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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Conventional Wisdom and Romney by the Numbers

The nature of American politics today is the formation and propagation of conventional wisdom nodules that arise swiftly, achieve widespread currency, and then as often as not are swept away by the next CWN (Conventional Wisdom Nodule) that comes down the pike.

A CWN quickly formed after Tuesday night’s debate in the Spaulding Auditorium of Dartmouth College in beautiful Hanover, N.H. The CWN was that the former Bain Capital executive and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won the debate and solidified his position as the front-runner for the GOP nomination. The CWN further decreed that challengers Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Godfather’s Pizza executive Herman Cain put forth weak performances.

Not all that many Americans watched the debate from start to finish, of course. It was broadcast on Bloomberg Television, not the most highly rated cable network, and faced the usual programs competing for viewers’ attention -- including the third game of the American League playoffs (Detroit won, beating Texas 5 to 2).

This fact of life makes the CWN more important than ever, since many Republican voters will be influenced not by the debate itself, but by what is said about it. Hence the “Romney won" storyline will in essence create its own self-fulfilling effect.

There is no new survey data since Tuesday night’s debate. A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News national poll is slated to be released on Wednesday night, but the Republican trial heat data it contains will be pre-debate, hence dated.

A careful review of our Gallup poll trends on the GOP nomination reveal three important facts of life about Romney. First, he has been the leader in four out of five trial heat polls of national Republicans conducted by Gallup since May. Second, Romney doesn’t generate a lot of enthusiasm among Republicans. Third, Romney on the other hand doesn’t generate a lot of negatives either.

The one poll in which Romney did not lead was Aug. 17-21, when Rick Perry surged to a 29% to 17% margin over Romney. In the most recent (Oct. 3-7) poll, Romney is ahead, but by only two points over Herman Cain.

These two polls suggest a certain precariousness of the Romney lead. If Perry can zoom ahead, and then if Cain can gain rapidly, there must, by definition, be a fluid group of Republicans out there across the land who are still figuring out for whom they want to vote. As my colleague Lydia Saad pointed out on Monday, this year is fairly unusual because there is no one dominant Republican who sweeps away his opponents in these trial heat ballots. Romney may be the front-runner -- before Wednesday night’s debate -- but he is not running very far in front.

Our Positive Intensity Scores give an excellent picture of the candidates who generate a lot of enthusiasm among Republicans. That group does not include Romney. Throughout the year a number of candidates have enjoyed Positive Intensity Scores above 20 at various points. These included Michele Bachmann prior to her August decline, Rudi Giuliani when we included him in our measures, Rick Perry before his mid-September free-fall, and, of course, Herman Cain. I say “of course” Herman Cain because he has blazed a truly exceptional trail on this measure, including a score of 20 or more in every week’s report since mid-April.  His current score of 34 is 10 points higher than any other candidate has been able to generate.

Romney is currently sitting on a Positive Intensity Score of 14, middling as these things go. He scored 20 in two polls back in March and early April, but has not broached that mark since.

This is not to say, as noted, that Romney is disliked by Republicans. He is not. In fact, as perspicaciously noted by my colleague Jeff Jones, Romney actually has the second highest total favorable image of any candidate (that is, those who have a favorable opinion whether or not they feel strongly about it) and the second lowest unfavorable image of any candidate. Only Herman Cain beats him. To be specific, 72% of Republicans who know Romney have a favorable opinion, while 18% have an unfavorable opinion

One can compare Romney's unfavorable percentage to the 35% who have an unfavorable opinion of Ron Paul, 32% who have an unfavorable opinion of Michele Bachmann, 31% who have an unfavorable opinion of Jon Huntsman, and 27% who have an unfavorable opinion of Newt Gingrich. (All of these percentages are based on those who recognize each candidate).

So as he sat there at the table at the Dartmouth debate on Tuesday night, Romney was actually better liked on average by Republicans watching (assuming a random sample of all Republicans were watching) than any of the others sitting around him -- except for Cain.

This is a pretty good position for Romney. While he is not beloved by Republicans in an intense rock star fashion, he is well-liked. His challenge is to translate the blander “favorable” opinions into votes in primary states -- to make his “inevitability” come to fruition.


Anonymous said...
October 12, 2011 at 7:46 PM  

Romney is a democrat in republicans clothing. If you want a real conservative and leader Herman Cain.

Sam McGowan said...
October 14, 2011 at 11:49 AM  

I really don't think these "indicators" really indicate anything, especially not at this point in a campaign for an election that is still more than a year away. At this point, polls are mainly something to keep pollsters busy and give media pundits something to write and talk about. In short, they're meaningless. As for Romney, that he is only pulling support from 2 out of 10 supporters in a party that is not in tune with his philosphies says that he's in big trouble. The "support" Perry lost didn't go to Romney, it went to Cain.

Core 4 All said...
October 16, 2011 at 6:00 PM  

While watching the taped debate Sunday morning, I kept tally of how many questions were directed to the candidates from the moderators. Here is the breakdown:
Perry: 10
Cain: 9
Romney: 7
Bachmann: 6
Huntsman: 5
Gingrich: 4
Paul: 4
Santorum: 3

If we are to make decisions on who we want as our candidate, I believe it is the duty of the moderators to provide equal time to all the candidates. It is clear at this point that the media has chosen the front-runners: Romney, Cain and Perry. It is a shame that the other 5 candidates are not granted the same opportunity as the others.

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