Tag Archives: Mitt Romney

Who Will Be The Lizard King? The Latest South Carolina Polls

It is probably no coincidence that CNN, which is hosting tomorrow’s South Carolina debate, hyped the results of its latest poll from that state as evidence “that [Romney’s] advantage over Newt Gingrich is rapidly shrinking.”   In fact, the poll taken Jan. 13-17 – a survey period almost entirely before Monday’s debate – has Romney up by 10% over Gingrich, 33% to 23%, with Santorum a distant third with 16%.   Yes, that does represent a 9% swing in Newt’s favor since the previous CNN poll two weeks before.  However, as Mark Halperin notes, that previous poll was something of an outlier because it showed Romney with a bigger lead than most other polls.  In the intervening two weeks, most other polls have shown Romney’s lead increasing – not diminishing.

Despite that caveat, I think that the tail end of the CNN survey may have caught a mini-Gingrich polling boomlet triggered not just by his strong debate performance, but also the impact of the raft of negative advertising that collectively has hit Mitt where it hurts the most: his ample wallet.

It really began, of course, with Romney’s rather indelicate remarks during the New Hampshire campaign regarding his love of pink slips and his own brushes with poverty, both of which became fodder for Newt’s campaign commercials.  Then there was the 30-minute docu-ad, funded by a pro-Newt SuperPac, chronicling Romney’s role at Bain Capital.  On Monday, in a rather stunning debate gaffe, Mitt equivocated on whether he would release his tax returns, finally saying he might do it sometime in April – when, presumably, he will have the nomination clinched.  In the aftermath of that stumble, he acknowledged that most of his income was now taxed at the 15% capital gains rate – all perfectly legit, but less than the rate many Americans pay.  He also acknowledged earning additional money through speaking fees, but said it wasn’t very much – if you consider over $300,000 from last year alone not much!  Finally, two hours ago ABC released this story with the headline “Romney Parks Millions In Offshore Tax Haven.”

Again, if you read the story, it is quite clear that Romney has done nothing wrong, and that the Cayman Islands are a tax haven for foreign investors – not for Romney.  Nonetheless, the cumulative impact of these stories has been to paint Romney as a latter day Gordon Gekko, the Michael Douglas character in the film Wall St. who famously expounded on the virtues of greed.

All this in a state where unemployment is pushing 10%.  Needless to say, the beneficiary of the Mitt-as-Gekko storyline has been Newt Gingrich.  When John King announced the CNN poll tonight, he hinted that the results of that part of the survey done after Monday’s debate showed much greater gains for Gingrich.  Of course, given the limited sample size, we need to be cautious about interpreting the results.  We will know more tomorrow, when NBC is supposed to reveal the results of their first post-debate poll.  Gingrich – never one to take good news quietly – has now gone on record as saying he will win on Saturday.  The only question is by how much. I’m guessing he has additional internal polling results that show him gaining ground.

Meanwhile, as expected, Mitt is not taking this sitting down.  He’s rallied the Republican establishment against Newt, with an effort to brand the former Speaker as unreliable, as the following ad shows. .

All this sets up a delicious rematch in tomorrow’s debate, and I haven’t even begun to mention Santorum, whose polls numbers are slipping, or Paul, who certainly is looking to rebound.  One area that has gotten a bit of media play again is Newt’s relatively moderate stance on immigration, which may serve him well looking ahead to Florida and Nevada, but which will not play well in South Carolina.  I expect Romney to counterpunch on both these themes in tomorrow’s debate.

South Carolina: It’s Gekko vs. the Newt in the Battle To be Lizard King*

*Ok, a newt is technically an amphibian. Still….

Does Mitt Benefit If The Republican Field Is Winnowed?

Political scientists John Sides and Lyn Vavreck have an interesting post up at YouGov that pertains to one of the arguments I made in my South Carolina analysis yesterday. (Sides and Vavreck are two of the best around when it comes to election analysis.)  Drawing on national polling from the first week of January, they conclude that, “It simply is not the case that a vote for someone other than Romney is a vote against Romney.  As the field narrows, a Romney nomination becomes more inevitable, not less.” The reason why, they argue, is that while it may be true that a plurality of likely Republican voters prefer someone else to Romney, he is the preferred second choice of most of those anti-Romney voters.  As a result, he will gain support as the field is winnowed and those voters turn to their second choice.

I have not been paying attention to the national polling data as yet, so am not in a position to react to their findings. However, their data is consistent with some of the polling data I discussed in an earlier blog post regarding the state of the race in South Carolina. Drawing mostly on a Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey from Jan. 11-13, I noted that fully 58% of those surveyed wanted someone other than Romney to win in South Carolina.  However, unlike what Sides and Vavreck found in their national polls, Gingrich leads as the top second-choice candidate of 20% of South Carolina respondents, although Mitt is tied for second with Santorum and “someone else/not sure” with 16-17%.

Nonetheless – and consistent with the Sides/Vavreck argument regarding national polling – in head-to-head matchups South Carolina voters chose Romney over every other candidate, with Gingrich and Santorum losing to him by 48-37 (15% not sure) and 48-39 (13% not sure), respectively.

I have been arguing that as the Republican conservative/Tea Party field winnows, support will begin to coalesce around the non-Mitt candidate, but at least some of the South Carolina data, consistent with the Sides/Vavreck national polling, suggests otherwise – it shows that in a two-person race, Romney would still win, at least in South Carolina – even though Gingrich leads among second-choice candidates.

So, how do we reconcile these apparently different claims – does Romney benefit if the field winnows or not?  The key point to remember is that in polling data showing Romney gaining strength in a two-person race – the assumption is that it is a two-person race!  That is, there’s no Ron Paul running along with a Tea Party/conservative favorite from among Gingrich, Perry or Santorum. That’s unlikely to happen anytime soon even if two of the three card-carrying Tea Party/conservative members do quit the race.  Indeed, it’s likely that Ron Paul will carry the fight all the way to the convention. In short, my scenario is based on my belief that we are going to see a three-person race in the near future.  The question then becomes: how does that affect the campaign dynamics?  I can’t speak to national polling – it may be that Romney would still lead.  But in South Carolina the PPP poll does provide some information that might help tease out an answer. (Keep in mind that this poll was conducted almost five days before last night’s debate, so the numbers are old.)  The polling crosstabs indicates that Mitt does slightly better in a two-person race than in a three-person that includes Paul. Let’s play the polling numbers to see why (keeping in mind this is one poll in one state taken almost a week ago.  But it will serve to illustrate my broader point.)

Let’s assume that Perry and Santorum drop out, and their South Carolina supporters move straight to their second choices.  In this scenario Newt would pick up almost 9% more support, while Mitt would gain 7%, and Paul would gain 2.5%  So, this is consistent with the scenario I laid out that argues that if two of the three conservatives drop out, the remaining one – Newt – benefits the most. How much likely varies from state to state (and it may not hold nationally – I don’t have any data as yet.)

However, the dynamics are different if Paul drops out as well, because a plurality of Paul’s supporters (at least in South Carolina!) support Mitt; he gets 38% of Paul’s voters compared to 28% who would in theory switch to Newt if Paul dropped out.  If you combine them with the Huntsman voters (remember, he’s still in the race in this poll), you can see how in a straight matchup between Gingrich and Romney – with no Paul in the race – Romney still comes out ahead in South Carolina.  Presumably these are the same dynamics that Sides/Vavreck are finding at the national level.

Again, keep in mind all the caveats regarding the data here.  My larger point is that in assessing who benefits if the conservative/Tea Party three-some is winnowed to one, it likely matters if the analysis presumes Paul is still in the race as well (although I readily confess I haven’t done any national-level assessment of this presumption as yet).   Once we account for the second place preferences of all the candidates – including Paul and Huntsman – one can understand why a plurality of South Carolina voters oppose Mitt, and yet he wins in a hypothetical one-on-one matchup with any other candidate in that state.

Of course, that hypothetical two-person race is not going to happen on Saturday in South Carolina. And if Paul stays in the race – it may not happen for many weeks, thus rendering the two-person matchup question moot – at least for now.  And, if Mitt does begin losing to the anti-Mitt in a three-person race, who knows what impact that will have?  I don’t.

Mitt Romney Hates Dogs, Speaks French Too

In general, there are two views regarding the role of money in electoral politics.  The viewed espoused by the “good government” – or goo-goo – types, is that money distorts electoral outcomes.  They cite the golden rule – “them that has the gold, makes the rules” to argue that those with deep pockets exercise disproportionate campaign influence.  The cure, according to goo-goo’s, is to enact regulations designed to reduce money’s influence on elections, through some combination of spending and contribution limits.

A second perspective, however, views campaign spending as a form of political participation. In order to compete in the “market place of ideas”, candidates and their supporters must be allowed to spend money to get their message out. The Supreme Court, in its controversial 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision, seemed to embrace at least part of this second view when it upheld limits on direct contributions to candidates, but struck down efforts to curb campaign spending conducted independently of candidates.  That line of reasoning was extended in the Citizens United ruling that protected individuals’ right to  spend unlimited amounts  independently even if they do so in the form of labor unions or corporations.  That decision has led, at least indirectly, to an explosion of spending by so-called SuperPacs during the current campaign cycle.

For the most part, as my students have heard me proclaim through the years, I have long argued that the cure for the evils of campaign spending is more spending, combined with transparency regarding the source of funding.  I say so not because I completely agree with the Court’s view equating independent campaign expenditures as a form of free speech, but from a more practical understanding,  expressed in Dickinson’s Second Law of Politics, which states:  “Money will always find its way to candidates.”  That “law” suggests that efforts to minimize the flow of money into campaigns through legislation or regulation will always fail.  But that’s not necessarily a bad thing – as long as the money is used to inform voters regarding candidates’ strengths and weaknesses.

We are seeing my philosophy put to test during the current Republican campaign cycle. Consider the spending in the runup to the Iowa caucus.  Candidate spending on television ads was actually down this election cycle in Iowa from 2008, as was overall spending.  What was distinctive, of course, was the emergence of the SuperPacs.  As I noted in an earlier blog post, however, it was not just the emergence of the Superpacs , which collectively spent more than did the candidates themselves, that mattered – it was the fact that some 45% of their spending targeted Newt Gingrich, and it was spent just as he was cresting in the polls. The result was devastating to his candidacy – he went from leading the polls to finishing in fourth.

But critics of the SuperPacs often overlook why the spending was effective.  It wasn’t because they completely fabricated Newt’s record – it’s because they exposed it (albeit in a one-sided manner), particularly his role lobbying for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  Moreover, as Newt acknowledged, he had no real counterattack, in part because he was far outspent by Romney’s Superpac, but also because he could not escape the reality that he had in fact lobbied on behalf of these mortgage giants.

The Iowa lesson was not lost on Gingrich, or his supporters.  In South Carolina, they have set out to fight fire with fire and so far, based on polling, it is having an effect.  (I’ll deal with the polls in a separate post). Once again, SuperPacs are outspending candidates, this time almost 2-1,  on television advertising in the Palmetto state. Although Romney-backed SuperPacs continue to spend heavily, however, the playing field has been leveled by the participation of Superpacs backing all the other major candidates as well.  And that is reflected, I think, in the polls.  Although Romney leads, the race has been tightening in part because of the influx of anti-Romney spending by other SuperPacs.  Here’s the RealClear Politics trend lines (Romney = Purple, Gingrich= Green, Santorum= Brown and Paul=Yellow).

Although much has been made about the 28-minute infomercial now airing that criticizes Romney’s role at Bain, I think my personal favorite is this ad that accuses Romney of – mon dieu! – speaking French!

Perhaps a close second is this recitation of some of Romney’s past statements, culminating with his defense of his decision to travel cross country with his dog on the roof of his car:

Critics will contend, of course, that these commercials simplify and distort Romney’s record, just as the SuperPac ads in Iowa did to Gingrich’s.  Of course they do.  But the question is: how do you “cure” these tendencies?  The record of past campaign finance regulations suggest that they are not very effective at preventing money from being spent on candidates’ behalf.  Moreover, there is an argument to be made that voters should be allowed to make their own judgments regarding candidates’ records  – and on the ads run on their behalf.

Is Mitt a French-speaking, dog-hating, job-destroying Massachusetts moderate, and  – if so – does it matter?

I say, let the voters decide.

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.

I’ll Bet You $1.98 Romney’s $10,000 Wager Has No Impact On The Race

If Mitt Romney fails to get the Republican nomination, it won’t have anything to do with his much criticized $10,000 bet.  For those of you who didn’t watch last night’s 12th Republican debate or followed my live blog of that event (how could you not?), Mitt Romney offered to bet Rick Perry $10,000 that Perry’s claim that, in Romney’s autobiography, Romney advocated using the health care law he helped implement in Massachusetts as a model for the nation was in fact incorrect.  The exchange that precipitated Romney’s seeming spontaneous gesture went like this:

Romney: “You know what? You’ve raised that before, Rick.”

Perry: “It was true then, and it’s true now.”

Romney (holding out his hand): “I’ll tell you what, 10,000 bucks? Ten thousand dollar bet?”

Perry: “I’m not in the betting business.”

Here’s the video of the exchange:

I confess that when I saw this exchange I was struck more by the evident hostility between the two, and the fact that Romney was clearly rattled by the exchange, and didn’t really pay much attention to the size of Romney’s bet. It seemed obvious to me that Romney wanted to make the figure large enough to show that he was confident he was right. The size of the bet reflected his confidence, not his wallet. But that’s not how the pundits interpreted his words.  Almost immediately – and this is a reminder of how communications technology has changed the dynamics of debate coverage – Democrats were using twitter feeds to point out how Romney’s offer signified just out of touch he is with “ordinary” Americans who couldn’t possibly risk $10,000 in a bet.  And, just like that, the $10,000 bet became the defining moment of the debate for Romney, at least as viewed by the pundits. If Romney loses his campaign for the nomination, media wags will undoubtedly cite this as a turning point.

But they will be wrong. To begin, it’s common knowledge that Romney is a wealthy man, a point he acknowledged later in the debate in response to a question asking candidates if they understood financial hardship. (Romney’s net worth is estimated to be somewhere north of $200 million.) It’s not news to Iowans that he’s rich and Romney has never hidden that fact.  Moreover, the media focus on the bet “gaffe” ignores that fact that Romney has now been running for president for almost six years  – he’s practically a career campaigner! – and he’s never shown any ability to garner anything beyond minority support among Republican voters.  By my count, he won eight states in 2008 – none of them with the possible exception of Michigan played any real role in affecting  the outcome. I don’t say this to indict his candidacy – I say it to point out that it would be a surprise if he did attract enough Republican support to capture the nomination.  I’ve been saying this all along.  The media has largely missed this story, but the polling data doesn’t lie.  Here’s the RealClear Politics national polls composite reading (Mitt in purple):

In November, 2010 – more than a year ago – Mitt was standing at 22.6%, leading the Republican race. Today, more than a year later, and after 12 debates, constant campaigning, endless media coverage, unrelenting support from opinion leaders and party elders, he’s at – drum roll please! – 20.8%!  Now guess how much popular support Romney attracted in 2008 among those voting in the Republican nominating contests?  Yes, that’s right – he won 22% of the vote!

Since 2007, then, Romney hasn’t gained support, and hasn‘t lost support – although he has lost the lead during the current nominating campaign.  (Note – all polling data are from surveys in the field before last night’s debate). In fact, during the current nominating contests, his support has been amazingly consistent – never going above 25% and never dropping below 16%.  While the media has spent an inordinate amount of time documenting the rapid change in candidates’ standings, they’ve missed the bigger story: that the purported frontrunner can’t seem to persuade 75% of Republicans to support him. Now, of course, he’s not the frontrunner – but it’s not because he’s lost support.

But, you ask, wasn’t he leading the race until recently?  Yes, but Romney has been the “frontrunner” for two reasons: first, his name recognition put him high enough in the polls compared to lesser known candidates to make it appear that he was ahead early in the process, and because the Republican establishment has been fervently touting his candidacy.  But the simple fact is that despite all this pressure from opinion leaders to anoint Mitt as the Republican nominee (the Party Decides!), the voters are not buying it – and they never have.  Mitt’s sole road to the nomination has always been to win a war of attrition – to hope the other Republicans all flamed out leaving him the last man standing.  Nothing that happened last night changed those dynamics.

Don’t believe me? Here’s $1.98 that says I’m right.

Any takers?