Tag Archives: Republican 2012 nomination

Huntsman, South Carolina and the State of the Race Before Tonight’s Debate

The only surprising aspect of Jon Huntsman’s decision to drop out of the campaign was its timing; as I noted during my live blogging of the New Hampshire primary, the results there showed little support for Huntsman among Republicans, making it clear that his days in this race were numbered.   Alas, his decision to drop out and endorse Romney will have at best a marginal impact on the race, most likely by giving a slight boost to Romney’s level of support.   In South Carolina, Huntsman was polling in the low single digits, and was even bested by faux candidate Stephen Colbert in one survey.  Most importantly, since Huntsman was largely competing with Romney for voters, his departure does little to solve the collective action problem that has prevented the Tea Party/fiscal conservatives from coalescing behind a non-Romney candidate.  Unless that dilemma is resolved along the lines I’ve suggested, Romney is likely to back into still another primary victory, thus lending further support to the media/party leader frame regarding Romney’s inevitable march to coronation.

Although polling in South Carolina remains fluid at this juncture five days before Saturday’s primary, with about a third of the voters still undecided, every recent poll shows Romney leading there, and Gingrich in second.  The good news for Gingrich is that fully 58% of South Carolinians surveyed by PPP don’t want Romney as the nominee.  Among those polled, moreover, Gingrich led as the second choice of 20% of respondents, beating out every other candidate.  Twenty-seven percent of Mitt’s supporters say they might switch to someone else – the highest of any candidate.  So there’s room for Gingrich’s support to grow.

The bad news for Gingrich, however, is that in a choice between Gingrich and Romney, Romney wins 48-37%, with 15% undecided.  Note that Gingrich does better in a head-to-head matchup with Romney than does any other Republican – except for Rick Santorum, who essentially matches Gingrich in the Romney matchup.  This suggests to me that Gingrich’s “baggage” is making evangelical Christians – who comprise more than 50% of likely South Carolinian voters – reluctant to support him, even as they oppose Romney. (In 2008 evangelicals constituted 60% of the Republican primary vote.)   If Gingrich is to close the gap, he has to win over these voters between now and Saturday.  But that is going to be very hard to do if both Santorum and Perry stay in the race.  Note that the social conservatives outnumber the roughly 30% who classify themselves as Tea Party supporters – a group with whom Gingrich polls well (keeping in mind that the two groups aren’t mutually exclusive).

So, where does the race stand, heading into tonight’s crucial South Carolina debate (on Fox News at 9 p.m., and yes, I’ll be live blogging.)   Santorum has seen his initial burst of polling support coming out of Iowa recede, and he’s now drawing about 12-15% in most polls, a distant third (with Paul who has similar polling numbers) to Romney’s roughly 30% and Gingrich’s 22%.  Note that the biggest issue for most social conservatives in South Carolina is the economy – not cultural issues, which Santorum has emphasized more than the other candidates. Perry, so far, is getting very little polling traction in South Carolina, with his numbers consistently in the single digits.  Despite this, he has more money than Santorum and has already vowed to continue campaigning in Florida, where he is already running advertising.

And so the basic problem for these three – Gingrich, Santorum and Perry – remains how to win over the support of the plurality of voters who oppose Romney.   Although Gingrich has previously described South Carolina as a must win state, my guess is he will back off that assertion if he finishes a strong second on Saturday.  He will use that to stake his claim as the primary non-Mitt alternative and hope that Santorum and/or Perry will aid his cause by dropping out before Florida’s Jan. 31 primary.

Keep in mind, however, that South Carolina is an open primary.  This means independents can participate.  Because there is no Democratic primary, I expect the percentage of independents who participate to easily eclipse the 18% who voted in 2008.  And those voters are largely backing either Romney – or Ron Paul.   And that’s why, once again, Paul is the potential spoiler in this race.  As I’ve noted in previous posts, he has expanded his coalition beyond his libertarian core and is drawing additional support from Tea Partiers concerned about the burgeoning budget deficit and government spending.  Polls show he is running about even with Romney among those who cite the deficit and government spending as the top issue, slightly ahead of Gingrich.

Bottom line?  Given the number of undecided voters, tonight’s debate is potentially critical to all the participants except perhaps for Paul, who seems destined to get his 15% from the Paulistas no matter what.  But I don’t expect it to resolve the core dilemma before Saturday that has enabled Romney to stay ahead of the field despite what appears to be lukewarm support.  For that to happen, at least two more of the three anti-Mitts need to be winnowed.

I’ll be on tonight, shortly before 9.  As always, I invite you to join in!

Latest Iowa Poll: Santorum Rising, But Race Still Fluid

The Des Moines Register just released the results of their highly anticipated Iowa poll and the top line is consistent with what recent polls are showing: although Romney is in the lead, Santorum is surging.  The poll, conducted Tuesday through Friday (margin of error =/- 4%) of likely caucus goers, shows Romney leading with 24%, followed by Paul at 22% and Santorum in third at 15%.  However, if one looks only at the most recent two days of the four-day survey, Santorum is at 22%, and Paul at 18% (margin of error 5.6%), suggesting Santorum may finish with stronger numbers.  If this trend continues, Mitt may experience deja vu all over again, only this time it will be Santorum reprising the Huckabee role from four years ago.  Note that in the two-day sample Romney’s numbers are unchanged, indicating he may have peaked. All this is consistent with what I have described in recent posts.  If the conservatives do consolidate behind Santorum, he may yet win this.

Keep in mind, however, that a whopping 41% of those surveyed said they may still change their mind in the final few days.  The rest of the poll numbers read Newt Gingrich, 12%, Rick Perry, 11% and Michele Bachmann at  7%.   Of perhaps more interest, however, is the breakdown of the poll by party ID and ideology.  Typically, the Des Moines paper does not weight their polls to arrive at the “proper” distribution – they let the numbers speak for themselves.  So it is interesting to see what they are showing in terms of likely turnout come Tuesday.  Alas, the full poll internals won’t be available until tomorrow.   When it is released, I’ll be back on.

Until then, have a Happy New Year, and I’ll see you next year.


Two More Polls: Where Things Stand in Iowa

At this rate I’ll never get my grading done.

Two more polls just in and (fortunately!) they are consistent with my earlier analysis posted today.  The first poll is a Rasmussen automated survey conducted Dec. 28, and the second is a telephone survey by American Research Group (ARG) from Dec. 26-28 (both polls have a margin of error +/-4%).  For ease of interpretation I’ve put the five most recent Iowa polls in the following table. (Note, however, that the CNN poll took place with a day off for the Christmas holidays.)

Candidate Public Policy Polling (12. 26-27.11) CNN (12.21-24, 12.26-27.11) Insider Advantage(12.28.11) American Research Group (12.26-28.11) Rasmussen (12.28.11)
Romney 20% 25% 17.2% 22% 23%
Paul 24% 22% 17.3% 16% 22%
Gingrich 13% 14% 16.7% 17% 13%
Santorum 10% 16% 13.4% 11% 16%
Perry 10% 11% 10.5% 9% 13%
Bachmann 11% 9% 11.8% 8% 5%


Once you account for differences in sampling and the dates of these polls, they tell somewhat similar stories. Keeping in mind all the usual caveats about polling a caucus state, what do these more recent surveys suggest is happening in Iowa today, five days before voting?  I offer the following observations.

  1. Romney is going to get about 23% of the vote, give or take a few percentage points.  That is, he’ll finish close to what he did four years ago.  Whether that is enough to win depends on several other factors.  See below.
  2. Paul’s support, I think, may be softening just a bit, probably because of doubts, fueled by negative campaign ads, regarding his foreign policy views.  Note that his unfavorable ratings have risen in the last week and are now in negative numbers.  Of course, with him it all depends on the relevant turnout of independents and younger voters.   Will the college crowd be home for the winter break?  Will they turn out? We know that he has a core group of supporters who will show up no matter what.  But I don’t think that constitutes much more than 20% of likely voters.
  3. Gingrich seems to have weathered the avalanche of negative ads directed at him and is stabilized at about 16%.  In my view, he has a greater potential upside than either Romney or Gingrich, primarily because his support cuts across demographic and party lines.  His biggest problem is extremely high unfavorable ratings.  Much depends on whether his last-minute advertising pitch can swing voters his way.  He is now, finally, on the air with new television ads.  Unlike Romney and Paul, however, he lacks a campaign infrastructure for getting out the vote.
  4. Santorum seems to be benefitting from the “last Christian standing” dynamic; the evangelicals have danced with everyone else not named Mitt or Ron at least once (please, no touching on the dance floor), so it now appears to be Santorum’s turn.  He’s peaking at the right moment, has high favorable ratings (because no one has bothered to attack him) and could challenge for third place.
  5. Perry is a wildcard – he’s blanketed the state with advertising and has made a strong pitch for the conservative vote but it’s not clear that he’s attracting more than 12% support.
  6. Bachmann is in danger of getting winnowed.  The key question, for me, is whether her supporters peel off in the caucus room and switch to Santorum.  Note that unlike in Democratic caucusing in Iowa, where there’s plenty of jockeying for position, there’s not a lot persuasion that goes on in the Republican meetings, and the vote is by secret ballot.  So it’s a lot easier to dump the one you brought to the dance.

The results five days from now, it seems to me, hinge on two factors.  What is the relative percentage of independents (and even Democrats) that turn out?  And do the evangelicals coalesce behind a single candidate, or two, or three?  I think Romney’s and Paul’s support is what it is in the polls.   I’m less confident about the other four.

More as polling comes in.

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?