Tag Archives: Iowa caucus

Parsing the Iowa Poll: Why It’s Good News for Newt

By now most of the media outlets have picked up on the Des Moines Register poll that was released last night, but I want to address a couple of points that may have been missed in the extensive media coverage.  First, it’s worth reminding everyone that polling a caucus state is much more difficult than for a regular primary because the polling outfit has to sample the population of likely caucus voters, which is quite small.  Part of the reason the Des Moines poll garners so much attention is that it generally has a good track record in forecasting the caucus results.  (The paper has been running this poll going back to the Reagan years, so they have some experience in polling Iowa caucuses).  Nonetheless, there are lots of assumptions built into the forecast that leave room for error.  And, there’s still a month and several Republican debates to go. Note that only 28% of those polled in Iowa say their mind is made up.  A lot can happen to change the dynamics on the ground there.

With those caveats, I want to highlight a couple of interesting findings from the actual poll. As I noted in my last post, not only does Gingrich lead among likely caucus voters with 25%, he is the second choice of 18% of the survey respondents, which also leads the field.  In terms of second choice candidates, Romney is second with 15%, and Perry third at 12%.

Gingrich also has the second fewest votes for “least liked”, with only 6% of respondents designating him as such. Santorum leads with only 4% choosing him as least liked.  Romney and Bachmann, however, tie for the lead as least liked, with both getting 15%.

When asked which of the candidates whom they haven’t seen they would most like to see, Gingrich leads the field with 26% of respondents saying he’s the one they want to meet. That suggests that he has potential to win over more voters.  Romney, in contrast, is grouped down with the rest of the field with 15% of respondents saying he’s the candidate they most want to meet.

When asked about various candidate qualities, Gingrich is the overwhelming choice as the most knowledgeable (58%), most experienced (58%) and most like Ronald Reagan (28%).  No one else comes close in these categories.  He also has a slim lead over Romney (22-20%) as most likely to turn the economy around. Finally, Gingrich finishes first as the candidate most likely to bring change, with 27%, followed by Paul at 18%.

However, it is not all bad news for Romney. He is viewed as the most “presidential” (34%) and “most electable” (38%).  Gingrich is a respectable second in those categories.

On the whole, the internals of this poll are more favorable to Gingrich than even the top number showing Gingrich in the lead.  And they raise a critical question for Romney:  Is it even worth devoting resources to Iowa, thus raising media expectations that may be hard to meet?  The answer, I think, may turn on whether Romney calculates that his superior resources will allow him to turn out the vote in numbers greater than suggested by this poll, and that Gingrich will be unable to translate his polling support into actual votes.  Keep in mind that four years ago this calculation didn’t work in Romney’s favor, as Iowan conservatives coalesced behind Huckabee even though Romney spent scads of money in the state.  In looking at the poll results, I can see this same dynamic unfolding in January, with many caucus participants opting for their second choice option.  Note that this poll was in the field before Cain announced that he was suspending his campaign.   The wildcard is Paul, but as I noted yesterday, while I’m sure he’s going to win his 15-18%, the polling results indicate that may be his ceiling; he’s the second choice of only 7% of likely caucus goers.

I’ve discussed in previous posts how Romney might change his strategy to take on Gingrich, so won’t belabor the point here.  Interestingly, the Republican establishment continues to believe – or to hope – that Gingrich’s candidacy is flawed, and that he will implode, ceding the field to Romney.  But if I’m Mitt, I would pay less attention to what the experts keep saying, and more to what the polls indicate is actually going to happen in Iowa.

The Gingrich Who Stole Iowa?

J. Ann Selzer, the highly-respected polling director for the Des Moines Register gave a fascinating interview for the Atlantic magazine recently that has implications for the upcoming Iowa caucuses.  As regular readers know, perhaps the most significant issue coming out of the most recent Republican debate was Newt Gingrich’s effort to stake out a more moderate position on immigration.  Newt’s basic point is that we aren’t simply going to deport all 11 million illegal immigrants, many of whom have been in this nation for decades and have strong community roots. Any effort to reform immigration policy, Newt argues, must begin with this fundamental reality. His Republican rivals, particularly the Mittster, immediately jumped on Newt for advocating “amnesty” for illegals – a characterization the Newtster understandably rejects.

That exchange takes on added significance in light of Selzer’s analysis of Iowan voters’ concerns heading into the Jan. 3 first-in-the-nation Republican caucus.  Selzer’s basic point is that those most likely to vote in the Republican caucus are primarily concerned with economic issues, not socially conservative cultural matters.  She notes that Mike Huckabee’s surprise victory in the 2008 Iowa caucuses has been widely misinterpreted by media pundits as a sign of religious conservatives’ strength in that state. That’s the crowd both Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann are playing to this time around, but so far with lackluster polling results.  The reason, Selzer points out, is that 2008 was something of an anomaly, in that the fiscal conservatives fragmented the field, while Huckabee was really the only social conservative running.  And so he emerged on top.  Selzer’s conclusion?  “And I think they’ve misread Iowans in thinking that there would be that holdover wish for that kind of candidate. Really, times have changed, things have moved on. So I think you end up with candidates who aren’t resonating because they’re not talking about fiscal ideas to solve the economic problem. They’re focusing on the social ideas they think Iowa caucus-goers would spark to… “

Selzer’s analysis would seem to be good news for Mitt Romney, who is largely running on his private sector job-creating record, and avoiding faith-based and other social issues.  And in fact, amid positive polling results that place him second in the state, the evidence suggests that after wavering for several months, Romney has now decided to go all in in Iowa  despite his dismal performance there four years ago.  In this regard, it is possible that the immigration issue could play to his advantage if he is successful in framing it as an economic concern rather than playing to the nativist sentiment among social conservatives.  However, hidden within Selzer’s interview was a fascinating observation that, if accurate, bodes well for the Newtster.  Remember my earlier post questioning whether Newt’s “twitter revolution” in campaigning would actually translate into votes in caucus states like Iowa? It turns out, however, that although Santorum and Bachmann have a greater presence in Iowa so far, Newt’s appearances have been more effective.  Here’s Selzer again:

 “In our Bloomberg poll we had an analysis of how many people had been contacted by each of the campaigns. Ron Paul was first, followed by Michele Bachmann. And the secondary analysis was to say, OK, if you’ve been touched by that campaign, who’s your first choice? So we could kind of look and see the effectiveness of those touches. Santorum goes from 3 percent to 6 percent among people his campaign has touched, and that’s double, but if you’re a small number it’s easy to double it.

Michele Bachmann gets a one-point lift [among voters her campaign has contacted]. It’s not doing her any good. Who gets the lift is Gingrich. His campaign contact number is high 20s, low 30 percent. But he gets 32 percent first-choice votes among people his campaign has contacted. That’s almost double the 17 percent he gets overall in the poll. That number is a very strong number for him. What [voters] have seen of him they liked, and what they have seen of other candidates didn’t impress.”

 If Selzer is right, that is evidence that Gingrich’s path to success in Iowa depends on ramping up his reliance on traditional retail, face-to-face contact with potential voters that has been a staple of campaigning in this caucus state in previous elections.  The question remains does he have the funding and infrastructure to match Romney, who appears now to be staking much of his campaign on winning Iowa?  The problem for Romney, at least in the past, is that he does not get the bounce from these personal contacts that Gingrich seems to based on Selzer’s analysis.

There is an additional complicating factor in Iowa: Ron Paul.  He consistently pulls in about 10% of the Iowan vote in polls, but there is evidence that .his extreme libertarian views may put a ceiling on his support. Thus, this Rasmussen poll indicates that Paul, “while placing fourth overall, is also the candidate Iowa voters least want to see win the nomination. Eighteen percent (18%) name Paul as the least favorite candidate followed closely by Bachmann at 15%. Thirteen percent (13%) don’t want to see Romney or Huntsman grab the nomination, while 11% would like to see Cain miss the nod.  Newt,  on the other hand, is named by only 8% of Iowans polled as the candidate they least want to see to win.”  This suggests that Newt may be the second choice of at least some Iowan voters if their favorite falters in the next month.

It is early, of course (at some point this observation will be wrong!), but all signs are that Newt has some hidden strengths in Iowa. To activate these strengths, however, he will need to go beyond his reliance on a social networking-based campaign of ideas, particularly now that Mitt is committing his prodigious resources to building up an infrastructure in Iowa.  If he can do so, we  may be rewriting the words to that holiday classic come January to begin with:

“He’s a Keen One, Mr. Gingrich”