In politics, as in life, timing is often everything. A second Iowa poll has just been released, and it suggests that conservatives in Iowa may be – I stress may be, since this is one poll – coalescing behind Rick Santorum. This poll, conducted by ORC on behalf of CNN, is based on telephone interviews with 452 likely Republican caucus participants, and was in the field from December 21-24 and December 26-27. (The sampling error +/-4.5 percentage points.) As the following table shows, it has Romney leading with 25%, followed by Paul at 22%. The big surprise is that Santorum has climbed into third with 16%, which statistically ties him with Gingrich.
Someone else (vol.) *
None/ No one (vol.) *
No opinion 2%
Santorum’s rise in this poll seems to be fueled by the anti-Mitt and anti-Paul groups I discussed in my previous post – that is, social conservatives and Tea Party activists. Among those who self-identify as “born again” Santorum leads all candidates with 24% support. Among “conservatives” he is in a statistical tie with Romney (22% to Santorum’s 21%) at the top. Note, however, that in contrast to the PPP poll, this survey does not appear to include self-identified moderates or Democrats, although it’s hard to tell for sure because explicit breakdowns by party or ideology are not provided. Still, it is the first evidence we have that conservatives may have decided that Santorum is this year’s Huckabee.
If so, it would be only fitting; Santorum is the only Republican competing in Iowa who has not experienced a surge in support. If, in fact, conservatives have now decided to coalesce behind him, his timing is impeccable, since a surge at this late date will not provide time for candidates or their shadow SuperPacs to reorient their negative message machine against him.
In terms of issues, perhaps the most interesting finding coming out of the poll is the number (60%) citing the deficit as the most important economic issue, trumping both jobs (20%) and taxes (13%). These are not Romney conservatives, for the most part.
What is most startling about this poll, however, is that with just six days to go, fully 43% of those polled say they may still change their mind! At the same time, however, there are significant blocs of voters who say they won’t support specific candidates under any circumstances; 35% say they won’t vote for Romney, 36% say they won’t vote for Bachmann, 39% won’t support Newt and 41% won’t support Paul. Interestingly, however, only 25% say they won’t vote for Perry. (Unfortunately, for some reason Santorum wasn’t included in this question!)
So, where do things stand? It appears that caucus goers may be sorting themselves into three voting blocs: “establishment” Republicans who back Romney, libertarians who support Paul, and social conservatives who are the biggest bloc, but who are still working on that coordination problem. I think it’s pretty clear that despite the drumbeat of support by the party establishment, Romney has come close to maxing out in Iowa – indeed, it’s not clear he’ll even match his total from four years ago. (I’ll have another post on how the pundits are missing the story with him in a bit.) It also appears that Paul may have hit his ceiling. With six days to go,who wins Iowa may depend on just how quickly and thoroughly social conservatives move toward a single candidate. Is it Santorum? If so, that may finally change his google, er, issue!
P.S. 6:14 p.m. I hope everyone appreciates that I’ve avoided stooping so low as to engage in the obvious Santorum word play regarding his polling move from behind….how he’s come from the rear of the pack …. ok, never mind.
P.S.S. As I look through the internals of the CNN/ORC poll, it does seem they don’t include any non-Republicans in their survey, in contrast to the PPP poll. That explains why Santorum can be third in one poll, but trailing the field in the other one. Just another reminder that who turns out next Tuesday makes all the difference in the world.