With all eyes on New Hampshire, Mitt Romney outpaces his closest competitor, Ron Paul, by 20 percentage points among likely Republican primary voters including those who are undecided yet leaning toward a candidate. Rick Santorum, whose support was in single digits in NBC News/Marist’s early December survey, is now in third place with 13%. But, for Newt Gingrich, there’s bad news. Gingrich, who was in second place last month, now sees his support cut to 9%.
Here is how the contest stands among likely Republican primary voters including those who are undecided yet leaning toward a candidate in New Hampshire:
- 42% for Mitt Romney (+3)
- 22% for Ron Paul (+6)
- 13% for Rick Santorum (+11)
- 9% for Newt Gingrich (-15)
- 9% for Jon Huntsman (no change)
- 1% for Rick Perry (-2)
- 5% are undecided (+1)
“Expectations are sky-high for a big Romney victory,” says Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, Director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. “These numbers are a table setter for this weekend’s debates, the last best chance for a major turnaround that would deprive Romney of a decisive win.”
When NBC News/Marist last reported this question in early December, 39% of likely Republican primary voters including leaners backed Romney. 24% supported Gingrich while 16% were behind Paul. Nine percent were for Huntsman while Michele Bachmann, who has since suspended her campaign, received 3%. Three percent also favored Perry, and 2% were for Santorum. Four percent, at that time, were undecided.
Among the potential Republican electorate in New Hampshire, that is, all Republicans and those independents who plan to vote in the primary, including those who are undecided yet leaning toward a candidate, Romney leads with 41%. Paul is a distant second with 22% followed by Santorum with 13%. Nine percent of these voters are behind Huntsman, and the same proportion — 9% — rallies for Gingrich. Just one percent is for Perry, and 5% are undecided.
- A notable proportion of likely primary voters in New Hampshire will be independents — 38%. Likely Republican primary voters in New Hampshire also include 40% who support the Tea Party, 22% who are Evangelical Christians, and 15% who identify themselves as very conservative. This is in sharp contrast with the Iowa Republican caucus as detailed in the entrance poll of caucus attendees by Edison Research of Somerville, New Jersey. 23% of GOP caucus participants were independents, 64% were Tea Party supporters, 57% of caucus-goers were Evangelical Christians, and 47% said they were very conservative.
- When looking at just Republicans who are likely to vote in the GOP primary, Romney is ahead by 28 percentage points. Romney has 46% followed by Paul with 18% and Santorum with 14%. Romney’s lead, however, narrows among independents. Here, 35% are for Romney while 28% support Paul. Huntsman receives 13% of the independent vote while Santorum takes 12%.
- Among likely Republican primary voters who support the Tea Party, the race tightens. 35% back Romney compared with 25% for Paul. 20% of these voters rally for Santorum, and 12% back Gingrich. However, among those who strongly back the Tea Party, Romney falls to third place. Santorum leads with 31% of this voting group. Paul garners 26% while Romney has the backing of 22%. The difference in New Hampshire is this group makes up only 12% of likely Republican primary voters compared with 34% of Iowa caucus-goers.
- Romney has plurality support among likely Republican primary voters who identify as liberal or moderate – 46% — and among those who describe themselves as conservative – 41%. He is neck and neck with Santorum, 30% to 27%, among those who say they are very conservative. Paul receives 22% among these voters.
- Looking at age, Romney leads among those 30 and older. 43% of likely Republican primary voters 30 to 44 years of age, 40% of those 45 to 59 years old, and 44% of those 60 and older support Romney. However, Paul has the edge among those younger than 30. Here, 47% back Paul compared with 40% for Romney.
- 31% of Evangelical Christians are behind Romney while 30% are for Santorum.
Six in Ten Strongly Support Choice of Candidate
60% of likely Republican primary voters say they strongly support their choice of candidate while 29% report they are somewhat committed to their pick. 11% think they might change their mind before Tuesday, and only 1% is unsure.
There has been an increase in the proportion of voters who are firmly committed to their choice of candidate. In NBC News/Marist’s early December survey, only about half of likely Republican primary voters — 49% — said they would not waver in their support. 31% reported they were somewhat behind their pick while 18% believed they might vote differently. Only 2%, at that time, were unsure.
- About two-thirds of likely Republican primary voters who back Paul – 67% — say they strongly support their candidate while 60% of Romney’s supporters are firmly committed to him. This compares with nearly six in ten — 57% — of Gingrich’s backers. The same proportion — 57% — of Huntsman’s backers and a majority of Santorum’s supporters — 52% — say the same.
Little Consensus about Second Choice…Gingrich, Paul Least Liked
When it comes to their second choice, 19% of likely Republican primary voters select Romney, 18% choose Santorum followed by 16% for Gingrich. Huntsman is the second pick of 13% compared with 11% for Paul. Perry is the second best candidate for 6%, and 16% are undecided.
Which candidate is the least liked? More than one in four likely Republican primary voters — 27% — say they like Gingrich least. 23% have a similar view of Paul, and 17% say the same about Perry. 13% of voters believe Romney is the least desirable candidate followed by 7% who have a similar opinion of Huntsman. Six percent have this attitude toward Santorum, and 6% are undecided.
60% View Romney as Acceptable Candidate…Gingrich’s Acceptability Plummets
Six in ten likely Republican primary voters in New Hampshire — 60% — think Romney is an acceptable candidate for the GOP nomination. 23% agree but have reservations while only 16% don’t think he is a good fit for the role. Just 1% is unsure. In NBC News/Marist’s previous survey, 63% said Romney was an acceptable choice as the Republican nominee.
Looking at Santorum, 42% say he is an acceptable choice for the top of the GOP ticket while 30% find him to be acceptable but have concerns. However, one in four — 25% — thinks Santorum is an unacceptable pick, and 3% are unsure.
While 35% believe Paul is a good fit for the Republican nomination, and 21% think he fits the bill but with reservations, there has been an increase in the proportion of voters who believe Paul is an unacceptable candidate for the top of the ticket. 43% currently have this view, and 1% is unsure. In early December, 38% said Paul was an acceptable choice for the GOP nomination while 31% reported he was an unacceptable selection.
31% think Huntsman is an acceptable choice for the Republican nomination. 30% agree but with reservations, and 33% report he is an unacceptable candidate. Six percent are unsure.
Fewer likely Republican voters perceive Gingrich to be a proper fit for the top of the ticket. Only 29% think he is an acceptable choice. 27% approve of him as the candidate but have concerns, and 44% think Gingrich is an unacceptable candidate for the role. Less than one percent is unsure. In December, a majority — 54% — reported Gingrich to be an acceptable candidate. At that time, only 19% thought Gingrich was an unacceptable candidate for the nomination.
Looking at Perry’s acceptability, just 17% say he is an appropriate choice. 26% report he is acceptable but with reservations while a majority — 54% — believes he is not a good fit. Three percent are unsure. In NBC News/Marist’s previous survey, 24% thought Perry to be a good choice for the nomination.
Issues, Electability Top List of Most Important Candidate Qualities
Three in ten likely Republican primary voters in New Hampshire — 30% — are looking for a candidate who is closest to them on the issues while 29% want someone who can defeat President Barack Obama in the general election. However, 19% think someone who has the experience to govern is the most important quality to consider when selecting a candidate. The same proportion — 19% — wants a candidate who shares their values. Two percent are unsure.
In NBC News/Marist’s early December survey, 30% wanted a candidate who was close to them on the issues while 23% preferred a candidate who shared their values. The same proportion — 23% — thought a candidate who could defeat the president was the key while 22% said experience was the most important quality for a candidate to possess. Two percent were unsure.
- Among likely Republican primary voters who want a candidate who is closest to them on the issues, 36% are for Paul compared with 32% for Romney.
- Romney — 59% — does best among likely Republican primary voters who cite electability as the most important factor when choosing a candidate. Santorum receives 13% of these voters to 12% for Gingrich.
- Romney — 46% — also has an advantage among those who want a candidate who has the experience to govern. 19% of these voters support Paul, 12% back Huntsman, and 11% are behind Gingrich.
- Among those who prefer a candidate who shares their values, 28% are for Romney while the same proportion — 28% — backs Santorum. Paul follows closely behind with 25%.
Paul, Santorum True Conservatives…Romney Best Match against Obama
Which is more important to likely Republican primary voters in New Hampshire? 61% say their priority is a candidate who has the best chance to win the White House while 33% want a candidate who is a true conservative. Only 6% are unsure.
Romney is the candidate who 65% of likely Republican primary voters think has the best chance to beat Obama come November. With the exception of Paul who receives 10%, the rest of the GOP field is in single digits.
Nearly three in ten likely Republican primary voters in New Hampshire — 28% — believe Paul is the true conservative in the race while 26% have this view of Santorum. 12% think Romney is the real conservative while the same proportion — 12% — has this opinion about Gingrich. Only 5% describe Huntsman in this manner while the same proportion — 5% — believes Perry deserves this title. Three percent say none of the candidates are true conservatives, and 7% are undecided.
Romney Best Understands Voters’ Problems…Will Improve Washington for the Better
30% of likely Republican primary voters in New Hampshire think Romney is the candidate who best understands the problems of people like themselves while 25% say Paul best identifies with voters’ concerns. 15% report Santorum has a grasp of these problems while 10% think Huntsman deserves this description. Seven percent believe Gingrich best understands the concerns of voters while 1% has the same view of Perry. Six percent think none of the candidates comprehend the problems people face, and 6% are undecided.
Romney is also perceived by 35% of likely Republican primary voters to be the candidate who will improve Washington for the better while 24% think Paul is the best candidate for this job. 12% believe Santorum will have a positive impact on Washington while 10% say the same about Gingrich. Huntsman receives 8% to just 1% for Perry. Five percent say none of the candidates will change Washington for the better, and 5% are undecided.
Influencing Factors: Debates Impact Voters’ Decisions
What additional factors matter to likely Republican primary voters in deciding their vote?
- 75% of likely Republican primary voters in New Hampshire say the debates at least somewhat helped them decide which candidate to support.
- More than one-third — 35% — think seeing the candidate in person helped them in making their decision.
- 30% of likely Republican primary voters report campaign ads have influenced their candidate selection.
- John McCain recently endorsed Mitt Romney, what impact did McCain’s endorsement have on voters? 28% report his endorsement, at least somewhat, informed their decision.
- 27% of likely Republican primary voters say the results of the Iowa caucus have helped decide their vote, including 51% of Santorum voters.
- Only 19% of voters say contact with a candidate’s campaign has helped them choose a candidate.
- When it comes to the Manchester Union Leader’s endorsement of Newt Gingrich, just 12% say such an act helped them, at least somewhat, decide their vote.
More than Six in Ten Think Mormons are Christians
62% of likely Republican primary voters believe a Mormon is a Christian. However, 38% think they are not or are unsure.
- Nearly half of likely voters who believe a Mormon is a Christian — 48% — support Romney. However, among those who think a Mormon is not a Christian or are unsure, he leads 32% to 26% for Paul. Santorum has 17%.
49% Disapprove of President Obama’s Job Performance
40% of registered voters in New Hampshire approve of the job President Obama is doing in office while almost half — 49% — disapproves, and 10% are unsure.
Little has changed on this question since last month. 40%, at that time, approved of the president’s job performance while 52% disapproved. Eight percent, then, were unsure.
Dear Pollsters, Pols, and Press,
As you head to New Hampshire, I thought I’d save you time by providing a little pre-caucus, post-caucus pollster spin.
Case #1: Why our Iowa polls were actually very, very accurate really.
1. We interviewed over 3,000 people to eventually distill the number down to a reasonable sample of likely Iowa caucus-goers. The model of likely participants turned out so well we plan to issue a patent. On second thought, we will maintain our policy of transparency and disclosure. I’m also wondering if the combined number of likely participants identified by all of the Iowa pre-caucus polls exceeded the actual number of caucus-goers.
2. Although it is expensive and time-consuming, we interviewed a large number of cell phone only households. Not calling cell phones is another element of risk in what is already a very difficult polling environment. Is it true that every Ron Paul supporter only owns a cell phone?
3. Quality interviewers and repeated callbacks are best practices. Iowans are getting bombarded by robo-calls. Many would simply prefer to celebrate the holidays without having to answer our or anyone else’s survey.
4. The golden rule in presidential caucus/primary polling is “knowledge rules.” As the campaign goes from state to state, who can vote varies. In Iowa, independents and Democrats may declare their GOP partisan intentions and participate. Not so, everywhere.
5. Disclosure, Disclosure, Disclosure. Everyone can see how our poll was conducted. Visit Maristpoll.marist.edu
Unfortunately, despite doing all of the above and a lot more methodological gymnastics to measure Iowa GOPers intentions…
Case #2: Why our Iowa polls were ever so slightly a tiny bit off
1. We can’t help it if the candidates and campaigns continued to seek voter support for five days after we finished our interviews. (This is a slightly resentful restatement of the “snapshot theory,” namely that a poll is accurate only at the time it is taken.)
2. Those who told us they “might vote differently” in our final poll clearly did. (Again, this is a slightly hostile restatement of the “intensity theory,” namely, that a poll needs to consider the intensity of voter support for a candidate.) If you’re not firmly committed, then, you might reconsider your preference or decide not to caucus. And, there is, after all, the Sugar Bowl on caucus night that might prove to be an attractive alternative for college football fans.
3. Undecided voters must have mostly opted for the eventual winner. This is a traditionally useful ruse for pollster spinners. The undecided, decided!
4. There is strength in numbers (not a pollster pun), and misery definitely loves company. The polls have mostly been reporting similar findings throughout the Iowa campaign. In fact, during the final week, the polls conducted by NBC News/Marist, CNN/Time, and the Des Moines Register were all on the same page. (We all did separate interviews, honest.)
5. A word of caution before jumping onto the why the polls were wrong bandwagon. In a contest where the top tier was barely distinguishable from the second tier, small changes in voter preferences could upset the applecart. A lot of emphasis on the order of finish, for example, was based on “differences” that fell well within a poll’s margin of error.
A couple of closing thoughts as you land in Manchester. Given that the final pre-caucus polls were alike, there was a needless poll-liferation of surveys in Iowa, or so the argument goes. But, methods used by different polling organizations do vary even if their results sometimes do not. Good polls contribute to the narrative of the campaign and the Iowa polls did just that, chronicling a memorable roller coaster ride with as many as five different candidates occupying the lead car at one point.
It has often been said that predictions are difficult especially about the future. (By the way, this is often mistakenly attributed to Casey Stengel or Yogi Berra when, in fact, the Danish physicist Niels Borh is its earlier author, and you can look it up!) So, there’s no need for my fellow psephologists (look that one up, too) to wipe away any tears. There’s no crying in polling, either. We perform admirably and often exceed what meteorologists and seismologists do! If the methods are fully disclosed, then the public and the media are “let in on the secret” of what the private campaign pollsters are using to shape their campaign strategies. In that way, public polls contribute to an informed electorate.
Lee M. Miringoff, director of the Marist Poll or,
Lee M. Mirin-goof, depending upon how things went
With just days until the Iowa caucus, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul are in a virtual dead heat. Romney receives the support of 23% to Paul’s 21%, well within this NBC News/Marist Poll’s margin of error, among likely Republican caucus-goers including those who are undecided yet leaning toward a candidate. Rick Santorum who was in single digits earlier this month has bounced into the pack along with Rick Perry. Newt Gingrich, ahead in NBC News/Marist’s early December survey, has seen his support cut by just more than half.
Here is how the contest stands among likely Republican caucus-goers including those who are undecided yet leaning toward a candidate and the difference from earlier this month:
- 23% for Mitt Romney (+4)
- 21% for Ron Paul (+2)
- 15% for Rick Santorum (+9)
- 14% for Rick Perry (+4)
- 13% for Newt Gingrich (-15)
- 6% for Michele Bachmann (-1)
- 2% for Jon Huntsman (No change)
- 7% are undecided (-2)
“There has been a lot of movement in the past month,” says Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, Director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. “This is a contest that is very unsettled.”
In NBC News/Marist’s survey in early December, 28% of likely Republican caucus-goers including leaners supported Gingrich followed by Paul and Romney who each received 19%. Perry garnered 10% of participants’ support while 7% favored Bachmann. Santorum received 6%, and 2% were for Huntsman. Nine percent, at the time, were undecided.
Among the larger pool of potential Republican caucus-goers including those who are undecided yet leaning toward a candidate, 23% back Romney compared with 20% for Paul. Perry receives the support of 14% as does Gingrich. 12% are behind Santorum while 5% rally for Bachmann and 2% support Huntsman. 10% are undecided.
- Among likely Republican caucus-goers who are conservative or very conservative including those who are undecided yet leaning toward a candidate, 21% are for Romney compared with 18% for Santorum and the same proportion — 18% — for Paul.
- Paul — 28% — and Romney — 27% — vie for the lead among those who are liberal or moderate.
- Looking at Tea Party supporters overall, Santorum receives 20% compared with 17% for Romney and the same proportion — 17% — for Paul. Gingrich garners 16% of these participants. However, among those who are strong supporters of the Tea Party, Gingrich and Santorum each receive 22%.
- Among likely Republican caucus-goers who do not support the Tea Party, Romney — 27% — edges Paul — 24%.
- Nearly one in four likely Republican caucus-goers who are Evangelical Christians – 24% – back Santorum. This compares with 21% for Perry.
- Looking at age, 38% of likely Republican caucus-goers under 30 years old and 22% of those 30 to 44 years old back Paul. Among those 45 to 59 years old, it’s Romney with 23% and Santorum and Paul who each receive 19%. Romney — 29% — does the best among those who are 60 and older.
Majority Firmly Committed to Candidate, but Many Remain Uncertain
With the clock ticking down to the caucus, only 53% of likely Republican caucus-goers report they strongly support their choice of candidate. 33% say they are somewhat committed to their pick, and 13% think they might vote differently on Tuesday. Only 2% are unsure.
There has been an increase in the proportion of voters who say they will not waver in their support. When NBC News/Marist last reported this question in early December, 40% said they were firmly behind their choice. The same proportion — 40% — was somewhat committed to their candidate while 19% said they could change their mind. Only 1%, at that time, was unsure.
- Nearly six in ten likely Republican caucus-goers who support Santorum – 59% — are firmly committed to him. This compares with 54% of Paul’s backers, 52% of those who rally for Perry, and 51% of those who are behind Romney. 46% of Gingrich’s supporters express a similar level of support.
Romney, Perry Top List as Second Choice
When it comes to the second choice of likely Republican caucus-goers who have a candidate preference, 21% pick Romney while Perry is the second selection of 20%. Santorum receives 15% followed by Gingrich with 13%. Bachmann is next with 11% followed closely by Paul with 9%. Huntsman is the second pick of 3%, and 8% are undecided.
- Romney is the second choice of 38% of Gingrich’s backers, 34% of Paul’s supporters, and 25% of those behind Perry.
- Perry — 35% — is the second choice of those who support Santorum.
- Among those who back Romney, there is little consensus. 20% pick Gingrich as their second choice, 19% select Santorum, and 18% choose Perry.
Santorum, Paul Considered to be True Conservatives, but Gingrich Perceived to Be Best Debate Match for Obama
When it comes to the candidate who is the true conservative in the race, 23% of likely Republican caucus-goers believe Santorum deserves that title followed closely by Paul with 21%. 16% say Bachmann is the true conservative while 11% have this view of Perry. Seven percent believe Romney is the real conservative, and 6% say the same about Gingrich. Only 2% categorize Huntsman in this way. Four percent say none of the candidates deserve this title, and 9% are undecided.
However, when it comes to the best debater against President Barack Obama, 37% believe Gingrich is the best opponent. Here, Romney follows with 26%. 13% think Paul can best debate the president compared with 7% for Perry. Four percent think Bachmann is the best debate match against the president compared with 3% who have this view of Santorum. Just 1% gives Huntsman top debate honors while 2% believe none of the candidates can adequately take on the president in a debate. Seven percent are undecided.
Which is more important to likely Republican caucus-goers? A majority — 54% — want a Republican nominee who is a true conservative while 39% prefer one who can best battle it out with Obama in the debates. Seven percent are unsure.
Romney, Santorum Considered Acceptable Candidates…Loss of Confidence in Gingrich
Half of likely Republican caucus-goers — 50% — think Romney is an acceptable candidate for the GOP nomination. 27% share this view but have reservations while 21% say he is an unacceptable choice. Three percent are unsure. In NBC News/Marist’s previous survey in Iowa, fewer than half — 46% — thought Romney fit the bill.
When looking at Santorum’s acceptability, 49% believe he is a good fit for the role while 22% report he will do, but they have some concerns. The same proportion — 22% — says Santorum is an unacceptable pick, and 7% are unsure.
When it comes to Perry, there has been a slight increase in the proportion of likely Republican caucus-goers who believe he is an acceptable choice for the nomination. 44% have this view while 29% say the same but with concerns. 24% think Perry is not a good match for the role, and 4% are unsure. Perry was perceived to be an acceptable choice by 38% in NBC News/Marist’s previous survey in Iowa.
Likely Republican caucus-goers are more uncertain about Bachmann’s acceptability. Here, 37% say Bachmann is a good fit for the nomination while 25% agree but have hesitations. 34%, however, think Bachmann is an unacceptable choice, and 3% are unsure.
Looking at Paul, 35% believe he is a good fit for the role while 21% agree but with reservations. 41% say he is an unacceptable pick, and 3% are unsure. Earlier this month, 38% of likely Republican caucus-goers thought Paul was a good match for the GOP nomination.
Gingrich has slipped from grace in the eyes of likely Republican caucus-goers. 35% think Gingrich is a good fit for the nomination. 28% report he is acceptable for the role, but they have some reservations. 35%, however, say he is an unacceptable choice, and 3% are unsure. Earlier this month, Gingrich was the only candidate in the GOP field perceived by a majority of likely Republican caucus-goers — 54% — to be a good fit for the nomination with only 16% describing him as not acceptable.
Shared Values Tops List of Participants’ Priorities
What matters most to likely Republican caucus-goers? Three in ten — 30% — want a candidate who shares their values while 28% think electability is the most important factor. 23% prefer a candidate who is closest to them on the issues while 15% want someone with the experience to govern. Four percent are unsure.
There has been a change on this question. In NBC News/Marist’s early December survey, more than three in ten likely Republican caucus-goers — 31% — wanted a candidate who was closest to them on the issues while 29% desired someone who shared their values. Electability was key for 21% of likely Republican caucus-goers, and 16% preferred a candidate with experience. Two percent, at that time, were unsure.
- Santorum — 25% — has surged among those who want a candidate who shares their values. Paul receives 21% from this group of participants.
- Romney — 34% — has the advantage among those who value electability in a candidate. Gingrich trails behind with 18% of these likely Republican caucus-goers followed by Perry with 16%.
- Romney also does well among those who want a candidate who has the experience to govern. Here, 29% back Romney compared with 22% for Paul and 19% for Gingrich.
- Among those who prefer a candidate who is closest to them on the issues, Paul leads with 34% to 23% for Romney.
Getting to Know the Candidates
The candidates are making their final pitch to caucus-goers in Iowa. In the last month, 86% of likely Republican caucus-goers report being contacted by at least one of the campaigns.
The proportions of likely Republican caucus-goers who have been contacted by each of the following:
- 72% Paul campaign
- 69% Perry campaign
- 68% Romney campaign
- 68% Gingrich campaign
- 62% Bachmann campaign
- 44% Santorum campaign
Most in Iowa Do Not Want Palin or Bush to Run
Sarah Palin recently said there is still time for a Republican candidate to enter the race for the GOP nomination. Do likely Republican caucus-goers want Palin to jump in? 81% do not while 14% do. Six percent are unsure.
A run by Jeb Bush is only slightly more acceptable. 70% do not want Bush to enter the contest while 17% do. 13% are unsure.
Majority Believes Mormons are Christians
55% of likely Republican caucus-goers in Iowa believe a Mormon is a Christian while 45% think a Mormon is not a Christian, or they are unsure.
Earlier this month, the same proportions shared these views. A majority of likely Republican caucus-goers — 55% — reported a Mormon was a Christian while 45% thought the opposite or were unsure.
- While Romney — 30% — is ahead among those who think a Mormon is a Christian, Paul — 20% — edges Santorum — 18% — and Perry — 16% — among those who believe a Mormon is not a Christian or are unsure. Gingrich receives 14% of these participants compared with 13% for Romney.
Obama’s Job Approval Rating at 45%
Voters divide about President Obama’s job approval rating. 45% of registered voters in Iowa approve of the job the president is doing in office while 43% disapprove, and 12% are unsure.
Views of the president’s performance in office have flipped. In NBC News/Marist’s previous survey in Iowa, 43% approved while 46% disapproved. 12%, at the time, were unsure.
With time counting down to the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, are there more twists and turns ahead?
The Marist Poll’s John Sparks visits with Marist Poll Analyst and syndicated political columnist Carl Leubsdorf who writes a weekly column for The Dallas Morning News about the latest trends in the 2012 campaign for the GOP presidential nomination.
Listen to the interview below.
Carl, it’s less than a month until the Iowa caucuses, and according to the latest Marist Poll there have been some changes. But before we talk about those changes, I’ve got to ask you: Which is more important to a candidate, Iowa or New Hampshire?
Well, it depends which candidate, I think, because for certain of the candidates for the group of — that we call the conservatives in this race, they’re all conservative, but basically who have been jockeying all year for position, and I’m talking about Speaker Gingrich, Governor Perry, Representative Bachman, in particular Herman Cain because he’s not there anymore, and to a lesser degree Ron Paul, Iowa is more important because it’s going to establish the pecking order among those people. In effect, we’ve had sort of two primaries going on, the — on one side, the establishment side, we’ve had Romney and the two former governors, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, and on the other side, we’ve had the other candidates. So, among the other candidates, they’re jockeying for position, and Iowa is extremely important because of the nature of the electorate, quite conservative. It’s a caucus system which encourages activists, so… But for Governor Romney, while there’s some importance in Iowa, the key thing for him is to win New Hampshire and win it decisively so that the media does not write: Well he won, but he didn’t meet expectations because he needs to use New Hampshire where he has a summer home and where he spends a lot of time as a board to sort of propel himself into the primaries in South Carolina and Florida.
Well, let’s talk about Iowa first since it comes first. The caucuses are January 3rd, and the latest Marist Poll has Newt Gingrich on top with 26%, followed by Mitt Romney at 18% and Ron Paul at 17%. Now Marist Poll Director Lee Miringoff says, “Hold on tight for further twists and turns.” Carl, do you think we could see more changes between now and January the 3rd?
Well, historically there have been a lot of changes in the last six weeks, and one thing I’ve been advising everyone that I’ve talked to and probably have discussed in these interviews previously, is that Iowa tends to firm up in the last month to six weeks. There are a lot of changes near the end, and the way it stands in August or in June probably isn’t going to be the way it’s going to end up, and that, in fact, has happened with the emergence of Speaker Gingrich as the leader there. It’s going to be interesting. I don’t know whether he can maintain it. It’s a shorter period he has to maintain it than some of the others who’ve come up. There’s the question: If he doesn’t maintain it, who would get his votes since just about everyone of his rivals among that group has been up there earlier.
Ron Paul is an interesting and sort of a separate phenomenon. He has a very fervent following, a lot of it young people. He’s got a solid vote, which is I would rate at 10-to-12%. But the latest poll is, not only the Marist Poll but the two others that were taken, show his numbers coming up in Iowa, so he’s clearly a contender for first place.
And the third player near the top of the poll, Governor Romney, has not spent that much time in Iowa. He spent a lot of time four years ago. He definitely has a following. We have to remember that while the Iowa Republican Party and likely caucus attendees are pretty conservative, maybe a quarter to a third of them are more moderate and more establishment, and Romney will do very well there whether he spends a lot of time in Iowa or not. I found interesting in these last polls, and we’ll find out later if it was meaningful, Romney’s numbers appear to have come down in Iowa for no particular reason, and this is the phenomenon we saw four years ago that the more he campaigned in a place, the less well he did, and people forget that at one point he was the leader in both Iowa and New Hampshire four years ago, and he ended up winning neither. So, whether we’re seeing that phenomenon in the fact that he’s dropped from the mid 20s into the upper teens (inaudible) polling caucuses is very difficult and finding likely attendees.
Listen to Part 1 of the Interview:
You know, Carl, second choices might tell us something because Herman Cain was still in the race when the Marist Poll was taken, and 28% of Cain’s supporters said that Gingrich was their second choice, followed by Paul and Romney with each 19%.
Well, I think the general assumption has been that Cain’s vote is… more of it will go to Gingrich than to anyone else. They’re both from Georgia. They both had some affinity on the issues. They’re quite… There are a few suggestions that Cain will in fact endorse Gingrich fairly soon, so that’s not surprising. In a way, the thing that Romney most fears is the consolidation of the conservative vote behind one candidate early in the game. Romney was counting on the fact that the conservative vote would stay very divided, and, in fact, in a very divided conservative vote, Romney with say 25% might win the Iowa caucuses. But if the vote begins to consolidate in Iowa behind one person, then, at the moment that appears to be Gingrich, that’s a problem for a candidate like Romney who has shown great difficulty in getting above about a quarter of the vote everywhere except in New Hampshire.
The Marist Poll showed that among caucus goers who consider themselves Tea Party or conservative and Evangelical Christians, Gingrich gets 35% compared to only 11% for Romney.
Well, that’s not Romney’s electorate, but the… I didn’t notice what percentage in your poll was people who consider themselves conservatives as opposed to moderate or however it’s described in the poll, and maybe it wasn’t asked. But I said, the assumption has been about two-thirds of the caucus electorate or maybe a little more would be Tea Party people, Right-To-Lifers, Christian conservatives, the various factions that make up the right side of the Republican Party, and that is not a group that where Romney is going to do very well.
Listen to Part 2:
You know, I think it’s always interesting, polling people and asking them why they vote like they do, and in Iowa, three in ten that are likely to be caucus goers tell us they want a candidate who is closest to them on issues – 29% say the candidate who shares their values is a key, and that’s flip-flopped a month ago. Any significance to this that now there’s…
Well, I think it seems to be fewer of them are saying that the first choice would be someone they think that can win, and actually we’ve seen in the some of the polls lately, more people think that Gingrich can win than think Romney can win. Romney has not… Romney has run this very buttoned up campaign where he tries to avoid the other candidates, where he behaves like the front-runner, where he straddles the issues and tries to say as little as possible, and when you combine that with his bland personality and the fact that he doesn’t have much of a persona, I think it’s hurt him, and I think it’s, you know, Gingrich has emerged as a more dynamic candidate, as a candidate who could get in Obama’s face. I mean, the thing that Republicans want most is to beat President Obama. They want a candidate who will stick it to him in the debates and who will be outspoken, and I think they see Romney is not able to do that. So, in the other candidates, and I say Gingrich is the favorite of the moment, they see ones who both agree with them and can be aggressive against Obama.
It’s interesting that you mention the general election. When Iowans turn to the general election, Obama ties Ron Paul, but he defeats Gingrich in Iowa 47% to 37% and he defeats Romney 46% to 39%.
That’s interesting. That’s especially interesting because Iowans have been subjected to a steady barrage of anti-Obama rhetoric. The president’s been there a couple of times, but since there is no Democratic primary, most of the — most of what’s coming out in politics is Republicans, and most of what they’re doing is attacking Obama, and for Obama’s numbers to hold up that well is probably a good sign for him from the Fall that I think it’s the calculation of the Obama campaign at this point that in a relatively close election where they have a reasonable chance to win, Iowa would be one of those states that the president would be able to carry. It’s considered one of the states definitely in play. It was carried by, I guess, by Bush in ’04 and by Obama in ’08, but that is not a great sign for the Republicans, and there’s some sense, and there’s a new Pew Poll on this too, that what’s going on in the Republican Party has actually hurt the party somewhat. Whether that will have a long-term affect, we don’t know.
Listen to Part 3:
Carl, organization has always been an important factor in the campaign. Is it still an important factor, especially in Iowa?
Well, it’s important in Iowa because in order to vote, you have to go to a caucus in your precinct, and there are 2,400 precincts in Iowa, and the weather in January when this takes place is often not very good, and traditionally, the way you won in Iowa is you set up a structure in every county, you said the 99 counties and then a lot of the towns, to get people out to the caucuses. I think that’s going to be less of a factor. If it is a big factor, Speaker Gingrich will be in big trouble because he doesn’t have much of an organization there. Ron Paul’s got a perfect organization out there supposedly, and Mitt Romney has one because he had one four years ago. But, this campaign has really been fought out in the televised debates. That’s what’s really driven the race and have gotten the most attention, and the flubs of the various candidates like Governor Perry’s problem, naming the third department he would get rid of or outside issues like the problem Mr. Cain had with various women have really driven the narrative of this campaign, and television advertising’s about to start really full scale in Iowa, but I don’t think that’s the major factor either. I would guess organization will be less important. But if we wake up on caucus morning and Newt Gingrich is in fourth place, then we’ll know organization was more important than we think it is, but I think it’s been reduced a lot. Another factor on the organization side is there’s a difference between the Democratic caucuses and the Republican caucuses in Iowa. In the Democratic caucuses, they have a system where if you get — if someone has less than 15%, their support doesn’t count. The caucuses are precinct caucuses. They elect delegates to the county conventions, which eventually this will get to a state convention. In the Democrats, they all line up for the different candidates in different corners of the room. Anyone who’s got under 15%, his candidate is out, and those people can go join one of the other groups, and you really need organization to do that. The Republicans have a straight vote. It’s like a straw poll. When they arrive at the caucus, they vote for one of the candidates, and that’s how the delegates are allocated to the county then. That’s much easier. It’s more like a regular election than a primary than like a caucus, and if they don’t want to stay for the discussion of the issues and all that, they can go back home as soon as they vote. The Democrats, you got to stay awhile. So, it’s another factor that reduces the importance of organization in this election.
Listen to Part 4:
Let’s go from Iowa to New Hampshire. The New Hampshire primary comes a week after the Iowa caucuses, and the latest Marist Poll shows that in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney is in the lead 39% to 23% over Gingrich, but that lead has been cut in half since last month’s Marist Poll in New Hampshire. Any significance there?
Yeah, I think a couple of interesting things there. One, Romney has steadily been… I think most of the fact that it’s been cut in half is probably because Gingrich has gained and less that Romney has been consistently in most polls in the neighborhood of 40%. And the fact is, if he gets 40% in the primaries, he’s almost certainly going to win. One thing… the biggest caution on New Hampshire is that the day after the Iowa caucuses, all the numbers you’ve seen so far in New Hampshire will be worthless because the numbers will change according to what happens in Iowa. It happens every year, you see a real change, and the fact that the primaries are only — and the caucus in Iowa and the primary is in New Hampshire are only week apart means that there can be a big affect of what happens in Iowa. What that means is that the winner in Iowa will get a boost in New Hampshire. Now, if it’s Gingrich, and he’s already surpassed 20%, that could put him up near the 30% level. And, unless Romney comes out of Iowa with a feeling well he did okay considering he didn’t campaign much there, his numbers might come down a little bit. Now if Romney’s numbers come down a little bit, that votes probably not going to go to Gingrich, it’s probably going to go to Jon Huntsman who is the former Governor of Utah, has concentrated in New Hampshire, and although his record is equally as conservative as the other candidates, his more moderate manner and the fact that he’s not spent all of his time bashing President Obama gives him an appeal to the independents. Remember in New Hampshire, independents can vote in the primary, and with no Democratic primary, we expect a lot of independents to vote there. Not all independents are moderate to liberal to be sure, but I think there are more of those than arch conservatives. So, what you’ll see in… Now if Romney comes in to say a strong second in Iowa, his numbers will hold up very well, but if comes in a weak third, he may suffer some erosion there, and certainly the winner in Iowa will get a bump up, so you’ll see a change there by the Thursday or Friday of that week, and it’ll determine whether anyone actually has a chance of beating Romney. The great fear I think from the Romney point of view is that he survives to win, but he wins so narrowly that it does not give him a boost for the later primaries. As I said before, New Hampshire is extremely important to Romney. He was governor of a neighboring state. He has a summer home there. He’s spent a lot of time there. He really needs to have a strong victory there, or he’s going to have real problems when the race moves south.
Interesting that you mention the independent voters in New Hampshire. Romney leads Gingrich by 12 points among Republicans in New Hampshire, but when it comes to independents, his lead opens up to 21 points over Gingrich.
Well that’s exactly right because the two candidates who the independents are most likely to vote for or like more than will vote for are Romney, considered the moderate in this race. Remember, he’s taken all these conservative positions, but a lot of people don’t believe he really believes them, including a lot of conservatives, so he will get a lot of that independent vote, but if he falls or has seen trouble, it’ll go to Huntsman I think.
Listen to Part 5:
According to Marist, the New Hampshire voters are firmly committed to their candidate – 49% say they’re strongly committed while 31% report they’re somewhat committed, whatever that means, but that may tell us something…
That’s more than in Iowa is and… that’s more than in Iowa that it’s… they’re less committed, I think.
Correct, but I wondering if this might tell us something about what the general election might be like in New Hampshire. There’s something that’s interesting about New Hampshire. Marist has President Obama losing to Romney in New Hampshire by only three points, 46/43, but they have the president defeating Ron Paul by only two points, and they have the president defeating Gingrich by ten points and yet…
I was going to say – and yet a majority of New Hampshire voters, 52%, say they don’t approve of Obama’s performance.
Well, I think if you compare the two states, Obama has much less chance of carrying New Hampshire than Iowa, especially if his opponent is Romney who is — we said is well known there and has ties there. He is not popular in New Hampshire. All the polls have shown that consistently. He’ll have a difficult time carrying New Hampshire. I would bet if you could get an Obama person to say what was the map that they would have assuming that they barely got over the 270 mark needed for an electoral vote, what’s on that map? I would guess that Iowa would be on it and New Hampshire would not.
One of the interesting things in New Hampshire that I should mention is the influence of the Union Leader newspaper. For years, the Union Leader, which is the only statewide paper in New Hampshire, has played an outsized role in New Hampshire Republican politics. It’s… the person that has supported hasn’t always won, but a recent study showed that, I think by Nate Silver of the New York Times, was that the endorsement of the Union Leader is definitely worth a number of points. That candidates who were endorsed by the Union Leader gained strength afterwards. A couple weeks ago they endorsed Speaker Gingrich as their candidate. That’s undoubtedly one of the factors in his rise to 23% in the Marist Poll, and it will be a factor because when the Union Leader endorses someone, they don’t just write one editorial and then go back to their knitting. There will be more front page editorials in the Union Leader, and not only will they spend some time supporting Gingrich, but they will be beating up on the candidates they don’t want, and number one on that list is Mitt Romney. So, that is going to part of the dynamic here. It will help whoever emerges from Iowa as the leader of that conservative group, and, at the moment, it looks like it will be Speaker Gingrich.
Carl, I’ve got to ask you with everything that’s going on in my business, people are not reading newspapers as much, so does the Union Leader still have the influence it once had?
Well, you know it’s interesting in New Hampshire. It’s the closest thing to a statewide newspaper. Television, there’s only really one major television station in New Hampshire, WMUR in Manchester. Now, of course, they get news on cable, and they get a lot of Boston TV in New Hampshire, but New Hampshire outlets — New Hampshire has an interesting group of newspapers. I know a fair amount about it because my son, Ben, works for the Concord Monitor. There’s a string of local regional papers in New Hampshire, most of them dailies but some weeklies, and which have a fair amount of readership in their local area. The Union Leader has more influence. Manchester is the biggest city in New Hampshire. It has a bigger readership, and also what the Union Leader does gets trumpeted by TV. It’s always a big thing. What some of the smaller papers do doesn’t get as much as publicity. So, I think it’s less than it once was, but all signs are it does have influence and especially on the Republican side.
Carl, it’s always interesting to talk presidential politics with you. We’re getting to that time when the rubber meets the road, and I look forward to visiting with you again real soon.
Listen to Part 6:
Although Mitt Romney outpaces his closest competitor in New Hampshire’s Republican Presidential Primary by 16 percentage points, his lead has been cut in half since a similar poll conducted in October.
Here is how the contest stands among likely Republican primary voters including those who are undecided yet leaning toward a candidate in New Hampshire:
- 39% for Mitt Romney
- 23% for Newt Gingrich
- 16% for Ron Paul
- 9% for Jon Huntsman
- 3% for Michele Bachmann
- 3% for Rick Perry
- 2% for Herman Cain
- 1% for Rick Santorum
- 4% are undecided
“Romney is down, Cain has collapsed, and the undecided have dropped since October,” says Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, Director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. “In the meantime, Gingrich has emerged as a serious threat to Romney’s must-win, first-in-the-nation primary.”
When NBC News/Marist last reported this question, 45% of likely Republican primary voters including leaners supported Romney while Cain and Paul each received 13% of the vote. Seven percent, at the time, were behind Perry while 5% rallied for Huntsman. Gingrich placed sixth in October with 4% while 3% favored Bachmann. One percent supported Santorum. Eight percent, at that time, were undecided.
Little changes if Cain drops out of the race given he currently receives support from only 2% of New Hampshire voters likely to vote in the Republican primary. Based upon the second choice of his supporters, the contest among likely Republican primary voters including those who are undecided yet leaning toward a candidate is now 39% for Romney, 24% for Gingrich, and 16% for Paul. Nine percent back Huntsman while Bachmann and Perry each receive 3%. Two percent support Santorum, and 4% remain undecided.
Among the potential Republican electorate in New Hampshire, that is, all Republicans and those independents who plan to vote in the primary, including those who are undecided yet leaning toward a candidate, Romney has a 19 percentage point lead. 40% back Romney while Gingrich takes the second spot with 21% followed by Paul with 16% and Huntsman with 10%. Three percent favor Bachmann, and the same proportion — 3% — rallies for Perry. Two percent back Cain, and 1% supports Santorum. Four percent are undecided.
- When looking at likely primary voters including those who are undecided yet leaning toward a candidate, Romney leads Gingrich by 12 percentage points among Republicans and by 21 percentage points among independents.
- Romney and Gingrich vie for the top spot among likely Republican primary voters who support the Tea Party. Each receives the support of 33%. However, among those who strongly back the Tea Party, 41% are for Gingrich compared with 19% for Romney.
- Gingrich — 36% — has the advantage over Romney — 29% — among likely Republican primary voters who are very conservative.
More Voters Firmly Committed to Candidate
Nearly half of likely Republican primary voters — 49% — say they strongly support their choice of candidate while 31% report they are somewhat committed to their pick. 18% might vote differently, and 2% are unsure.
There has been an increase in the proportion of voters who say they stand firm behind their choice of candidate. In NBC News/Marist’s October survey, 38% of likely Republican primary voters were strongly committed to their choice of candidate, 35% were somewhat behind their pick, and 26% said they might cast their ballot differently. Only 1%, at the time, was unsure.
- More than six in ten likely Republican primary voters who back Paul — 62% — are firmly committed to him compared with 48% of Romney’s backers and 48% of Gingrich’s supporters who say the same about their pick.
Gingrich, Romney Top List for Second Best
Who do likely Republican primary voters in New Hampshire say is their second choice for the nomination? Nearly one in four — 24% — select Gingrich while the same proportion — 24% — picks Romney. 11% say Paul is second best while 8% favor Huntsman. Cain and Perry follow closely behind with 7% each. Five percent choose Bachmann as their second choice while 4% think Santorum rates as the second best option. Nine percent are undecided.
Romney Viewed as Acceptable Nominee by More than Six in Ten
63% of likely Republican primary voters in New Hampshire believe Mitt Romney is a good fit for the GOP nomination. An additional 23% think he is acceptable, but have reservations. 12% say he is not an acceptable candidate. Only 1% is unsure.
Gingrich is perceived by a majority of likely Republican primary voters — 54% — to be an acceptable choice while 25% agree but with reservations. Nearly one in five — 19% — say he is not a good fit for the top of the ticket, and 3% are unsure.
When it comes to Paul’s acceptability, likely voters fracture. 38% say he would be an acceptable fit, 29% believe he would be suitable but have concerns, and 31% report he would be an unacceptable nominee. Two percent are unsure.
Controversial Issues: Candidate Who Supports Limited Amnesty Acceptable, Says Majority
54% of likely Republican primary voters in New Hampshire find it acceptable if the Republican nominee supports limited amnesty for some illegal immigrants. 41%, though, believe it is unacceptable, and 5% are unsure.
However, most — 84% — think it is unacceptable if the nominee tolerates Iran building nuclear weapons. 12% believe it is acceptable, and 4% are unsure.
83% of likely Republican primary voters also say it is unacceptable if the GOP nominee favors allowing illegal immigrants to obtain in-state tuition. 14% report it is acceptable, and 3% are unsure.
When it comes to a candidate who has been accused of sexual harassment, more than six in ten likely Republican primary voters — 63% — are not comfortable with a nominee who has faced such allegations while 32% don’t believe this to be problematic. Five percent are unsure.
Six in ten — 60% — don’t think it is acceptable for the Republican nominee to support an individual mandate for health care insurance while 32% believe such a position on the issue is fine. Seven percent are unsure.
If the Republican nominee has earned millions of dollars advising Freddie Mac, nearly six in ten likely voters — 59% — find this to be unacceptable. 34%, however, do not object to having such a nominee top the ticket, and 7% are unsure.
Issues Key Candidate Quality
What matters most to likely Republican primary voters in choosing a nominee? Three in ten — 30% — believe a candidate who is close to their positions on the issues is the priority. Nearly one in four — 23% — thinks someone who shares their values is most important while the same proportion — 23% — says a candidate who can defeat President Barack Obama in the general election is paramount. 22% report experience matters most, and 2% are unsure.
In October, the same proportion of likely Republican primary voters — 30% — thought shared positions on the issues was the leading factor when choosing a candidate while 28% believed someone who had similar values was the most important. 22% put experience at the top of their list while 19% thought electability was key. Two percent, at the time, were unsure.
- Romney does well among likely Republican primary voters who want a candidate who can defeat President Obama — 46% — compared with 35% for Gingrich.
- Romney has an edge among those who favor experience in a candidate — 40%. Gingrich receives 28% of this group. Romney’s biggest drop since October is among these voters. Romney garnered 64% support from voters focused on experience in the earlier poll.
- Among those who want a candidate with similar values, Romney leads with 35% to 20% for Gingrich and 19% for Paul.
- Looking at those who think someone who is closest to them on the issues is the priority, Romney — 35% — is followed by Paul with 25%, Gingrich with 14%, and Huntsman with the same proportion — 14%.
More Than Six in Ten Call Romney a Moderate
61% of likely Republican primary voters believe Romney is a moderate while 24% think he is a conservative, and 10% say he is a liberal. Five percent are unsure. However, just 35% of likely Republican primary voters describe themselves as moderate compared with 58% who identify as conservative or very conservative.
Many Say Mormons are Christians
62% of likely Republican primary voters believe that a Mormon is a Christian. 38%, however, think they are not or are unsure.
- Romney leads among those who believe a Mormon is a Christian — 44%. He is also ahead among those who think a Mormon is not a Christian or are unsure but by a narrower margin.
Trump Backing Provides Little Benefit
Most Republicans who are likely to vote in the New Hampshire primary would not be more likely to vote for a candidate who receives the endorsement of Donald Trump. A plurality — 42% — reports such an endorsement would make no difference to their vote while 37% say it would make them less likely to vote for such a candidate. Only 19% think a Trump endorsement would make them more likely to cast their ballot for a candidate, and 2% are unsure.
Romney, Paul Run Competitively Against Obama, but Romney Loses Some Ground
In hypothetical contests against potential Republican challengers, both Romney and Paul are neck and neck with President Barack Obama in New Hampshire.
46% of registered voters in New Hampshire support Romney while 43% back Obama. 11% are undecided.
In NBC News/Marist’s October survey, Romney had a nine percentage point lead over the president. At that time, Romney received the backing of 49% compared with 40% for Obama. 11%, at that time, were undecided.
When pitted against Paul, 44% of registered voters favor Obama while 42% are behind Paul. 14% are undecided. Here, independents divide. 45% back Obama while 40% rally for Paul. There is also a gender gap. A majority of women — 53% — favor Obama while nearly half of men — 49% — are behind Paul. Paul has the edge among registered voters younger than 45 — 45% — compared with 39% for Obama.
The president has a 10 percentage point lead against Gingrich. Almost half of voters — 49% — support the president while 39% rally for Gingrich. 12% are undecided.
Against Perry, the president leads 51% to 36%. 13% are undecided. President Obama has widened the gap against Perry. In October, 46% of registered voters backed the president while 40% said they would cast their ballot for Perry. 14%, then, were undecided.
Against Bachmann, Obama has a 20 percentage point advantage. Here, he outpaces Bachmann, 53% to 33%. 14% are undecided.
President Obama fares best against Cain. In this hypothetical contest, a majority of registered voters — 53% — back the president while Cain garners 30%, a 23 percentage point lead for the president. 17% are undecided.
Low Marks Continue for Obama
Just four in ten registered voters in New Hampshire — 40% — approve of the job President Obama is doing in office. A majority — 52% — disapproves, and 8% are unsure.
Little has changed on this question since October. At that time, 38% gave the president a thumbs-up while a majority — 53% — gave him a thumbs-down. Nine percent, at the time, were unsure.
The Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary are just months away. With so much attention given to these early contests, what are the implications for the current field of Republican candidates? The Marist Poll’s John Sparks speaks about this issue, the contest on the national level, and President Barack Obama’s re-election strategy with Marist Poll Analyst and syndicated political columnist Carl Leubsdorf who writes a weekly column for The Dallas Morning News.
Listen to Part 1 of the Interview:
Carl, we’re three months away from the Iowa caucuses. So, where we are today with a GOP candidate?
Mitt Romney is, as he’s been for some time, the frontrunner, but he’s — in one sense he’s not a very strong fron-trunner. If you look at the Republican polls, he’s polling between a quarter and a third of the Republican vote. He hasn’t gone up much. He hasn’t gone down much. He’s sort of stable there. And if you look at the more conservative candidates, and I’ll include just about everyone else in the field except Ron Paul, who I think is a special case, they’re polling about 50% of the Republican vote, but the problem is, of course, that it’s all divided up. And when Perry came into the race, it first was going to be Michele Bachmann, and she had that good debate performance in June and suddenly she started gaining, and then Perry came into the race and then everyone sort of — the conservatives sort of shifted over to him. Now he’s had some problems and some bad debates. He’s clearly not fully ready for what’s come up. He’s had the controversy over the racist word on that ranch his family leases in Texas, and he’s dropped, and Herman Cain has come up. It’s like the vote is shifting from one of them to the other while Romney is over there on the other side. So, eventually one of two things will happen. Either the conservative vote will consolidate behind someone, and Perry is still the best chance for that, or Romney might be able to win against the very divided field if they all sort of stay in and no one can get enough votes to beat him. If in Iowa, if in the Iowa caucuses, the field is divided enough, it is not impossible that Mitt Romney could win the Iowa caucuses with a rather low percentage. That’s happened before that the winning candidate didn’t have that much support, and he’s already the favorite in New Hampshire. If he won in Iowa, he’d have a good chance of winning in New Hampshire, and history tells us that Iowa/New Hampshire double winners are almost always nominated.
This business of Rick Perry renting the ranch with a name that’s a racial epithet, is this going to be a fatal blow to his campaign do you think?
Well, I don’t think it’s fatal in itself. His… and I think his bigger problems are two other things. One is that his position on immigration, which is a very volatile issue and where Republicans feel especially strongly against the flood of illegal immigrants who’ve come into this country, because of the fact that Texas passed a law granting in-state tuition to illegal aliens, and Perry has strongly supported it, that is a very unpopular position in the Republican Party. That was one of the big factors, I think, in his loss of support in the Florida Straw Poll, and the other is that he has not performed well in debates. Again, it’s not all that surprising. He came into the race late. He’s not spent a lot of time dealing with some of these national and international issues, and it’s sort of the classic situation that the successful politician on the state level, be he a senator or a governor, doesn’t realize until he gets into it how difficult running for president is. Every issue that was visited before is going to be revisited, and he’s suddenly expected to be an expert on all sorts of subject that he never thought much about.
Listen to Part 2:
I want ask you about Herman Cain. I saw a poll today that has Romney and Cain tied on top. Do you think that we could really see a presidential election with two African Americans facing off?
Well, I think we could see that some day, but I don’t think we can — likely to see it in 2012. Herman Cain is basically the “none of the above candidate.” I think that’s really for the conservatives. Now he has a lot of appeal to the conservative portion of the Republican Party, the Tea Party crowd. He’s a terrific speaker. He’s very dynamic. I remember, I have one of my sons, who does some work in politics, told me last summer, said, “The guy you really ought to watch out for is Herman Cain.” And, he does very well when he speaks before these conventions, but he’s really the “none of the above candidate.” I think no serious Republican politician or analyst expects him, in fact, to be nominated, but it’s a sign of Perry’s problems that his support suddenly shifted to Cain.
You and I spoke back in June about Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Sarah Palin. Do you believe any of these folks are still serious players?
Well, I think Ron Paul is a serious player to the extent that he’s always going to get his 10-to-12%. He has a very strong following. It’s interesting, I wrote a column in the Dallas Morning News about the fact that the press doesn’t take Paul seriously, and they never pay any attention, and I discussed some things that he had said at a breakfast I was at with him for reporters, and he said, you know, that some of the economic stuff he talks about, he admits it’s a little arcane and that he hasn’t explained it very well. Paul’s not going anywhere, but he’s also not going to be nominated.
Now as for the other ones, Sarah Palin, as far as we know, is not in the race and has no plans to enter, and that hasn’t changed any. Of the others, I would guess that most of them have no real chance. I don’t think Michele Bachmann has a chance. I don’t think Newt Gingrich has a chance. The one in that group who might conceivably have a chance is Rick Santorum, and I say that only because he’s come across in the debates as a pretty intelligent guy. He’s got strong views which fit with the Republican Party. He knows what he’s talking about, and he doesn’t do some of these verbal shenanigans that Gingrich does denouncing the reporters, and he served two terms in the United States Senate, so he has a background of some experience. He doesn’t have much money and he’s just sort of hanging in there, but it’s conceivable that if the Perry candidacy would not get its moorings and would not recover that he’s the one in that group who just might have an outside chance to make a strong showing in Iowa and somehow get into this race.
The question in the end is: If Perry doesn’t recover to be a strong foe for Romney, can one of these other people do it? And what happens to the many Republicans who are very cool to the Romney candidacy? Do they just accept it? We’ve sort of run out of new candidates.
Listen to Part 3:
Yeah, but you know, Carl, if Mitt Romney is the fallback, is that really so bad for Republicans?
As a neutral analyst, I think it’s probably pretty good for Republicans. By all signs, he’s still the strongest general election candidate they have. He consistently runs better against President Obama than the other candidates. He’s a much better candidate for the party in the North than I think Perry would be, who has — beyond all the issues we’ve talked about, has — there are some — he’s so culturally Texan and Southern that that might be a handicap and appealing to moderate independent voters in Northern states. Romney, who is from Michigan and served in Massachusetts, would have some appeal there. Now he’s got some problems, most of which are getting very little attention now because of all the to-do about Christie and Herman Cain and Perry. For example, his position on immigration is more hard line than Perry’s, and that could be a problem with Hispanic voters who will be very crucial in states like Colorado and New Mexico and Nevada. He was strongly opposed to the administration’s bailout of the auto industry as he was to most of the administration’s economic policies. Well, the auto industry bailout of Chrysler and GM seems to have worked. It’s one of the success stories the administration has, and there are a lot of auto workers in Wisconsin and Ohio and in Michigan who are probably very happy about it and might not like a candidate who is against it, so there are some issues out there.
I saw a Rasmussen Report that said “A generic Republican wins over Obama 47 to 41 among likely voters.” Do you think that any of these Republicans could defeat the President?
Well, we don’t know that now. If the President’s approval level is in the low 40s and if unemployment is 9% and if more than 70% of the country think that the country is going in the wrong direction, historically it says that it’s very hard for that president to get re-elected, and that would be a real problem. However if things improve a little bit, it may really depend on which Republican runs against him. The one… the other warning signal for Obama in the current situation — current polls, is in that poll that you mentioned, Obama had 41%, but even in a number of polls that show him ahead in major states, he’s ahead like 45 to 43 or 46 to 44 or 44 to 41. An incumbent who’s polling in the mid 40s historically is going to have a lot of problems in an election because that probably means that the — all the ones he doesn’t have are going probably going to be against him in the end.
Do you think the main issue, though, still is going to be the pocketbook and jobs?
Sure, barring something happening. I mean it’s always possible something would happen in the month before the election to take attention. Our attention spans seem to be very short on these things, and something becomes a big issue. Remember when everyone said that the BP oil spill in the Gulf would be the defining issue for Obama, well, that didn’t last very long, and although the anti-terrorism policy has been very successful in this administration because of the ability to kill major Al-Qaeda leaders starting with Osama bin Laden and a whole bunch of others. That’s not getting very much attention these days, so it’s the economy, and it’s the outlook for the economy isn’t very good. It’s as likely we’ll have a double dip recession that will have — than that we’ll have a speedy recovery.
Listen to Part 4:
Carl, people complain that our government is broken, needs fixing, but what about the presidential election process? It’s media-driven, and isn’t the problem that the process is more about headlines and controversy than finding an effective executive who’s right for the moment?
To a considerable degree, yes, although I think that it’s interesting. I mean the cover — the news coverage is certainly that way, and it’s focused on these things. I think the voters, and especially in some of these early states who are much maligned because Iowa and New Hampshire, which come first in the process, are not typical states. They’re much wider than the country as a whole. Iowa is much older than the country as a whole. Still the people there, I’ve been in those states for a number of elections, and they take it very seriously. They listen to the candidates. They discuss issues. The press may not be — on cable television may not be discussing the issues, but when they have town meetings with candidates, that’s what they want to know is where these candidates stand on the issues, and that in many cases determines how they vote. One of the problems is — with the system is that that’s true in the early states, but when a bunch of all these other states compiled in afterwards, it’s sort of like a ping-pong effect, and what happens earlier has an enormous effect on what happens later. That’s why, for example, while Mitt Romney is certainly ahead in New Hampshire now, he has a home there and he’s campaigned there before, the day after the Iowa caucuses, those numbers in New Hampshire are all going to change. If he does well in Iowa, he ought to be able to hold that lead, but if he does very poorly there, and one of the other candidates, whether it’s Perry or Santorum or Cain, does very well, believe me, there will be a quick boom for that candidate in New Hampshire in the five or eight days between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.
Listen to Part 5:
Carl, while the Republicans are posturing, what’s Obama’s strategy?
Well, for most of this year, President Obama tried — continued to try something that he talked about a lot during in the 2008 campaign and the debt-ceiling fight tried to — which was to try to be in the middle ground, to be, as the White House people used to call it, the adult in the room and to work our compromises with the Republicans in Congress on some of these economic issues and some of these budget issues. Not only did the effort fail, but the result of it is that everyone’s — the voters’ attitude towards almost everyone in politics went down. And although you’ll find many polls that show that more people favor the Obama position versus the Congressional Republican position, it hasn’t helped Obama’s approval rating, which is — continued to hover in the low 40s. Starting with Labor Day, the White House has switched course. When the president presented his jobs program, which by the way included some things that many Republicans have supported before, they show no sign of interest in supporting now, basically what President Obama was proposing was a proposal that was not likely to be approved, but which he could take the country and use as an example to say, “This is what I’m trying to get and this what the Republicans are against.” It’s quite clear that the Republicans are not going to make any major deal in part because they can’t. Even the leaders who are interested — were interested in dealing with him, such as Speaker Boehner, found themselves constrained by the more hawkish members of their constituency in the House of Representative, and even when they’ve — now both sides agreed on what the budget level should be for the year that just started, the House — some of these House Republicans still trying to cut them even more. So, I think the White House recognizes there’s not going to be a deal on jobs program, and they’re going to use this politically as much as possible. When the president was in Dallas recently, he pointed out — he sort of fingered Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader, and said, “What kind of a jobs program is he for? Why is he against everything I propose?” And it’s sort of the Harry Truman policy — procedure in 1948. And Harry Truman in the 1948 election was in deep trouble, and at the time of the Democratic Convention, there was a lot of dissatisfaction, and they all thought they were going to lose, and he electrified that convention, and the way he did it was he made a speech at 1:30 in the morning in which he called Congress back into special session and said he was going to make them consider all the things that they had refused to do. Well, they didn’t consider them anymore than they had before, but he had an issue, and he took the issue of the do nothing Congress to the country, and Obama is doing something of the same thing, and we’ll see how that works.
Harry Truman also surprised everyone on Election Day in 1948. Is Obama going to be a Harry Truman you think?
Well, one reason they surprised him is because polling wasn’t as good as it is now. With modern polling, it — you’re very rarely enormously surprised. Now the result can be slightly different from the polling. You could have one candidate ahead by two points and then the other one wins by three. In presidential campaigns, the polling has been quite good lately, but it’s — a lot is going to happen between now and November of 2012, and the situation is going to be affected by external events, going to be affected by the course of the campaign. Obama said the other day that he’s the underdog in the election, and that’s probably true, but a lot of people in Washington would not be totally shocked if in the end he gets elected. That generic Republican you talked about doesn’t exist, he’s going to have to beat a real live one, and each of them has his shortcomings.
The NBC News/Marist Poll for January’s GOP New Hampshire Primary (it really won’t be in December, will it?) and the Iowa Caucus reveal some very interesting political tidbits. Sure, we’re still several months away from these much awaited events but likely New Hampshire voters and likely Iowa caucus-goers are picking sides.
No big surprise so far in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. New Hampshire neighbor Mitt Romney has a wide lead over the GOP field. Iowa may eventually be the table setter for whom Romney has to take on in New Hampshire. But, no clear challenger has emerged at present.
The only danger sign for Romney in New Hampshire is that only 38% of likely voters are firmly committed to a candidate. 45% who back Romney are firmly committed to him. Better than the average, but not a lock.
Iowa, however, is a different ballgame, and represents more precarious terrain for Romney. Romney is well-known but finds himself in a close battle among likely Iowa caucus-goers with Herman Cain. Is Cain enjoying his 15 days of fame, or is this where the anybody-but-Romney caucus-goers coalesce?
Like New Hampshire, Hawkeye staters are still lukewarm to the field. Only 41% of likely caucus attendees are firmly committed to their choice. But, 56% of Cain’s backers are solidly behind him compared to only 29% of Romney’s supporters. That has to concern the Romney camp. Also, of the four factors motivating likely Iowa GOP caucus-goers, the good news for Romney is he has the support of the plurality of those who say experience matters most. The bad news for Romney is that values, issues, and electability count more to likely Iowa caucus-goers than the candidate’s resume and, in each of these other factors, Romney has not established an advantage.
And, then there’s the Tea Party. 50% of likely Iowa caucus attendees identify with the Tea Party. Cain leads Romney by 31% to 15% with these voters. But, among likely Iowa caucus-goers who strongly support the Tea Party, which amounts to one in five likely participants, Cain’s advantage over Romney grows to 41% to 7%. This also has to be a chief worry for team Romney. It is something we will be watching closely in future NBC News/Marist Polls.
Suffice it to say, the team at The Marist Poll is pleased to join forces with NBC News to provide independent and accurate poll data and analysis on the upcoming GOP presidential primary/caucus sweepstakes. Through this partnership, the public will receive what Marist College students have been participating in for more than three decades, namely, a front row seat to the political process. Marist College students learn by doing. Now, we intend to open up the classroom to the public and demystify the process of conducting public opinion polls.
Beyond the horse race numbers of who is ahead and who is behind, we hope to provide insight into the dynamics of the race… which issues are driving the electorate, what kind of influence do Tea Party supporters have on the outcome, how does the size and composition of turnout alter each candidate’s chances? In so doing, the public will be better positioned to understand what campaign consultants are looking at in their private polls, the ones they use to devise their strategies.
The NBC News/Marist Poll is all about disclosure and transparency. There are polls, and then there are polls. Some use “live” interviewers and scientific methods to select a random sample, including calling cell phone only households. Some do not. Some provide the public with their question wording and the order in which questions are asked. Some do not. Some use well trained, quality interviewers. Some do not. Some disclose how they define the all important “likely” voter. Some do not.
In essence, sometimes the public is in on the secret of how poll numbers are derived. But, unfortunately, often the public is not. Instead, citizens are bombarded by polls with little guide as to how the sausage is made. No longer. In this partnership, to paraphrase Chuck Todd, we will bring people into the polling process and “kick the tires.”
We will provide information about how samples are selected, why cell phone only households are called, how likely voters are identified, what role question wording and question order play in the survey process, what makes for good quality interviewing, and how we go about analyzing the poll results.
We fully understand that public opinion polls are graded by whether they pick the right winner and by the right margin. But, when it comes to prediction, pre-primary/caucus polling is a particularly perilous endeavor. Our NBC News/Marist Polls will be conducted prior to the casting of votes, and, as such, are aiming at a moving target. With primary turnout much lower than in a general election and with an electorate which is typically late in deciding whether to vote or whom to support, things can be pretty volatile. Not surprisingly, a great deal can happen from the time a poll is conducted to primary day.
Having said this, picking the winner (by the correct margin) and understanding what is driving the electorate remains the goal. But, when it comes to prediction, let’s not ask psephologists to accomplish what we don’t expect from seismologists or demand from meteorologists. Translation: predicting public opinion may be no more dependable than timing an earthquake or forecasting the weather. Nonetheless, we will communicate what works and what doesn’t. Hopefully, we will all learn from the experience.
Expect Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment of GOP politics to be broken as the large field of Republican presidential wannabes meet in three debates during the next three weeks. And, with good reason.
So far, it’s been a race that has probably attracted at least as much attention for those who have chosen not to run (Huckabee, Daniels, Barbour, Pataki), those who have already ended their candidacy (Pawlenty), and those who have yet not declared their intentions (Palin, Giuliani) as it has for those who are traipsing around Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.
The oddity about this GOP contest is how ill-formed it is as we head into heavy campaign season. (Don’t totally blame the candidates here as the dates for Iowa and New Hampshire haven’t been set, yet).
The so-called top tier consists of recently anointed front-runner Rick Perry, who is yet to demonstrate anything beyond the ability to get out of the gate fast; Mitt Romney, the early but weak front-runner who now occupies the place position behind Perry; and Michele Bachmann (just barely) who gained an early advantage based upon her debating skills and narrow win in the Iowa straw poll but who now must find a way to re-energize her campaign.
The remaining candidates, perhaps led by Jon Huntsman, are searching for a spark that ignites their 15 news cycles of fame. Meanwhile “undecided” continues to be a popular choice among rank and file Republicans.
This all accounts for why the GOP field is sensing the “urgency of now.” Coupled with the weakening strength of President Obama’s re-election prospects, the debates are likely to undo the Reagan pledge. I’m sure the campaign handlers will claim that their candidates are merely providing issue clarification. But, no one will be fooled when the gloves come off early and the punches start flying in the upcoming debate slugfests.
What is particularly striking about our recent national poll on campaign 2012 is the lack of definition of the GOP field of White House wannabes. Mitt Romney, the generally recognized front-runner, has the support of a mere 19% of Republican and Republican leaning independents. Not exactly emulating Secretariat’s run in the Belmont Stakes. Romney is trying to make President Obama’s handling of the economy the central issue of the campaign in the worst possible way. With his latest flip-flop, it seems he’s doing just that.
Then, there’s the bench, the second tier in the poll numbers. What stands out about this group — Giuliani, Perry, and Palin — is that none of them, as of yet, is an announced candidate. Does one, two, or three eventually get in and what does that do to a changing line-up that has already lost Trump, Huckabee, Christie, Daniels, and Barbour, media grabbing would be candidates?
And, then there’s the long list of niche candidates none of whom breaks into double digits at this point. Is there a possible future nominee or president among them? Sure. But, it’s a very long way for any of them before they earn the keys to the oval office.
Despite this cloudy GOP picture, President Obama should not be drafting his second inaugural address just yet. His approval rating is mired in the mid-forties and he’s at his lowest point in how voters assess his handling of the economy. The latest unemployment figures are not likely to ease anyone’s economic anguish.
Not surprisingly, his re-elect numbers are not impressive. Only 36% say they will definitely vote to re-elect the President, and 42% opt for the so-called “generic” Republican. Here’s the rub. When you replace the “generic” GOPer with the name of a specific Republican, President Obama opens up an advantage. He even breaks fifty against Palin.
No doubt, this is a narrative that is still unfolding. But, I sense it’s likely to be the storyline for some time.