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Friday, January 27, 2012

Obama's Speech and the Role of Government

President Obama clearly believes that the government has a significant role to play in helping make life better for the citizens of the United States. It’s clear, the more that I study his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, that he and his advisers also clearly understand that government involvement in citizens’ lives is viewed with great trepidation by many segments of society, particularly his political opponents.

His speech was, therefore, carefully worded to recognize the fact that there is an argument about how active government should be in solving the nation’s problems. Obama and his strategists are no doubt aware that they are threading the needle between their interest in using the government to ameliorate problems and the strong sentiment on the part of the Republicans that there needs to be less government.

It looks to me as if Obama and his speech writers spent a great deal of time crafting this particular passage from his speech:

I’m a Democrat. But I believe what Republican Abraham Lincoln believed: That government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more. That’s why my education reform offers more competition, and more control for schools and states. That’s why we’re getting rid of regulations that don’t work. That’s why our health care law relies on a reformed private market, not a government program.

On the other hand, even my Republican friends who complain the most about government spending have supported federally financed roads, and clean energy projects, and federal offices for the folks back home.

The point is, we should all want a smarter, more effective government.

Note that this portion from the speech first set up homage to a Republican president (Lincoln), acknowledged that government should be used only where necessary, and gave several examples of where Obama claimed that he himself was cutting back on government involvement. This is a standard technique by which one disarms the competition by acknowledging the competition’s position and acknowledging that it has elements of truth within it -- before moving on to press for one's own position.

Thus, Obama and his speech writers in the second part of the above very gently laid in their position -- that government performs needed functions in society. Even here, of course, the speech made sure to reference the fact that Republicans also support federal government spending in some situations.

At several other points in the speech, Obama also referenced the value of getting government involved in righting society’s wrongs, including these:

And by the way, it was public research dollars, over the course of 30 years, that helped develop the technologies to extract all this natural gas out of shale rock – reminding us that government support is critical in helping businesses get new energy ideas off the ground.

And while government can’t fix the problem on its own, responsible homeowners shouldn’t have to sit and wait for the housing market to hit bottom to get some relief.

The president's belief in the power of the government is also evident with this sentence from the speech:  "With or without this Congress, I will keep taking actions that help the economy grow."

When he says “I will keep taking actions . . .” Obama, of course, means that he will direct the U.S. government to take actions. Obama clearly feels that this is what he is in the White House to do -- to use the government to fix problems and make things better.

And the major part of the president's speech, in fact, outlined proposals for ways in which the government should use its powers to make things better in society.  Here are some of the major ones (for more on these and how they comport with public opinion, click here).

Using the government to bring about more economic fairness:

"We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well while a growing number of Americans barely get by, or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules."

Using the government’s tax policy to change corporate decision-making on location of jobs:

"We should start with our tax code. Right now, companies get tax breaks for moving jobs and profits overseas. Meanwhile, companies that choose to stay in America get hit with one of the highest tax rates in the world. It makes no sense, and everyone knows it. So let's change it."

Using the government to pressure China on trade:

"And I will not stand by when our competitors don't play by the rules. We've brought trade cases against China at nearly twice the rate as the last administration -- and it's made a difference. Over a thousand Americans are working today because we stopped a surge in Chinese tires. But we need to do more. …

Tonight, I'm announcing the creation of a Trade Enforcement Unit that will be charged with investigating unfair trading practices in countries like China."

Using the government to train workers:

"Join me in a national commitment to train 2 million Americans with skills that will lead directly to a job. My administration has already lined up more companies that want to help."

Using the government to impact the flow of illegal immigrants into the country and the status of illegal immigrants already in the country:

"I believe as strongly as ever that we should take on illegal immigration. … We should be working on comprehensive immigration reform right now."

Using the government to encourage oil and gas exploration:

"Over the last three years, we've opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration. And tonight, I'm directing my administration to open more than 75% of our potential offshore oil and gas resources."

Using the government to affect development of energy sources:

"This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy, a strategy that's cleaner, cheaper, and full of new jobs."

Using the government to fund construction, infrastructure projects:

"In the next few weeks, I will sign an executive order clearing away the red tape that slows down too many construction projects. But you need to fund these projects. Take the money we're no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the rest to do some nation-building right here at home."

Using the government’s tax code to affect income and wealth distribution:

"But in return, we need to change our tax code so that people like me, and an awful lot of members of Congress, pay our fair share of taxes.

Tax reform should follow the Buffett Rule: If you make more than a million dollars a year, you should not pay less than 30% in taxes. …

On the other hand, if you make under $250,000 a year, like 98% of American families, your taxes shouldn't go up. You're the ones struggling with rising costs and stagnant wages. You're the ones who need relief."

In general, Obama and his strategists recognized that his listing of these types of government programs needed to be surrounded with caveats and explicit recognition of the fact that some people in the country are not in favor of more or larger government programs.

As I noted above, Obama first clearly acknowledged that Republicans and others in the country disagree on the degree to which government should be used as the tool to solve problems and produce more desirable outcomes.

Then, the Obama team had to come to terms in the speech with a second problem. That's the fact that a great deal of survey research shows that Americans have very little confidence in the government at this point to do anything well, even if they philosophically agree that government, in theory, should be doing things when asked about them on a one-by-one basis.

But no matter what party they belong to, I bet most Americans are thinking the same thing right about now: Nothing will get done in Washington this year, or next year, or maybe even the year after that, because Washington is broken.

Why is Washington broken?

First Obama references the fact that Americans are negative on the process by which the federal government operates and makes decisions -- fitting in with the fact that Congress is at or near its all-time lowest approval ratings:

Some of this has to do with the corrosive influence of money in politics. So together, let’s take some steps to fix that. Send me a bill that bans insider trading by members of Congress; I will sign it tomorrow.  Let’s limit any elected official from owning stocks in industries they impact. Let’s make sure people who bundle campaign contributions for Congress can’t lobby Congress, and vice versa -- an idea that has bipartisan support, at least outside of Washington.

Some of what’s broken has to do with the way Congress does its business these days. A simple majority is no longer enough to get anything -– even routine business –- passed through the Senate. Neither party has been blameless in these tactics. Now both parties should put an end to it.  For starters, I ask the Senate to pass a simple rule that all judicial and public service nominations receive a simple up or down vote within 90 days. 

Then, Obama acknowledged a second reason that government appears to be broken -- the perceived inefficiency of government:

The executive branch also needs to change. Too often, it’s inefficient, outdated and remote. That’s why I’ve asked this Congress to grant me the authority to consolidate the federal bureaucracy, so that our government is leaner, quicker, and more responsive to the needs of the American people.

That's all he said on this, but presumably his reference to the executive branch includes all of the Cabinet departments and thus most of everything that gets done in government.  This carries within it the seeds of paradox.  Obama is asking Americans to trust him to use the government to fix problems, while acknowledging that the government itself needs to be fixed, since it is “inefficient, outdated, and remote.”

Obama did announce some steps to fix the government.  The consolidation plans he has announced so far, however, are hardly the stuff of a massive overhaul of the way government works.  Not that such a massive overhaul would be possible.

So, the president has to argue on the one hand that the government is an effective means to address the nation’s problems, particularly economic problems (with relevant caveats about philosophic disagreements on this with the Republicans), while on the other hand acknowledging that Americans see the government as inefficient and outdated. That's, in many ways, the core of his re-election strategy challenge.

Obama and his speech writers did clearly recognize one major exception to Americans' views that the government is inefficient and ineffective. That’s the U.S. military, in which the public has more confidence than in any other institution in the country at this point.

Obama and his speech began his speech with broad accolades for the military. These achievements are a testament to the courage, selflessness and teamwork of America’s Armed Forces. At a time when too many of our institutions have let us down, they exceed all expectations. They’re not consumed with personal ambition. They don’t obsess over their differences. They focus on the mission at hand. They work together. Imagine what we could accomplish if we followed their example.

And he ended with the military:

And, which brings me back to where I began. Those of us who’ve been sent here to serve can learn a thing or two from the service of our troops.

This connection with the very well-regarded military is a very shrewd element of the speech.  Of course the challenge is figuring out a way to put into place lessons learned from the military in the current Washington and government environment.

Although headline writers emphasized the "fairness" aspect of Obama's State of the Union speech, it's likely that this "appropriate role of government" is the most lasting and important theme. This is really a core debate, one that it appears Obama has thought long and hard about.  His argument that it's philosophically appropriate that government be involved in the workings of today's economic and social state is fairly straightforward.  His recognition that Americans perceive that the government simply doesn't work very well -- regardless of one's philosophic position -- is acknowledgement of a tougher, more complex problem.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Gingrich Resurgent -- Again

Newt Gingrich has been on a fascinating, dramatic roller coaster ride among Republicans nationwide. His Positive Intensity Score as we measured it at Gallup was high at the beginning of the year, then fell down, then rose up again. His standing in Gallup's nationwide GOP trial heat tracking was up, then down, and is now climbing back up again. Republicans, in essence, keep ditching him, and then coming back to him again. And again.

This past week has seen a virtual cornucopia of high news value events on the Republican campaign trail. We have two candidates who dropped out (Huntsman and Perry), the intense focus on Mitt Romney’s income tax returns/income/job at Bain Capital, the allegations about Gingrich’s moral character from his second wife, a bump for Rick Santorum when recounts suggested that he may have won the Iowa caucuses, and two debates.

Polls in South Carolina now suggest that Gingrich may win that state’s primary. If so, the question is what impact that will have on the feelings of Republicans nationwide, and in the states whose primaries are to follow. At the moment, Romney maintains a lead among Republicans nationally, but one that is rapidly shrinking.  

If Gingrich wins in South Carolina, history suggests he will get a further bump nationally. This means that he may also get a bump in Florida, which holds its primary on Jan. 31. One issue about Florida is that it is a big state and, in many ways, mirrors the national average on important characteristics. For example, it is about average in terms of its religiousness as measured by church attendance. So it's a different playing field than exists in South Carolina. 

People ask me about the impact of Romney and his tax returns. It's probable that the impact is more in how Romney handles the questions that it is his taxes per se. Americans certainly think that upper-income Americans should pay more in taxes and favor increased taxes on the rich. Whether they view Romney more negatively because he is rich and pays less taxes than some might think he should is unclear.

What about the bitter statements from Gingrich’s second wife? Gingrich obviously was able to turn that situation on its head with his well-thought out responses in Thursday night's South Carolina debate with his lash out at CNN and the news media. This type of deflection attempt by politicians is, of course, not new. Hillary Clinton in almost precisely the same way lashed out at what she perceived to be a “vast right wing conspiracy” when the news media were on the trail of her husband Bill’s sexual dalliances. Of course the fact that it’s a common political maneuver doesn’t mean that it isn’t effective. It shows, if nothing else, that Gingrich is a shrewd political operator and able to handle himself on his feet.  The fact that Romney was not able to perform similarly well in response to the questions and criticisms of his work with Bain and his tax returns shows he does not yet appear to have Gingrich's well-honed political instincts. 

Gingrich's strategy at Thursday's debate was particularly shrewd because it fits with Republicans’ views of the media. Republicans dislike the news media, based on our research, and are highly likely to perceive them as too liberal. Thus, Gingrich’s carefully calculated diatribe against the negative media Thursday night no doubt resonated with rank-and-file Republicans nationwide. 

As I’ve noted, South Carolina is a very religious state and one which is predominantly Protestant. The three leading contenders in the state are all not traditional Protestants.  Gingrich and Santorum are Catholics, of which there are relatively few in South Carolina, and Romney is, of course, Mormon, of which there are even fewer. There is, in short, no Mike Huckabee who fits in directly with the predominant religious orientation of voters in the state of South Carolina.

Our recent research on positive intensity shows that Gingrich has a problem nationally with Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who recognize him, 42% of whom have a strongly unfavorable view of him. Santorum also generates strongly negative reactions, with 30% of Democrats who recognize him giving him a strongly unfavorable rating. Romney, on the other hand, has a more benign image among Democrats, with only 16% viewing him unfavorably.  Romney also has a somewhat better Positive Intensity Score among Republicans nationally than does Gingrich.

If there is one thing we have learned so far this election cycle concerning the Republican race, it is that Republicans are this year fluid, flexible, and ever-changing in their views on whom they want to be their party’s nominee. Thus, history suggests that we will see even more change from this point on.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Huntsman Out, Santorum Endorsed, But Romney in Command

Jon Huntsman's dropping out of the race for the GOP nomination was inevitable. Despite many pundits' assumptions as the election season began that Huntsman was a viable candidate with a good chance of challenging for his party’s nomination, he has generally been at or near the bottom in all Gallup election measures for the entire election season.

Huntsman has generated support from no more than 3% of Republicans in Gallup's national GOP tracking since Dec. 1. His Positive Intensity Scores among Republicans were generally the worst of any candidate measured, often in negative territory, meaning that more Republicans felt strongly unfavorably toward him than felt strongly favorably. Only 21% of Republicans in our recent early January poll said Huntsman would be an acceptable nominee, the lowest of all candidates tested.

Huntsman was clearly seen by Americans as a moderate, and, in fact, his perceived ideology was closer to the the average American's self-perceived ideology than any of the other GOP candidates.  That  moderate image obviously didn't help him among Republicans, however, and it’s likely that his work for Barack Obama as ambassador to China did not help him.

In other words, try as he might, Huntsman was simply not able to convince Republicans nationwide that he was a person they should support for their party’s nomination. And this was not just apathy; as noted, Huntsman generated the most negative responses from Republicans of any candidate we measured.
All eyes are now on the South Carolina primary scheduled for this coming Saturday.  (I say "all eyes," but it is reasonable to hypothesize that the Romney campaign staff's eyes are already focused on the general election.)  There are two debates scheduled this week -- on Fox News and CNN -- that would, in theory, give Palmetto State voters a chance to appraise the candidates and shift their preferences as a result.

Romney is ahead in most South Carolina polls. There was one South Carolina poll released by Reuters/Ipsos over the weekend that showed Romney with a 21-percentage-point lead over his nearest competitor, way out of line with other polling. A close look at Reuter’s release of this poll finds this statement of methodology buried way down in their story: “The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online from January 10-13 with a sample of 995 South Carolina registered voters. It included 398 Republicans and 380 Democrats.” No further methodological details were mentioned in the release, and if they have been made public elsewhere I’m not familiar with them. This description of an “online” poll tells us very little about how this poll was done, and without any details, it is impossible to assess the basis on which those that conducted the poll expect us to judge how representative it is. Generally speaking, online polls are less representative than polls based on statistical sampling procedures intended to give all members of the population an equal or known probability of being selected.

Rick Santorum generated some news over the weekend by virtue of his receiving the endorsement of conservative Christian leaders meeting near beautiful Brenham, Texas, the "Birthplace of Texas".

How much will it matter? Gallup analysis of 2009-2010 data in South Carolina show that 46% of Republicans/leaners in South Carolina attend church weekly.  We don't ask an "evangelical" question on our daily tracking, but church attendance provides a good surrogate. South Carolina is the seventh most religious state in the union, behind Utah, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee. Gallup analysis of weekly GOP tracking for last week shows that 18% of highly religious Republicans (i.e., those who attend religious services weekly) support Santorum, compared to 14% of all Republicans for the Jan. 9-15 time period. Still, even among weekly church attenders, Romney beats Santorum by 17 percentage points.

These are national data, so we'll have to wait and see what impact, if any, the endorsement has on South Carolina Republicans. It may not matter. History shows the winner in the national polls after New Hampshire on the GOP side goes on to win the nomination. So, even if Romney loses South Carolina, he would remain the favorite to win the nomination.

Romney has climbed to a 23-point lead in the five full days of interviewing after New Hampshire. This is ties him for the highest support of any candidate in any Gallup poll of Republicans during this entire campaign. Romney certainly appears to be consolidating supporting nationally.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Romney on Top, Huntsman at Bottom Nationally

Mitt Romney's lead over all of his competitors has been increasing among Republicans nationally in recent days.  He now receives the support of 34% of Republicans when they are asked whom they want to be the GOP nominee this year.  This is based on the latest five-day average from interviewing conducted Jan. 8-12.

Romney's standing at this juncture in these national numbers is important.  My colleague Jeff Jones' analysis has shown that the leader among Republicans nationally after New Hampshire goes on to win the Republican nomination.

The Jan. 8-12 average includes two days before the Jan. 10 New Hampshire primary, two days after the primary, and interviewing conducted the night of the primary itself, much of it before the final results were known.  We won't have a clean look at the five full days after New Hampshire until Monday, and we’ll look carefully then at what it shows. It’s highly unlikely that Romney will lose his lead by Monday. Thus, history indicates that Romney is looking more and more like the presumptive favorite to win the GOP nomination.

Some other things worth noting from the detailed graph of the national Republican race. Note in the chart above that Rick Santorum’s increase in support, at least so far, has not been nearly as extensive as what we saw for Newt Gingrich. Santorum maxed out at 18% and has been floating down since. In other words, the Santorum boomlet that was driven both by the lead-up to Iowa and the Iowa vote per se (in which Santorum was essentially tied with Romney), has begun to fade.

Gingrich maxed out at 37% support, which is the highest total any candidate has received in our national Republican polling all year, but he has fallen steadily since that point, and is now at 15%. Ron Paul has seen a small rise in his standing among Republicans nationally, but has leveled off at 12%.

Jon Huntsman has the support of 2% of Republicans nationwide. He has received only 1% or 2% support in every Gallup Daily tracking report since we began tracking Dec. 1. We are now in mid-January, after voting has taken place in two states, and after the former Utah governor's heavy-duty campaigning in New Hampshire. This is the point, as noted, where leaders are established. Huntsman is dead last in the national standings. Although he may continue to campaign in South Carolina and Florida, the fact that Huntsman gets 2% of the vote nationally is highly suggestive of a conclusion that he will not be winning the GOP nomination.  In fact, we will report new data next week updating the Positive Intensity Scores of the major GOP candidates. It appears that Huntsman will continue his tradition of getting as many or more strongly unfavorable ratings from Republicans as strongly positive ratings.

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.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Religion, Santorum and Romney, New Hamsphire and South Carolina

The three remaining states with GOP primaries this month -- New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida -- present very different religious profiles, and therefore different religious contexts for the Republican candidates’ campaigns.

The biggest religious distinction is between New Hampshire, which holds its primary Jan. 10, and South Carolina, which has its primary on Saturday, Jan. 21. New Hampshire is one of the least religious states in the union by any measure, while South Carolina is one of the most religious states.

I base this analysis of the relative religiosity of the states on two measures: self-reported church attendance, and the percentage of residents who do not have a formal religious identity.

Our Gallup data from 2010 -- based on over 350,000 interview across the nation -- shows that 20% of New Hampshire residents report attending church weekly, with another 15% saying they attend almost every week or monthly. This is well below the national average of 34% who say they attend weekly and 20% who attend nearly every week or monthly. Another way of looking at this is to say that New Hampshire residents have a 35% regular church attendance average, compared to the national average of 54%.

In fact, New Hampshire on this measure is tied with its neighboring state of Vermont as the second least church attending state in the union, topped only by Maine. Whatever it is that upper New England residents do on Sunday, more often than not it apparently doesn't involve church.

Furthermore, 22% of New Hampshire residents say that they don’t have a formal religious identity. This compares to 14% of Americans nationally who don’t have a religious identity. New Hampshire is fifth highest state in the union on this “no religious identity measure” -- behind Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and Alaska.

And, it’s worth noting that our data show that 38% of New Hampshire residents are Protestants or some other non-Catholic Christian religion, 32% Catholic, 1% Mormon, and 1% Jewish. This is a high ratio of Catholics to Protestants; the national average is 54% Protestant to 24% Catholic (again, using 2010 figures).

This presents an interesting challenge for Rick Santorum, who is Catholic and whose campaign is very much pitched to appeal to highly religious voters who care about family values. New Hampshire would be relative fertile ground for Santorum -- in the abstract -- given that it has a higher than average Catholic population. One problem with this assumption arises from my analysis of data from December indicated that Catholics nationally were no more likely to support either Santorum or Newt Gingrich (the other Catholic in the race) than any other candidate. So it’s not clear if Santorum will benefit politically from New Hampshire’s disproportionate Catholic skew.

On the other hand, the relative irreligiousness of New Hampshire residents would suggest that Santorum has no particularly strong religious constituency to play to leading up to next Tuesday's primary. This in theory may be less auspicious for Santorum’s chances of beating expectations in the Granite State.

Only two percent of the U.S. population is Mormon, and outside of Utah and Idaho, there is no significant Mormon population, on a percentage basis, in any state in the union. (Nevada, which has key caucuses next month, is about 5% Mormon). That means that Romney’s religious identity has no natural constituency in any of the three remaining primary states this month.

My analysis shows that Romney does slightly less well among highly religious Protestants, so the fact that New Hampshire has relatively few highly religious Protestants may work to his advantage. But this religious factor is most probably outweighed by geography and history; Romney has lived in neighboring Massachusetts for many years and has a home in New Hampshire.

South Carolina, with its Jan. 21 primary, presents a substantial religious contrast to New Hampshire, as noted. South Carolina is one of the most religious states in the union. A very high 43% of South Carolina residents attend church weekly, with another 23% attending almost every week or monthly, for a combined total of 66%, way above the 54% national average. In fact, South Carolina on this measure is the seventh most religious state in the union, after Utah, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee.

Only 10% of South Carolinians say they don’t have a religious identity, the sixth lowest on this measure of any state in the union.

Plus, South Carolina is one of the most Protestant states in the union, with 74% of its residents identifying with a Protestant or non-Catholic Christian faith. Only 10% of South Carolinians are Catholic, one of the lowest Catholic percentages in the union.

Thus, for Rick Santorum, as was the case in New Hampshire, South Carolina presents an interesting contextual contrast. The high level of religiosity of the residents of South Carolina would seem to be a plus for Santorum’s religious-centric, family-value-oriented campaign positioning. The low percentage of Catholics in South Carolina, on the other hand, does not give him any religious-branding advantage, and its possible that Protestants may have some lingering suspicion of Catholics, given that they are relatively rare in the Palmetto state.

Romney would appear to face a more significant challenge in South Carolina. As noted, our national polling suggests that highly religious Protestants Republicans are somewhat less likely to support Romney than the national average. And there are a lot of these in South Carolina.

Florida, with its primary on Jan. 31, is the fourth most populous state in the union (after California, Texas, and New York), and in terms of religion is almost exactly at the national average. Florida’s religious identity composition is 54% Protestant, 24% Catholic, 13% no religious identity (and 3% Jewish). Thirty-three percent of Floridians go to church weekly, along with 24% who go nearly every week or monthly. Again this is very close to the national average.

Florida resembles Iowa religiously, which is slightly more Protestant and slightly less Catholics than the national average, but otherwise fits the national profile fairly snugly.

Romney and Jon Huntsman's Mormon religious affiliation and Santorum's religiously-oriented campaigning have made religion a factor in the race for the GOP nomination.  How much of a factor will be made more clear when the dust settles after New Hampshire and South Carolina votes are in.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Iowa Results Reflect Same Romney-Centric Pattern

The results of the Iowa caucuses last night deviated from the national structure of the GOP race in two respects. First, Newt Gingrich, who has been among the top two Republicans nationally, did poorly in Iowa on a relative basis, coming in fourth with about 13% of the vote of caucus-goers. Second, two candidates who have been below the top tier, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, did much better in Iowa than they have nationally, with 25% and 22% of the vote, respectively.

And then, as has been the case all year, there’s Mitt Romney — steady as she goes, neither blowing away the competition nor dropping dramatically. Romney’s 25% of the Iowa caucus-goers’ vote is emblematic of his support nationally. In fact, as of Jan. 2, Romney’s percentage of support among Republicans nationally is 24%.

This is part and parcel of the same pattern we have been seeing all year: Romney at or near the top in support, albeit it without ever having surged forward into the 30% range, while a changing cast of characters move up and down around him. This is somewhat like a Broadway show with one star who stays with the production, as a changing supporting cast moves in and then moves out as time goes on.

The most recent supporting cast stars are Santorum and Paul. They are replacing a Romney-supporting cast that previously has consisted of Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and Gingrich.

Our latest Gallup tracking of Republicans nationally shows Gingrich still hanging in there with Romney, with Paul behind and Santorum way behind. We didn’t poll on Dec. 29, 30, or 31, so the five-day averages we report on our site will take a while to reflect the impact of pre-Iowa build-up and the actual Iowa results. But our interviewing Monday showed Santorum on the rise, and his finish in Iowa most likely will boost his national standing. Thus, it would not be surprising if you tune in to over the next several days and find that Romney is still there in the mid-20s, but with — instead of Perry, Cain, or Gingrich next to him — Paul and Santorum as his closest competitors.

Romney should win in New Hampshire. That state is next door to Massachusetts, where Romney lived, worked, and served as governor, and Romney has a fashionable vacation home on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee in Wolfeboro, N.H. However, caution is warranted when it comes to New Hampshire voters. In 2008, pre-election polls firmly predicted that Barack Obama, fresh off his victory in Iowa, would win the Democratic primary in New Hampshire. He didn’t. Hillary Clinton won. The shift may have resulted in late changes of mind among New Hampshire voters, reminding us that things can change at the last minute.

At any rate, after New Hampshire, the candidates who are left (Perry and possibly Michele Bachmann will drop out soon) are off to South Carolina and Florida. The latest polls in those two states are from mid-December, ancient history in the fast cascading sequence of events that are underway now. So we don’t know what will happen in these two Southern venues. No doubt the results of Iowa and New Hampshire will affect those voters. More broadly, my colleague Jeff Jones will later today post an analysis of the impact of Iowa's results on the national polls in previous years, providing a historical context you will not want to miss.

Entrance poll data in Iowa — based on interviews with caucus-goers as they entered the voting place — show that Santorum captured the vote of Tea Partiers and those who are very conservative and most interested in the issue of abortion. Paul, as we have been showing in our Gallup data, captured the vote of younger voters, those more on the fringe of the core Republican party (independents, new voters), moderate/liberals, and those most interested in the federal deficit. Romney got the vote of older Republicans, those with higher incomes, those most concerned about the economy, those whose primary concern is a candidate who can beat Obama, and those who value a candidate with experience.

Obama is somewhat on the sidelines right now as the political focus is on the Republican side of the ledger. But his approval rating is edging up slightly (45% as of Jan 2), and national economic indicators are looking somewhat better.

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