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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Seven Things to Know About the Republican Nomination Contest

1. In December 2007, Gallup polling showed the Republican race shaped up as follows: Rudy Giuliani with 27% of Republican support, Mike Huckabee with 16% of Republican support, Fred Thompson, Mitt Romney and John McCain, all tied with 14% of Republican support. Our Gallup analysis was mainly focused on Giuliani's positioning and the Huckabee surge. Very little attention was paid to McCain.

2. John McCain tied for third with Fred Thompson in the 2008 Iowa caucuses. Both were behind the winner Mike Huckabee and also behind Mitt Romney.

3. As you know, despite points 1 and 2 above, McCain went on to win the 2008 Republican nomination. In other words, a lot changed once actual voting began in January 2008. And we can expect that a lot can change once voting begins in January 2012.

4. There is a group of Republicans, in our data disproportionately older Republicans and Tea Party supporters, who are apparently the shifters within the GOP. They are most likely to have jumped around looking "for someone to believe in." They thought Perry was going to be that man, then Cain. Now Newt Gingrich is their favorite, even though he is certainly different than Perry or Cain. Gingrich’s support goes from 26% among 18- to 34-year-old Republicans to 46% among Republicans aged 55 and older, from 28% among liberal/moderate Republicans to 41% among conservative Republicans, and is 25% among those Republicans who do not identify themselves as Tea Party supporters compared to 47% among Tea Party supporters.

The fact that these older, more conservative segments of Republicans have been so labile in their choices so far this year suggests that they may continue to be labile in the weeks ahead.

5. A recent New York Times opinion piece by Ross Douthat ponders the possibility that highly religious Republicans will hesitate to support Newt Gingrich because of his “thrice-married” marital history.

However, our data as of now show that highly religious Republicans nationally are no more and no less likely to support Gingrich than less religious Republicans. Highly religious Republicans are also no more and no less likely to support Romney, who is, of course, a Mormon. Highly religious Republicans are somewhat more supportive of Rick Santorum, who has made family values and family issues the centerpiece of his campaign -- although Santorum's support remains low in every segment.

Thus, so far, we don’t see any sign of a big pushback to Gingrich among the most religious Republicans, although he is not doing disproportionately well among them either.

Evangelicals form a disproportionate percentage of the Iowa caucus goers (remember former Southern Baptist minister Mike Huckabee won the GOP primary in Iowa in 2008), yet, so far, recent polling (see here and here for the latest examples) show that Gingrich has a significant lead in Iowa among likely caucus goers, so it doesn’t look like his “thrice-married” status is hurting him there.

Gingrich did very publicly convert to Catholicism to meld with his current wife’s religion and he proclaims to be very religious personally. It used to be that highly religious Protestants/evangelicals were leery of Catholics (e.g., John Kennedy’s presidential race in 1960) but today it may be that the fact that Gingrich is indicating that he is very religious in a Christian faith is inoculating him. Plus, his major opponent at the moment is a Mormon, which is a negative to a certain percentage of highly religious Protestant Christians.

6. All of the campaigning for their party’s nomination may be having a negative impact on Republicans’ enthusiasm about next year’s election. Republicans' hopes for a candidate that can beat Barack Obama and return control of the White House to the GOP may be at least temporarily dampened.

7. Gingrich has been very lucky this year that the campaign for the GOP nomination has essentially been a national one, played out through a long series of multiple nationally-televised debates -- as opposed to a more typical retail politicking campaign played out at the state level. The debates apparently have helped Gingrich. Debates play very directly into the former Speaker and college professor's strengths --. the ability to expostulate at length in answer to policy questions.  This is, in fact, what he has been doing for years in the private sector. Plus, Gingrich was way down in the polls in the debates so far this year, meaning that he was loose and free in his style and comments, since he had nothing to lose.

One key question is how Gingrich will fare in the debates going forward between now and Jan. 3, given that he is suddenly the front-runner and therefore: a) his every utterance will be more heavily scrutinized, b) he will become the candidate who is more likely to be attacked by his fellow candidates, and c) he may be more worried about a gaffe and therefore less free and loose in his responses.

1 comments:

matt said...
December 8, 2011 at 12:33 PM  

Please stop calling Santorum's gay bashing "Family Values." Gay families are families. You undermine Gallup's nonpartisan image when you equate the two.

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