where his support is going. It’s not to Paul or Romney, both whom are essentially treading water in Iowa.  Instead, it appears that former Newt backers are now splitting their support between Perry, Bachmann, and Santorum, all of whom are at 10% in the last PPP poll, and whose aggregate polling trend lines are all inching north.

This raises an interesting possibility. Historically, Iowa serves two purposes. First, the winning candidate can get a boost in media coverage and funding, particular if the victory exceeds media expectations. Think Obama in 2008.  Equally important, however, Iowa has often served a winnowing function, culling second-tier candidates from the field.   A lot can happen in two weeks, of course, but right now Iowans don’t seem prepared to rule any Republican out of the race.  Fully 37% of Iowans still say they may support someone other than the candidate they are currently backing. That’s a lot of uncertainty.  The current conventional wisdom is that a candidate must finish in the top three in Iowa to remain viable. I’m not sure that’s true.  If there are three, or four, candidates  who each get 10-12%, and who are clustered behind the two leaders (say, Romney and Paul),  it’s possible they might all retain enough backing to stay in the race, particularly considering the proportional allocation of delegates that Republicans are using in the early contests.   Indeed, if no clear frontrunner emerges for the Republican nomination, some pundits are looking ahead to the possibility of a brokered convention.  It’s far too early to contemplate that outcome.  But it’s not too early to wonder whether, in Iowa, any Republican will be winnowed from the field after Jan. 3.  Maybe it’s true, after all – there’s no need to fear the Reaper.

3 comments

  1. I think it’s certainly possible that either Santorum or Bachmann would be knocked out by a poor finish on January 3rd. Maybe even Perry, although I’d imagine he’ll stick around for some of the other states in hope of becoming the anti-Mitt again. And Huntsman will certainly be out of the race if he doesn’t perform well – ridiculously well – in NH. At the rate that Newt’s support seems to be collapsing, Romney could solidify the lead faster than expected. If you put any faith in the predictions at Intrade Gingrich now has a lower chance of winning the nomination than Ron Paul.

  2. Zach – I’m working on a longer post on this point, but I don’t think the latest Iowa polls really give much confidence that Paul’s support is as strong as they suggest – or that Newt’s is as weak. I do think Perry’s upside is actually bigger than Paul’s, for reasons I’ll develop in the post. But Bachmann and Santorum are really appealing to the same crowd, with the consequence that both are weaker in Iowa than they would be if the other one dropped out. so, assuming they finish in a defact tie for fifth – do both drop out? Neither?

  3. I think Santorum is more likely to drop out first, although its certainly possible that both could stay in the race in a passive aggressive war of attrition. Bachmann is so confident of her divine qualifications for the job that it might take more than a loss in Iowa to push her out.

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