Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

Trio of Polls Show Romney, Perry at Top

In Presidential campaign on August 8, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Since July 20, three major national polls have been conducted and released, all recording basically the same results. Gallup (July 20-24; 1,088 self-identified Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents), the Pew Research Center (July 20-24; 980 self-identified Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents), and Rasmussen Reports (July 28; 1,000 likely GOP primary voters) each place Massachusetts former Gov. Mitt Romney in first place with 17, 21, and 22 percent, respectively, among the voters tested. But the bigger story continues to be how well Texas Gov. Rick Perry performs. In each of these surveys, the unannounced candidate places second, notching 15, 12, and 18 percent preference among those sampled in the three respective survey universes.

These polls, as well as most others, tell us two things. First, Romney is a weak front-runner since he fails to break 25 percent in any national poll. Second, the rise of Gov. Perry who, by all accounts will soon enter the race, again underscores the respondents’ desire to choose a person outside the sphere of current candidates, thus expressing disapproval with the GOP presidential field as a whole.

The Gallup poll, which includes former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, clearly highlights the desire for additional choices because the individuals placing second, third, and fourth (Perry, ex-Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin, and Giuliani) are all non-candidates. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6) ties Giuliani for fourth with just 11 percent, but all other official candidates: Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14), ex-Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), retired businessman Herman Cain, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), recent US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, finish no better than in high single-digits.

The other tangential effect from Perry’s strong early performance is the weakening of Bachmann’s standing. The Pew study illustrates this point in two ways, through the use of several different and interesting questions.

First, the sampling universe was asked to name the candidate they have heard the most about during the recent time frame. By a margin of 23 to 13 percent, the respondents answered Bachmann. Romney scored the 13%. Perry, on the other hand, posted just 3 percent on this question. Such bodes well for the Texas governor because he is still placing second in the overall poll despite the at-large sample hearing little about him. Conversely, this measurement trends poorly for Bachmann because her support appears to be declining slightly even though she is by far and away the candidate attracting the most current attention.

Second, Perry already polls ahead of Bachmann, 16-14 percent, among the people who look favorably upon the Tea Party. This is quite a surprise since Bachmann is the House Tea Party Caucus chair and has been closely identified with the disparate individual groups since their inception. Perry, while certainly espousing the type of economic theories and policy positions with which the Tea Party leadership and members agree, is not nearly as identified with the movement as Bachmann. Yet, at least according to this Pew data, the governor is already passing her within the polling segment.

Furthermore, Romney even exceeds Bachmann’s support level within the Tea Party sector, tying Perry at 16 percent. This is more astonishing than Perry’s performance, since Romney’s record includes enacting the now highly publicized Massachusetts state government health care system that came into being by virtue of his initiative while Governor. Along with Herman Cain posting 12 percent support from the Tea Party Republicans, the data tells us that no one candidate has a lock on this ideological segment of the GOP primary vote. It leads us to the conclusion that the campaign is wide open and will likely run through the maximum number of states before a Republican nominee is crowned next year.

During this late July period, the polling, as reflected in the Pew, Gallup, and Rasmussen studies that were all conducted during the same time segment, is clearly detecting several noticeable trends. First, while Romney places first in virtually every poll, it is never by much, suggesting that his path to the nomination is tenuous despite his present standing. Second, Bachmann is not in as strong a position across the board as she was during the early part of the month. Third, Gov. Perry is showing uncommon strength for a non-candidate with relatively low name ID. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that when Perry officially enters the race, the contest could conceivably winnow down, relatively quickly, to a two-person campaign between Perry and Romney. With neither having a defined early lead, we have further support for concluding that this race will not soon be settled.
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