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Friday, July 30, 2010

The Last 16 Years of Newt Gingrich in Gallup Polls

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said last Sunday that he is seriously considering a run for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. It's very hard to predict what will happen if Gingrich does decide to run. But let’s take a look at what we know at this point.

We have Gallup data on Gingrich’s performance when he was last contemplating a presidential run.  He generally received single digit percentages of the Republican vote in trial heats conducted in 2006 and 2007. His maximum vote from Republicans was 11% in September, 2007. Gingrich trailed former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was the consistent front-runner throughout that year. Arizona Sen. John McCain, who eventually got the GOP nomination, was generally vying for second place honors with actor and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson. Both McCain and Thompson typically garnered more Republican votes than Gingrich.

The fact that Giuliani was the front-runner for all of 2007 (and that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was the leader in one early January poll) gives us a good clue that these early trial heat ballots have less than perfect predictive value. Giuliani flamed out when the primaries actually began. McCain soared and eventually clinched the nomination.

Had Gingrich stayed in the race, he could, in theory, have performed well in the bellwether early 2008 primaries and moved up in GOP preferences. The 2007 data simply tell us that during his previous “serious consideration” of running for president, Gingrich did not immediately generate great fervor from his party’s rank and file.


What about Gingrich’s image? Here we find a roller coaster, both in terms of name identification and evaluation.

Gallup has been testing the public’s view of Gingrich since he rocketed to prominence in 1994 as the outspoken Republican House leader who helped promulgate the “Contract with America” and lead his party to a takeover of the House in the 1994 midterm election.

Back in October 1994, only 41% of Americans knew enough about Gingrich to have an opinion. That changed quickly. His name identification surged to 71% by January 1995 (at which point he victoriously took over as Speaker of the House). By one point in 1998, over 9 out of 10 Americans had an opinion of Gingrich. He left the House in January 1999 and Gallup didn't test him again until 2003, by which time his name identification had settled back down to 81%. At this point (July 2010), 74% of Americans know enough about Gingrich to have an opinion of him.

The nature of the public's views of Gingrich have shifted significantly. This is an important point. Gingrich was not the most popular politician in the land in the 1990s. His image skewed negative. At one point in 1997, Gingrich had a 64% unfavorable rating, contrasted with a 26% favorable rating, well over a two to one negative ratio.

Since then he has been out of the news, and his image has shifted back toward the positive -- even as his name identification has dropped. In our recent July update, Gingrich had a 38% unfavorable rating and a 36% favorable rating. That’s about a one to one positive to negative ratio; not great, but certainly better than where it sat 13 years ago. His overall image at this point, by way of example, is on par with that of Vice President Joe Biden or a possible competitor for the Republican nomination, Sarah Palin.

All of this is potentially important to a possible Gingrich run for president. Inherent in Gingrich’s political persona is the fact that, at one point in history, he was a quite unpopular politician.

A number of those who saw Gingrich in an unfavorable light in the 1990s are now dead or have long forgotten what he was up to at that point, and some of those who are now of voting age were not politically cognizant in the 1990s.  Plus some of the emnity which accured to Gingrich was a function of his highly visible position as a Republican Speaker of the House, rather than personal. Still, some of the erstwhile negativity associated with the former Speaker may be lurking in the inner recesses of voters' minds, and there is at least the possibility that if Gingrich formally announces as a candidate, it will be reactivated. Should Gingrich perform well throughout 2011, it would not be unprecedented if his opponents (and their media and strategy consultants) make it their business to remind voters of his past.

Campaigns do different things to different candidates, of course. It may be that a full court press with the right messages would move Newt Gingrich even more into the positive column than he is today. But his past is at least potentially something of a wild card in any possible presidential bid.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...
August 6, 2010 at 7:07 PM  

I would love to see Gingrich slap Obama down in a live debate.

jb in Indiana said...
August 14, 2010 at 6:31 PM  

If names like Newt Gingrich are popping up as potential presidential candidates then things aren't looking good for the GOP. Don't get me wrong, I think Newt would make a fine president or at least better than the last two. I just don't think he could weather the liberal nightly media bashing as well as a fresh face could.

Anonymous said...
August 16, 2010 at 9:33 AM  

Gingrich has shown he is one of the most knowledgeable political intellects not only on of our time not only in American history, but also in world affairs. Impressive intellect.

Anonymous said...
August 18, 2010 at 2:45 PM  

When I saw Newsweek's Nov 1994 Cover "The Gingrich That Stole Christmas", that's when I became interested in him. He is a knowledgeable person who be a great President. If my Liberals friends get that upset at the mention of his name, then I want to see more about the possibility of him being President.

Anonymous said...
August 20, 2010 at 6:58 PM  

In my opinion, no politician has stirred such a strong sense of pride and nationalism in this country as Ronald Reagan. I think, perhaps, Newt Gingrich could impact our nation in this manner! When I hear him speak, I feel proud to be an American! I miss feeling that way! Our nation surely needs to feel this way again...

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