Tag Archives: Iowa polls

Iowa Leaning to Santorum?

NBC Marist came out with their Iowa poll today, and it contains few surprises.  Note that although the poll was released today, it was conducted from Dec. 27-28, so it is not giving us any newer information than the polls I cited yesterday.  That means it doesn’t do much to help our interpretation of what’s happening in Iowa. In releasing the poll, NBC has been trumpeting Santorum’s rise, but his support as reported by NBC includes the undecideds who are leaning toward him.  For comparison purposes, I’ve posted the candidates’ support among potential caucus voters in the first column, and the totals including the undecided who are leaning in the second column.  The second column is what is getting reported.  (Candidates in order as they were listed in poll summary.)

Newt Gingrich 13 13
Mitt Romney 22 23
Michele Bachmann 5 6
Rick Santorum 11 15
Jon Huntsman 2 2
Ron Paul 19 21
Rick Perry 13 14
Undecided 16 7

As you can see, Santorum gets the biggest boost when we include the leaners.

The three big takeaways from the NBC poll are, first, that there are still a good chunk of undecided voters.  Even among “likely voters” (not shown here) 12% considered themselves undecided.  That’s enough – if they all broke the same way (they won’t) – to provide the winning margin to almost any of the top five candidates.  At the very least it suggests the race is still fluid. Second, there’s no evidence yet that the conservative vote is coalescing around a single candidate although Santorum has picked up some of their support. He’s considered the true conservative by 23% of likely voters, compared to Paul with 21%. Third, as I’ve said before, there’s not a lot of love in Iowa for Romney, who still can’t seem to break out.  Note however, that he’s the second choice of 21% of those polled – that leads the field.  Interestingly, Perry is the second choice of 20%. If current trends hold, Romney is poised to win this by default.

We should see a couple more polls before Tuesday.  Everyone is waiting for the Des Moines Register poll, which should be released Saturday night, because it proved accurate four years ago, and because  it is likely to provide the last bit of evidence regarding trends in support.  For now, I’ve included the NBC survey in the table composed of all the post-Christmas Iowa polls. Note that although NBC has been touting the fact that their survey included about 30% cell phones, the results don’t differ at all from the non-cell robo-call results posted by Rasmussen.

Candidate Public Policy Polling (12. 26-27.11) CNN (12.21-24, 12.26-27.11) Insider Advantage


American Research Group (12.26-28.11) Rasmussen (12.28.11) NBC/Marist (12.27-


Romney 20% 25% 17.2% 22% 23% 23%
Paul 24% 22% 17.3% 16% 22% 21%
Gingrich 13% 14% 16.7% 17% 13% 13%
Santorum 10% 16% 13.4% 11% 16% 15%
Perry 10% 11% 10.5% 9% 13% 14%
Bachmann 11% 9% 11.8% 8% 5% 6%

Meanwhile, there have been a couple of other developments pertaining to recent blog posts that I’ll address separately.

The Perils of Polling Paul: Are the Iowa Results Correct?

Can Ron Paul win Iowa?  Shortly after posting my assessment of this PPP Iowa poll yesterday that showed Ron Paul leading in Iowa, Insider Advantage released a second Iowa poll that also showed Paul ahead in Iowa with 24% support.  As in the PPP poll, Romney was second (18%), but Gingrich had dropped to 4th in the IA poll at 13%, behind Rick Perry’s 15.5%.  The two polls immediately fueled debate regarding whether Paul could win in Iowa. Without discounting that possibility, I want to inject a note of caution regarding the mini-Paul media boomlet that we will undoubtedly experience in the next two days.

The major issue is whether these two polls are inflating Paul’s support.  I have noted on previous occasions how difficult it is to develop an accurate sample of likely voters in a caucus state.  Keep in mind that turnout in Iowa will likely be about 100,000 voters – not a huge number by any means in a state with over 2 million registered voters, including more than 600,000 Republicans.  Trying to anticipate who will actually turn out on Jan. 3 is as much art as science.

Iowa caucuses are in theory open to all voters since participants are allowed to change their party registration on the day of the caucus. In fact, however, they tend to be attended almost exclusively by partisans.  Thus, in the 2008 Republican caucus, entrance polls indicate that only 1% of those participating in the Republican caucus were registered Democrats, while 86% were registered Republicans and 13% declared independents.  And this is where things get dicey in projecting Paul’s support.

Both the IA and the PPP polls show that Paul does much better than his opponents among independents and moderate Democratic voters, but the race is much tighter among Republicans; Paul is running about even with Romney among Republicans in the IA survey, and about 4% ahead of both Perry and Gingrich.

So, a key question for pollsters trying to gauge Paul’s support is deciding how many of the former two voting groups to include in a survey sample.  The following table compares the IA and PPP breakdown with the actual figures from 2008.

Voting Group 2008 Actual Proportion (based on entrance polls) IA Survey PPP Survey
Independents 13% 29.9% 17%
Democrats 1% 6.4% 5%
Republicans 86% 63.7% 75%

So both the IA and PPP surveys are oversampling, in comparison to the 2008 proportions, from independents and Democrats – the two groups that are disproportionately likely to support Paul.  Now, this doesn’t mean these projections are wrong.  In fact, it is not unreasonable to think that Democrats and Independents will turn out in higher proportions than in 2008 given that there’s no real race on the Democratic side in Iowa. How much higher, however, is the crucial question. If their sample projections are overestimating independent and Democratic turnout, then both automated polls are likely too optimistic in projecting Paul’s support.

Note that we see the same potential skew when we break down the respondents by ideology.  In the 2008 entrance polls, fully 88% of respondents identified themselves as either strongly or somewhat conservative, but only 11% said they were moderate and 1% liberal.  And yet in the PPP poll we find the following:

Q32 Would you describe yourself as very liberal, somewhat liberal, moderate, somewhat conservative, or very conservative?

Very liberal ……………………………………………… 3%

Somewhat liberal …………………………………….. 6%

Moderate………………………………………………… 19%

Somewhat conservative……………………………. 36%

Very conservative ……………………………………. 36%

In short, only 72% of respondents fall into the conservative range – a full 16% lower than in 2008, while 9% are liberal – 8% higher than in 2008, and 19% are moderate – also 8% higher than four years ago. (The IA topline results do not show the ideological breakdown of their respondents.)

Note that the party and ideological proportions also affect candidate favorability ratings. Paul’s favorability rating is about 8% higher among independents than among Republicans, while Gingrich’s unfavorable margin is much higher among independents and Democrats. Similarly, Paul is viewed much favorably by independents, while Gingrich does better among conservatives.

So, are these surveys wrong?  Not necessarily. In fact, I don’t know how many independents and Democrats will turn out on January 3rd – and no one else does either.  Both PPP and IA are making perhaps very reasonable assumptions that the partisan and ideological proportions will not be the same as in 2008, and that groups favoring Paul will turn out in much higher numbers. They could be correct, but we have no way of knowing. And that is important to keep in mind when you read media coverage of these polls in the next few days. The media narrative will undoubtedly suggest that Paul is surging in Iowa.  It may even be true. In the long run, however, a candidacy that depends on independents and Democrats is not likely to capture the Republican nomination.

The Latest Iowa Polls: Mitt Has Been Newtered!

With less than 30 days before the Iowa primaries, the first three polls in the field since Herman Cain dropped out show no signs that Gingrich’s lead is slipping If anything, he may have increased his lead by a few points which may reflect additional support from disaffected Cain supporters. All three polls have Paul and Romney vying for second place.  Perhaps more worrisome for Mitt, however, is that with the media narrative finally beginning to reflect the polling reality, there are signs that voters are no longer viewing Mitt as the most electable in a general election matchup against the President.  Moreover, the issue of greatest concern to Iowa voters – even social conservatives – is the economy, one that should play to Romney’s strengths.  But evidently it is not – Iowa voters do not seem to be buying Romney’s “I’m a  private sector job creator” narrative.  Curiously, however, despite the sagging polling numbers, he still seems reluctant to take on Gingrich directly, even as other Republican candidates are now directly targeting the Newster in media interviews and campaign advertising.

First, let’s review the polling data.

The top line numbers show Newt holding a substantial lead among likely Republican caucus voters in the three latest, post-Cain resignation polls in Iowa. In this Washington post/ABC poll, Gingrich leads the field among likely caucus voters with 33%, ahead of both Paul and Romney who poll at 18%. Among potential caucusers, he leads Romney 28%-18%. (The poll of potential Republican caucus goers covered November 30 to December 4, and has 4 point error margin for all potential voters and 6 points for the subsample of likely voters.) A second poll, by PPP, has Gingrich up by 9%, 27%-18% over Ron Paul, with Romney in third at 16%.  Interestingly, Bachmann has climbed to 13% in this poll, perhaps on the strength of support from former Cain supporters. (PPP surveyed 572 likely Republican caucus voters from December 3rd to 5th. The margin of error for the survey is +/-4.1%.)  Finally, a CBSNYT Poll has Gingrich up big, 31% to Romney’s 17% and Paul’s 16%. (CBS News and The New York Times conducted telephone interviews November 30 -December 5, 2011 with 1,869 Republican and independent registered voters in Iowa, including 642 registered voters who said they would definitely or probably attend the Republican caucus in Iowa. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus four points for caucus-goers.) Here’s the overall state of the race in Iowa, based on the RealClear politics aggregator (Newt is green, Mitt purple, and Paul brown):

There are three critical points to take away from these latest polls. First, even among social conservatives, this election is about the economy.  Only 11% of the Post respondents cited social issues as their top priority, with more than 70% citing economic matters. In the PPP poll social issues were cited by only 9%.  And in what has to be a slap in Romney’s private sector face, more Iowans view Gingrich as better qualified to address economic issues than Mitt. At the same time, 33% of Iowans view Romney’s support of health care in Massachusetts as a major reason to vote against him.  When asked about Newt’s marital history, however, 76% of potential caucus goers say it is not an issue, while 16% say it is the major reason to oppose Newt.  The bottom line is that Newt is stealing Mitt’s lunch on the very issue that was supposed to be Mitt’s strong point – handling of the economy – while Newt’s potential weakness – his personal “baggage” – is as yet not resonating very much with voters.

The second issue is that Gingrich is now viewed as electable as Romney, or more so, when matched up in a general election fight with President Obama.  In the Post poll, 29% of respondents said Newt has the best chance to beat Obama, while 24% said Romney did. This shows an erosion from earlier Iowa polls that indicated while a plurality of Iowans supported Newt, most still thought Romney was more electable.  Not anymore.  Despite the Republican establishment’s party line that Romney is the most electable Republican, the fact is that voters are reading the polling data like the rest of us, and increasingly the “experts” seem to be out of step with real-time developments in these early states. I can tell you that Republican opinion leaders are viewing the specter of Newt as the party’s nominee with not a little trepidation.

Finally, there is evidence that voters are still candidate shopping, which means there may yet be room for change.  As I noted in my previous post, fully 71% of Iowans in the last Des Moines Register poll were either undecided (11%) or open to changing their mind (60%). Four years ago in the same newspaper’s poll at a similar time in the campaign, the number of undecided was only 4%, although the same proportion of voters said they might yet change their mind.  How those undecideds will break is an interesting question but clearly there are more of them this time around. My guess – and it is only a guess – is that Paul has hit his ceiling, and that while Bachmann may pick up some of Cain’s support, she has the highest negatives of any of these candidates, which suggests she may also max out at 15% or so.  With Mitt’s support softening, it is still possible that Rick Perry is going to pick up a few more voters in the next three plus weeks.

A final point. A reporter contacted me yesterday to discuss the emerging media narrative that the race between Romney and Gingrich might be viewed in some sense as a test of two campaign paradigms; Newt is running the campaign of ideas based on free media – particularly debates – and social networking, while Mitt is running the traditional resource-intensive ground game emphasizing the meet-and-greet strategy.  My reply is that I’m not sure these campaign stereotypes are all that accurate. In fact, Romney’s presence in Iowa pales in comparison to the resources he invested here four years ago, and Newt has actually been a more frequent visitor there, although it is true that 31% of likely Republican voters have been contacted by the Romney campaign compared to only 19% contacted by Gingrich’s campaign.  Neither candidate, however, has committed the resources in terms of campaign offices and field staff that we’ve often seen in previous years.   This may reflect broader trends in campaigning more generally. But as I told the reporter, it doesn’t matter how good a ground game you have if people don’t like your message.  This point was driven home four years ago, when Romney’s vast advantage in material resources could not overcome social conservatives’ preference for Huckabee.

Bottom line?  Mitt Romney’s support is slipping relative to Newt in Iowa and it is affecting him on the very issues – his business experience and electability – that are supposed to be his strong suit in this campaign. If he is to stem this erosion in support, he needs to decide on a strategy for doing so, one that relies on more than hoping his fellow Republicans will take Newt to the woodshed.  This may mean putting Mitt in front of the camera more often, in interviews on Sunday talk shows and similar formats.  Mitt has not been on a Sunday talk show since March, 2010 – and for good reason. The problem is that he can appear thin-skinned; when pressed he often reverts to that classroom persona of the prissy who cites the rules and threatens to go to the teacher when he doesn’t get his way. You know you are in trouble when you are viewed as less likable than an opponent who gained a reputation – perhaps overdrawn – as a bombastic pompous blowhard.

But then, that’s the great thing about American politics: contrary to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous declaration, there are second acts in this country, and right now Newt is experiencing his.  Perhaps, you say, but there’s no way he could ever become president!

Remember this guy?