Tag Archives: romney

Is Mitt It? The Pundits Say Yes, the Polls Say No

We are witnessing a fascinating struggle between the polling data in Iowa, and how Republican Party leaders and pundits are interpreting that data.  Yesterday, the National Journal ran this story under the headline “Romney: The New Frontrunner in Iowa”.   It linked to a number of print and online articles that collectively indicated Romney was poised to win the Jan. 3 caucus and position himself to close out the nomination contest shortly thereafter. Thus, Politico proclaimed that “Romney was in striking distance of Iowa Win.”    The Washington Post proclaimed  that Romney’s “stealth campaign” gave him a “real shot at winning Iowa.”   This Huffington Post piece  ran under the headline “Romney poised to do well in Iowa.”  The Hill opined that Romney “could lock up GOP nod with win at Iowa.”   The Los Angeles Times went so far as to claim that Romney could “win” Iowa even if he didn’t win there!  Josh Krashauer concludes his National Journal piece with this confident assertion:  “Make no mistake: If Romney wins the Iowa caucuses, he’s on a glide path to the Republican nomination.  And with newfound scrutiny over Paul’s racial record, Gingrich losing momentum and the evangelical base vote split between Bachmann, Perry and Santorum, it’s looking awfully likely that Romney will come away as the big winner on Jan. 3.”

Big Winner?  You might think this assessment and the accompanying flurry of news story touting Romney’s prospects are driven by recent polling data indicating that Romney was pulling ahead in Iowa, or at least that his poll numbers were on the rise there.  But you would be wrong.  The reality is that there are no signs of a Romney surge in Iowa.  At best one might argue that he’s climbed a couple of percentage points back to where he was a month ago, but even that’s uncertain, given the probabilistic nature of survey sampling.

Consider the latest Iowa poll released late yesterday by Insider Advantage.  It shows Romney at 17.2%, in a dead heat with Paul (17.3%) and Gingrich (16.7%).   (The bigger news in the poll is that Santorum has climbed to 4th, at 13.4%, which is consistent with yesterday’s CNN/ORC poll that had him third, with 16% of the polling support. More on that in a later post.) One week ago Insider Advantage had Romney at…. 18%.  Well, that’s one poll you say – surely he’s climbing in all the others?  Nope. PPP’s latest had Romney at 20% – exactly where he was a week before in the previous PPP poll.  Rasmussen?  The last two polls, again a week apart, have him at 23% and 25%.  Really the only poll that suggests any growth in Romney’s support is yesterday’s CNN poll, which has him at 25%, which is 5% more than its previous poll. That previous poll, however, dates back three weeks.

Indeed, right now Romney is at 21.8% in the RealClearPolitics composite polling tracker – which is almost exactly where he was a month ago and, in fact, about where he was last July!   Indeed, he’s on track to finish below the 25% he received in Iowa four years ago!   For all intents, despite several millions dollars of paid advertising, countless visits, endorsements by party leaders, and even a change in clothing (Mitt’s ditched the prep look and is now dressing down) Romney’s been treading water for four years in Iowa.  That’s the real story.

Look, Romney could very well finish first come Jan. 3 – but if current trends hold it won’t be because of a surge of support in the last two weeks of the race. Iowan voters show no signs of coming around to Mitt.  It will be because unlike in 2008, the Tea Party/evangelical voters who comprise more than 50% of the likely caucus voters didn’t coalesce behind a single alternative candidate.   Their failure to do so make it possible that Romney’s support will go down from 2008 – and yet he will finish first.

If that happens, it will be very interesting to see how the media spins the results.  For reasons that I think must be based on evaluations of candidate electability, the Republican party establishment  – by which I mean party leaders (see his endorsers) and their media counterparts (think Will, Brooks, and Krauthammer) – are completely in the tank for Romney, despite the fact that he has yet to demonstrate deep or broad support among hard-core Republican partisans.  There’s a dispute in the political science literature regarding whether the winning candidate gets a boost from Iowa.  (I’ll address this in a separate post.)  But it partly depends on media reactions and the expectations game.  If Mitt can’t increase his support in Iowa from four years ago, that suggests he’s not gaining strength as a candidate.  But that may not be how the media interprets the results.

By the way, the Insider Advantage poll released late yesterday showing a three-way tie in Iowa included 69% Republicans, 27% independents, and 3% Democrats – that’s a relatively low number of Republicans, which suggests the poll may be slightly understating Santorum’s support although it’s hard to be sure without an ideological breakdown as well.  The other interesting finding is what appears to be a gender gap in both Paul’s and Romney’s support;  Paul leads among men with 23% of the vote, but he gets only 12% among women.  Romney’s support is reversed; he receives the highest support among women, with 23%, but only gets 11% from men.  Gingrich, in contrast, polls equally well with both genders (17%).  Indeed, of the three front-runners, Gingrich shows the most consistent support across party, gender and age lines.   He comes in second among Republicans, second among Democrats and third among independents.  And while Paul draws disproportionally from those 44 years old and younger, and Romney’s core support is from the 45 and older crowd, Gingrich draws about evenly from all age groups.  Maybe Gingrich, and not Romney, is most electable?

Holy Iowa! The Mitt Has Hit the Fan!

For the night owls among you, the Des Moines Register has released its latest Iowa caucus poll and it is good news for Newt – and bad news for Romney.  Given the late hour, I’ll give you the highlights now and present a more detailed analysis tomorrow (actually, later today!)  As of now, the survey shows Gingrich in the lead with 25% of likely Republican voters.  Here’s the kicker: Ron Paul is in a virtual tie with Romney – Paul is second at 18%, with Romney in third with 16%. Note: this poll was taken before Cain announced he was suspending his campaign.  (The poll consists of 401 likely caucus participants and has a margin of error of just under 5%.) . Bachmann and Cain are at 8%, Perry and Santorum at 6%, and Huntsman, who is not campaigning in Iowa, trails the field with 2%.

It’s hard to exaggerate just how good this poll is for Gingrich.  First, consider that he has gained 18% since the last Register poll conducted Oct. 23-26.  In that poll, Cain led the field with 23%.  Romney was in a virtual tie at 22%. Gingrich was in single digits at 8%. This latest poll suggests that much of Cain’s support has migrated to Gingrich.  With Cain’s decision today to suspend his campaign, I expect Gingrich will gain additional support.

Second, most respondents choose Gingrich as their second choice. All told, 43% of those polled list Gingrich as either their first or second choice. This means that Gingrich is likely to take most of Cain’s remaining support (and who will Cain endorse?) and  if other candidates falter, Gingrich is most likely to benefit.

Third, Romney has lost 6% in Iowa just at the moment he has decided to go all in. His first television ad just went up, and a campaign spokesperson acknowledged that Mitt was in the Iowa race to win before walking back that statement a bit later in order to play the expectations game.  But make no mistake about it – if Romney finishes behind Gingrich AND Paul, it will raise serious questions regarding his candidacy – and about the judgment of the Republican establishment and the punditocracy that swears Gingrich’s support will not hold.

Keep in mind, however, that a lot can happen in 30 days.  Eleven percent of those polled say they are uncommitted, and 60% indicate they are willing to change their mind.  I expect Mitt and the other Republicans to bring out the heavy artillery against Newt in the next month.  The next two Republican debates will also be crucial.  But for now, if I’m Mitt, I am very worried.

I’ll have a more detailed analysis tomorrow…. .

Obama, Huckabee, Romney in Dead Heat for 2012 – Or Maybe Not


Two recently released surveys of registered voters appear to provide contradictory results regarding the 2012 presidential election.  The first, conducted by Pew during the second week of March, shows President Obama handedly beating a generic Republican candidate for president.

However, CNN released a second poll of registered voters yesterday, conducted by Fairleigh University from March 21-28 that indicates Obama is in essentially a dead heat with both Mike Huckabee (46%-46%) and Mitt Romney (Obama leads 44%-43%) in the 2012 race.

As Peter Baumann notes in an e-mail, these results seem surprising; it is more often the case that incumbents do worse against hypothetical generic opponents because survey respondents can fill in the blank with their ideal candidate.  When matched up with specific candidates, however, voters are asked to choose between two real people, and incumbents often benefit.  If Peter is right, what explains the results in these two surveys which show Obama doing better against the hypothetical Republican?  The answer, I suspect, lies in the question wording of the respective surveys and in the smaller sample size of the Dickinson survey.

Pew begins its survey by asking respondents whether they have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of a number of people, beginning with President Obama.   They also ask about former presidents Bush and Clinton and House Speaker John Boehner.

Although Obama’s job approval ratings are hovering in the mid-40’s, his personal favorability ratings have consistently been higher.  In the Pew poll, 58% of respondents view Obama “very” or “mostly” favorably, compared to 27% who view Boehner this way.  (Bush is viewed favorably by 42% and Clinton leads the pack with 67% favorability rating).   After leading with the question about Obama’s favorability rating, and implicitly comparing it to that of Boehner and Bush (and Clinton), Pew then goes on to ask about the 2012 hypothetical matchup with a generic Republican.   So respondents, in thinking about that generic “Republican”, do so in the context of being asked about two unpopular Republicans: Bush and Boehner.

Now look at how Fairleigh Dickinson begins its survey.

By beginning the survey this way, respondents are “primed” to answer the head-to-head matchups question primarily in terms of their views on whether the country is heading in the right direction, and on Obama’s job approval – not his favorability ratings compared to other Republicans.  As you can see, a substantial percentage of Americans believe the country is going in the wrong direction, and a near majority disapprove of the job Obama is doing. It’s not surprising, given the way the question wording primes them, that respondents in the Fairleigh Dickinson poll see Obama doing less well in head-to-head matchups than Pew finds him doing against a generic Republican opponent.

There is a second difference between the polls as well. Although the Dickinson survey of 800 respondents has a margin of error of +/- 3.5%, which is quite similar to Pew’s margin of error (+/- 3%) this does not hold for all the survey questions in the Dickinson poll. In fact, the numbers for these subsamples of respondents comparing Obama to Romney and Huckabee are much smaller (see table above) meaning the margin of error for both groups is substantially larger than the poll’s overall margin of error.  So, we need to view these results indicating that Obama is in a dead heat with both candidates with the requisite dose of salt.

My point here is not to say that one poll is more accurate than the other.  It is to remind you that, as we enter the 2012 presidential campaign, you will be inundated with polling data, much of which will be spun by politicians and pundits according to their political persuasions and which will be hyped by news media outlets that views poll results as “hard” news.  As consumers, you need to cut through the spin and hype to examine the details of the polls.  Pay attention to both question wording and order, and to the margin of error associated with survey subsamples.  All polls are not alike.

Addendum (2:32 p.m.)  Three days ago Quinnipiac released a nationwide poll taken March 21-28 that received quite a bit of national play for its headline “Obama Gets Lowest Approval, Reelect Score Ever”.   His approval/disapproval rating was 42/48%, and 50% of respondents said he did not deserve reelection. Of greater relevance to this post,  however, is that in the hypothetical 2012 matchup between Obama and a generic Republican, the poll found that  Obama got 36% of the vote compared to 37% against the unnamed Republican.   In contrast to the Pew poll, however, the Quinnipiac poll used different question wording; the generic matchup question was the first one Quinnipiac asked respondents, so they were not primed to respond in terms of a specific Republican, as they were in the Pew poll.   Again, it is a reminder that question order can influence polling results, even when identical questions are asked.