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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gingrich and Romney Present Very Different Image Profiles

One thing is clear. If a Martian dropped down to Earth and looked just at our Gallup Positive Intensity Scores, he or she or it would not report back home that Mitt Romney was a leader for the Republican nomination. Right now the Martian would show Newt Gingrich all by himself on top.

The Positive Intensity Score measures the intensity with which Republicans view their candidates. Gingrich gets a Positive Intensity Score of 20, based on the fact that 24% of those Republicans who recognize him have a strongly favorable opinion of him, while 4% have a strong unfavorable opinion. Flash back to July 18-31, when 8% of Republicans who knew Gingrich gave him a strongly favorable opinion, while 7% gave him a strongly unfavorable opinion, for a net Positive Intensity Score of 1.

Romney now has a Positive Intensity Score of 9, which ties him with the free-falling Herman Cain -- just 2 points above Rick Santorum. Fifteen percent of Republicans who recognize Romney say they have a strongly favorable opinion of him, while 6% have a strongly unfavorable opinion. Romney was doing better back in July, when 18% of Republicans had a strongly favorable opinion and 3% a strongly unfavorable opinion.

Thus, while Gingrich has been improving his image in the eyes of Republicans, Romney’s image has been deteriorating.

There is some interesting history here that helps spotlight Romney’s problems in a bit more detail. The all-time high percentage of Republicans who had a strongly favorable opinion of Romney was 22%, back in March. His “strongly favorable” number has not been higher than 20% since June, and, as noted, is now at 15%.

Meanwhile, five other candidates we have followed this year -- in addition to Gingrich -- have been above 20% strongly favorable at some point this year. That includes Michele Bachmann, who was at 26% strongly favorable in June; Herman Cain, who set the all-time high record of 35% strongly favorable in October; Rick Perry, who was at 27% strongly favorable in August and in September; Rudy Giuliani, who was at 23% in August and September; and Sarah Palin, who was at 26% several times.

In other words, Republicans throughout the year have been more passionate about five candidates at various points that they have ever been about Mitt Romney. The former governor of Massachusetts simply has not been able to generate enthusiasm among his fellow Republicans. When a Gallup interviewer asks Republicans if their opinion about Romney is “strongly” favorable, relatively few reply “yes.”

It’s not that Romney is disliked by Republicans. His overall, total unfavorable percentage has only reached 20% twice. Meanwhile, some of his competitors have, at one time or the other during the year, racked up unfavorable percentages at or near the 30% range, including Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman, and Bachmann.

In short, Romney doesn’t generate a lot of negatives, which is the good news for his campaign. The bad news for his campaign is that he doesn’t generate a lot of strong positives either.

Gingrich, on the other hand, generates negatives at some times, and then generates a lot of strong positives at other times.  He has swung all over the map this year -- as noted, going from a Positive Intensity Score near 20 to a score of 1, and then back up to a score of 20.

Republicans at this particular moment are looking at two candidates with quite different images.  On the one hand there is the bland, OK, steady-as-she-goes, anti-excitement image of Romney.  On the other hand there is the volatile, up and down, high-intensity personality of Gingrich -- whose current appeal, it might be added, follows in the footsteps of the high-intensity personalities of Bachmann, Perry and Cain. The key issue is how Republicans will deal with these two disparate personalities going forward.

There are more debates planned between now and the end of the year.  It is not clear that the remaining debates will have a great impact on the candidates' positions at this point, given the frequency with which Republicans have been exposed to the candidates in debate formats already this year.  It is much clearer that the candidates' performances in the first rounds of actual voting beginning on January 3rd will have a cascading impact on Republicans' preferences that ultimately will determine the GOP nominee.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Americans' Views on the Penn State Situation

The Penn State controversy has been attracting about the same level of interest as the JonBenet Ramsey situation back in 2000. This is based on a national USA Today/Gallup poll conducted Nov. 15. A combined total of 58% of those we interviewed said they are following the news about “child sex abuse case involving the football program at Pennsylvania State University” very or somewhat closely.

This is just slightly below average for all 206 news stories we have asked about over the last two decades.

The JonBenet Ramsey case received exactly the same level of attention when we asked about it back in March 2000. The highest "attention paid" score in Gallup’s history was 97% for the Sept. 11, 2011 terrorist attacks, followed by a 96% for Hurricane Katrina, and 95% for the Iraq war in March 2003. The lowest in our history was a 17% score for those following the CBS show Survivor in August 2000.

Our USA Today/Gallup poll took a look at several issues related directly to what’s happened at Penn State since the controversy surfaced.

  • Americans who are following the story somewhat or very closely agree with the Board of Trustees'  firing of legendary football coach Joe Paterno, by 66% to 25%.
  • By 59% to 24% these attentive people say that the Penn State football program had become too powerful. When we developed this question, we considered giving respondents a list of colleges and asking if at each of them the football program had become too powerful: LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska, Florida, and so forth. We didn’t have the space to ask this sequence, but I imagine for the big name schools, college fans would have said “yes.” We’ll hopefully get to that question in the future. 
  • There doesn’t appear to be much agreement with the idea that the Penn State football program should be shut down, or that games should be canceled. Eight in 10 of those following the story say “no” to the suggestion that Penn State cancel and forfeit the rest of their football games this season -- which at this point would be Big Ten games against Ohio State and against Wisconsin. We asked this question after the emotional game last Saturday between Penn State and Nebraska had already been played, so to some extent respondents may have felt that Penn State going ahead with its schedule was a fait accompli. 
  • The question arises about the effect of this situation on the larger image of Penn State University overall. About a third of those following the story closely say they now have a more negative image of Penn State, while 63% say that they do not. This is an intriguing response, and suggests that many fans are thinking of the entire controversy as one that involves just selected individuals at the school -- rather than an entire culture of the big institution.
By the way, only 43% of those we interviewed said that they were football fans, with another 5% saying they are somewhat of a fan. Who are these people? Well, perhaps not surprisingly, the data show that college football fans are more male than female (56% to 31%), and much more prevalent in the Midwest and the South than on either coast. Those with only a high school education or less are less likely to be college football fans than those who have at least some college education -- again, not a totally shocking finding. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Perry's Oops Moment and Gingrich's Uptick

The major discussion after Wednesday night's debate is Rick Perry, who had one of those embarrassing moments that happen to most public speakers from time to time. Of course, most of us who make public speeches are not running for president, nor talking to a nationwide audience, nor do we have our embarrassing moments memorialized on YouTube and passed around the web at lightning speed.

Those observers who opine that Perry's campaign is essentially over need to keep in mind that before Wednesday's debate, Perry's campaign was already looking like it was over. The issue here is more one of the degree to which his lapse at the debate will lower the probability that he will rebound.

Perry's Positive Intensity Score in Gallup tracking has dropped from a high of 25 in late-August/early-September to 3 in this week's report. That ties him with Michele Bachmann, as the second lowest of any of the eight candidates we are tracking, above only Jon Huntsman (who is at -3).  Perry gets 11% of Republican support vote in our latest trial heat measure, sandwiched between Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul -- and substantially behind Mitt Romney and Herman Cain.

Newt Gingrich Rebounding

I'm not sure if you noticed this remarkable graph in my colleague Jeff Jone's analysis published Tuesday, but here it is:

This is a true tale of redemption.  Former Speaker of the House Gingrich appeared to be totally out of the GOP race this summer.  He had problems with his staff, a news media's focus on his taking a cruise when some thought he should be campaigning, criticisms of the apparent highly-involved role of his wife in his campaign, and stories about large charge accounts at Tiffany's.  His Positive Intensity Score, as you can see above, fell into the deep basement.

Then came the series of Republican debates, a venue which, apparently -- at least based on the correlational evidence --  turned out to be very rewarding for Gingrich, who is a Ph.D. in history and book author. Those debates, plus perhaps his other campaign efforts and appearances, seem to have made a difference.  Suddenly Gingrich's fortune turned around, and his image among Republicans began inching up.  Now, Gingrich is in clear second place among Republicans in terms of the positive intensity he engenders, behind only the slumping Herman Cain, but clearly ahead of Mitt Romney, who generates relatively little intensity. 

It's not clear yet that this is translating into actual voter intentions. Gingrich is essentially tied with the formerly highly-evaluated Gov. Rick Perry of Texas in our trial heat polls -- well behind both Romney and Cain.  My recent analysis shows that even if Cain drops out of the race for the GOP nomination, Gingrich will probably still be significantly behind Romney in GOP voter support. 

There is also a boom-bust cycle of sorts that goes on in these types of campaigns.  Gingrich lost ground when he entered the race and his behavior and past records came under heavy scrutiny. Then he was written off, received almost no scrutiny by the press, and appeared in the debates to be more affable, relaxed, and as befits a Ph.D., very well informed.  If he suddenly begins to gain more attention as a possible challenger to Romney, as is already beginning to happen (see here and here), then he might stiffen up and regress -- and political journalists will once again begin to pour over his positions and statements  We will monitor his progress going forward.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What Happens if Cain Were to Drop Out?

Let’s say quite hypothetically that Herman Cain drops out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination. What would the GOP race look like after that point?

From what we know now from available evidence, Mitt Romney would be the net beneficiary and he would become the clear front-runner.

I base this on a look at the responses of Republicans in our Nov. 2-6 poll when we asked them to name their second choice for the nomination. The key focus is where Cain’s support goes. The answer? Cain’s supporters give Mitt Romney 27% of their vote, followed by Newt Gingrich with 23%. Falling way behind those two are Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann, each with 13% of the support of those whose first choice is Herman Cain.

Of course, the sample sizes are fairly low here, but the data suggest that if Cain were to leave the race, Romney would be in the lead. Remember that Romney ties Cain for the lead (at 21% each) among Republicans when they make their first choice. Newt Gingrich gets 12% of the first choice votes. So, even if Cain’s vote were to be split evenly between Romney and Gingrich, Romney would be in the lead because he has the bigger base to build on. And Romney gets a slightly higher percentage of Cain’s support than Gingrich as this point.  So Romney's lead would be clear should Cain drop out. So, too, would be Gingrich’s clear second place behind Romney in this “Cain drops out” scenario. Rick Perry would be in third place.

All of this is hypothetical, I note again. No one knows what will happen in the days and weeks ahead in the Cain situation.  And, were Cain to drop out, the sentiments of Republican voters could change in unknown ways from what they were in our Nov. 2-6 poll.

On another note, you can see in the accompanying table that Cain leads among Tea Party supporters, with 26% of their support compared to 19% support that goes to Romney, 17% for Gingrich, and 11% for Perry.

Romney is obviously not total anathema to Tea party supporters. He comes in second behind Cain among Tea Partiers, in fact. So, if the Tea Party supporters were to face a Cain departure, it looks as if as much of their support might go to Romney as to any other candidate.

(Among those Republicans who are not Tea Party supporters, Romney wins by a two-to-one margin over Cain, 28% to 14%, followed by Perry and Paul at 11%, with Gingrich behind at 7%.)

Another interesting variable in all of this is education. Among those Republicans with only some college or a high school degree or less, Romney gets only about 16% to 17% support. Among those with college degrees or postgraduate degrees, his support jumps to 31%.

  • Republicans who have postgraduate degrees: nine-percentage-point lead for Romney over Cain, followed by Gingrich and Perry.
  • Republicans with college degrees but no postgraduate degree: six-point lead for Romney over Cain, followed by Gingrich, with everyone else behind.
  • Republicans with some college, but no college degree: Cain wins by eight points over Romney, with Perry in third place.
  • Republicans with high school degrees or less: Romney squeaks by Cain and Gingrich by two points, with Perry just one point behind those two.
By way of reference, Romney has two postgraduate degrees, an MBA and a law degree, both from Harvard. Cain has a master’s degree from Purdue. Perry has a college degree but no postgraduate degree. Gingrich has a Ph.D. (in history) from Tulane. Ron Paul has an M.D. from Duke Medical School.

One possible plus for Romney is that turnout traditionally is higher among those with the highest levels of education. 

One final factor is religion. The relations between traditional Protestants and Mormons have historically been strained. Mitt Romney, of course, is a Mormon. The data show that among Republicans who are Protestant or some other non-Catholic, Christian religion, Cain beats Romney by 23% to 18%, with Gingrich (who recently converted to Catholicism) behind at 14%, and Rich Perry at 12%. Among the relatively smaller group of Republicans who are Catholics, Romney beats Cain by 24% to 20%, and among those Republicans with no religious identity (a very small group), Romney is essentially tied with Ron Paul, and both of these are slightly ahead of Cain. 

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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