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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

New Hampshire Could Affect Romney's Strong National Showing

Mitt Romney is campaigning hard to maintain his lead in New Hampshire. He and his campaign staff are no doubt well aware of how quickly New Hampshire voters can change their minds over the last few days before their moment-in-the-sun primary. They have but to look back to 2008, when Barack Obama was leading among Democratic New Hampshire voters in all polls taken prior to actual voting. Hillary Clinton won.

New Hampshire voters are unusually tuned into the primary process. They almost have to be, given that the candidates have visited every city, town, and hamlet in the Granite State over the last year, making it difficult for New Hampshirites to go to the grocery store without bumping into a politician or his supporters. New Hampshire voters also probably recognize that they are being looked on to provide a judgment on the candidates, and therefore take their responsibility seriously.

I mentioned 2008. An extensive analysis of pre-election polling in New Hampshire by the American Association for Public Opinion Research did not find any major or single identifiable flaw in the polls that showed Obama ahead. One plausible explanation for the disconnect between pre-primary polls and the final result was the fact that New Hampshire voters simply were continuing to evaluate the candidates up to the last minute, and last minute occurrences on the campaign trail, including some emotional moments by Hillary Clinton, swayed them to vote for her. New Hampshire also presents challenges for pollsters in identifying the primary electorate, particularly with fairly lax rules about who can vote in each primary.

All by way of saying that Romney’s victory, or probably more importantly the size of his win over the second place opponent, should not be taken for granted in the Granite State. It is possible that anything can happen in New Hampshire. It would be highly unusual, but not impossible, for Romney’s lead to collapse. The issue for the Romney team is more focused on expectations. If he wins by only five percentage points, for example, it could be interpreted as a sign of weakness, and that would put him in a negative position as he moves on to South Carolina, where he is not facing a totally receptive environment.

Gallup is not polling in New Hampshire this year. We are focusing our attention on the national race (more on this below). But available evidence from the polling data that is available suggests that Romney is slipping some in New Hampshire. This would not be remarkable, given how much his opponents’ focus of attention has been on criticizing him in recent days. Those are the costs of being the front-runner.

Now, what we are finding at the national level is generally positive for Romney. Over the weekend he burst through the 30% barrier for the first time in our Gallup national polling. Plus, my colleague Lydia Saad has reviewed the data showing that Republicans nationally overwhelming expect Romney to win, regardless of whom they personally support. And my analysis shows that Republicans, including conservatives, believe Romney is the most acceptable of all the candidates.

One key will be how these national measures change after New Hampshire, particularly if conventional wisdom develops that Romney performed below expectations.

Two other candidates to watch in New Hampshire are Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum.

Huntsman was quoted in The New York Times on Monday as saying: “I feel the energy on the street. We’re moving in a direction that nobody would have predicted ever a few short days ago.”

Those types of statements are quite standard from candidates down in the polls in the last days of a campaign. Candidates frequently say they feel a surge, rising momentum, the tide of opinion moving in their direction. Some of this is wistful thinking, an effort to reduce the dissonance created by being behind. Some of this may reflect what they are actually seeing on the campaign trail. Of course, having more energetic crowds of a few hundred people at events is not a scientific indicator of a surge statewide.

Nevertheless, the available polling in New Hampshire shows that Huntsman may have a chance of coming in second.  He has been working the state very hard. It would not be surprising if he outperforms expectations. Coming in second to Romney would certainly be a wound to the other candidates desperately trying to derail the Romney express -- particularly Santorum and Newt Gingrich.

However, Huntsman has real problems nationally among Republicans. All year long, Huntsman generated lots of negatives from Republicans nationwide, more than any other candidate on our Positive Intensity Score measures. Only 21 % of Republicans nationally say that he would be an acceptable candidate. Very, very few Republicans think he will win the nomination. He is getting about 1% support nationally among Republicans.

Rick Santorum is not on his natural turf in New Hampshire, but he is campaigning there nevertheless. Like Huntsman, few Republicans nationally think he will win the nomination. But unlike Huntsman, Santorum is much more likely to be seen as an acceptable candidate, in fact along with Newt Gingrich second only to Romney in that department.

Our data also show that Santorum is seen as more acceptable to Republicans nationally who attend church very frequently than is Romney. That’s important because as I’ve pointed out, South Carolina has lots and lots of frequent church attenders, essentially the mirror opposite of New Hampshire, where relatively few residents attend church. If Santorum comes out of New Hampshire in a reasonable position, he is certainly moving to more fertile ground as attention turns to the Jan. 21 primary in the Palmetto State.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...
January 10, 2012 at 6:03 PM  

Campaigns are not about churches nor church groups. It's about governmental policies. When you are President, you are President for all races and religions and even those with no religion. Elections are not just about the Evangelists.

Anonymous said...
January 18, 2012 at 6:15 PM  

This article is 100% right when it states that New Hamshirites take their responsibility for holding the first primary in the country very seriously. What it fails to consider is that this seriousness comes in two forms: 1) our primary tends to set the voting tone for the country and 2) it's one of the few moments that we have any national attention and we'll be damned if any one tries to take it away from us (especially that silly caucus in Iowa). That being said when Barak Obama stated something to the effect of "first Iowa, next stop New Hampshire" in the 2008 elections, New Hampshirites weren't going to let anyone, especially a candidate tell them how to vote.

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