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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Cain's Future

Too early so far to measure the lasting impact of the escalating news coverage of Herman Cain’s involvement with sexual harassment charges when he was head of the National Restaurant Association.

These types of revelations and historical dredging of the record are certainly not unusual in political campaigns. In fact, many campaigns are so sure that these types of revelations are coming that they have fully-prepared quick response plans sitting in a file drawer, ready to spring into action when something surfaces. Much can surface, of course, as previously little-known candidates increase their relevance in a campaign. News organizations spend a lot of time looking into the backgrounds of candidates who are getting the most attention. In today’s increasingly competitive news environment, news entities are desperately looking to differentiate themselves, and surfacing a report of some historical transgression is an excellent way to do it. Politico’s uncovering of the sexual harassment allegations has paid off with a great deal of visibility for Politico in recent days.

The real key in these situations is how the candidates handle them. Challenges and crises in many fields of endeavors are often positives, because they provide an opportunity for those involved to show their mettle by their calm, cool, and collected reactions. Military fame and fortune doesn’t come to peacetime bureaucrats for the most part, but accrues to those who handle the crises and challenges of wars and battle. Business executives are often likewise rated on how they handle crises, just as are NFL quarterbacks and airline pilots.

So, we’ll see how Herman Cain comes out of this particular crisis. The current Positive Intensity Score data on Cain is based on 14 days of interviewing through Sunday and thus has not yet begun to reflect any fallout from “National-Restaurant-Association-Gate.” Cain is down marginally in those data, from his high of 34 two weeks ago to today’s 29. That’s still more than twice the Positive Intensity Score of any of his opponents, however.

In fact, if a Martian were to drop down to Earth and assess the status of the GOP race based on survey data alone, he/she/it would certainly determine that Cain has risen to front-runner status. That’s based on national polling of the trial heat, state-by-state polling, and our Gallup Positive Intensity Score measures.

If that same Martian had descended to our earthly precincts some two months ago, of course, he/she/it would have determined that Rick Perry was the front-runner. Arriving on Earth in November 2007, the Martian would have reported back to his Mars headquarters that Rudy Giuliani was in the lead for the GOP nomination.

All by way of saying that change is more likely than not. Cain’s status as front-runner is no more guaranteed than was Hubert Humphrey's was in the race for the Democratic nomination in November 1975.

Mitt Romney, meanwhile, cruises right along, neither exciting nor greatly disappointing his fellow Republicans across the country. (See my colleague Jeff Jones’ analysis here). Romney has the virtue of being “not new” to the political process, having run for and served as Massachusetts' governor and also having run for president back in 2007/2008. It’s less likely that a seasoned political veteran like Romney will have to face new revelations that have not yet come to light. Similarly, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich are also seasoned politicians. Perry has already faced the national discussion of some of his policies and actions while governor of Texas, but if there is a personal issue for Perry lurking in the shadows, it is one that his opponents were not able to find in his two successful gubernatorial races in the Lone Star state.

If Cain does falter in our survey measures going forward (look for a new trial heat standing of the GOP candidates shortly), Romney is most likely going to be left as the front-runner -- unless Newt Gingrich continues his upward rebound, or unless Perry pulls off a major resurrection of his image.

The data suggest that Romney’s biggest challenge is exciting the voter base, as exemplified by his lackluster Positive Intensity Score. Republicans like him OK, they just aren't wild about him. There is little question that Republicans will vote for him. There is a question, however, of whether or not the enthusiasm will be there that will translate into turnout on Election Day.

That's a major issue because Republicans in general at this point are more enthusiastic about next year's election than are Democrats.  Romney, possibly, could dampen that GOP enthusiasm.

Meanwhile there are two bits of good news for President Obama. Number one, his job approval rating has been inching up. His ratings -- currently 43% and also averaging 43% last week -- are anemic compared to where he would want to be based on history. But inching up is better than inching down.

The second bit of good news for the Obama campaign team is the economy. The stock market may be down this week, but consumer confidence as Gallup measures it has been inching up, and was at -44 last week. That’s still pretty terrible, but it’s more positive than at any time since mid-July, when consumer confidence began to drop coincident with the debt ceiling debate. And our measures of employment and job creation all show an uptick. Our analysis suggests it would not be surprising to find that the unemployment rate is down when it is announced by the government on Friday. If that happens, and if the stock market doesn’t stay in terrible shape all week because of the EuroCrisis, Obama’s job approval rating could rise further.

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