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Friday, February 24, 2012

Americans' Opinions on Two of Obama's First Term Actions

The Obama campaign strategy team, monitoring on a daily basis just who the president's opponent is going to be, has a few other things to ponder.  One of these is the degree to which they can emphasize the positive virtues of several high profile actions that occurred during the first Obama term in the re-election campaign.  The current data suggest that they need to proceed cautiously.

The Obama team is running an ad in Michigan this week emphasizing the fact that the president didn't abandon the Detroit auto industry when it hit bottom in 2008 and 2009, but rather pushed through a continuation of the financial bailout initiated in the waning days of the George W. Bush administration. 

Regardless of where Michigan voters stand on this issue, there is a decided lack of support for it among all Americans. We found 51% of Americans disapprove of the "financial bailout for U.S. automakers that were in danger of failing"; 44% approve.  Not a ringing endorsement. 

Note the specific wording of our Gallup question. A Pew Research poll asked about the bailout using this language:  "The government also gave loans to General Motors and Chrysler during this period. Do you think this was mostly good or mostly bad for the economy?"   The "also" in the Pew wording is there because this question followed a question asking about the government loans to banks and financial institutions, and a question asking about the payback of that money.  Pew found 56% of Americans saying that the loans to General Motors and Chrysler had been good for the economy and 38% bad for the economy. 

One reason for the different responses may be the Pew focus on the impact of the actions on the economy, while we at Gallup asked for a broader approve/disapprove response.  It is certainly possible that an individual may feel that a certain action helps the economy (say, giving every American a $1,000 tax rebate), but be philosophically or practically opposed to that action.  In this situation, it appears that some may agree that the financial bailout helped the economy, but disapprove of it nevertheless.

I think the "approve/disapprove" wording is the more germane for Obama's re-election campaign.  The criticism of the bailout from Obama's opponents is not focused so much of its economic impact, but rather on the philosophic assertion that the free market system should be allowed to operate, even if, at times, it is actually bad for the economy, or more specifically, bad for individual companies or industries.

One of the central issues at the crux of campaign differences this year will be the appropriate role of government in our society and in our economy.  The political implications of Obama's auto bailout most probably focus on this philosophic under-girding and what it symbolizes.  This is borne out by the finding that there are huge partisan differences in response to the bailout, with 63% of Democrats approving and 73% of Republicans disapproving.  Crucial for Obama's re-election:  less than half -- 45% -- of independents approve of the auto bailout.

Secondly, a new USA Today/Gallup poll shows that the public continues to disapprove of the Affordable Health Care Act that was a legislative centerpiece of Obama's first term in office -- and already a major critical focus of his opponents.  We will publish the results of that study on Feb. 27.  This is not a new finding, however.  The ongoing Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll finds that a plurality of Americans continue to have an unfavorable opinion of the healthcare  law -- 37% favorable, 44% unfavorable, 19% no opinion -- in their January update.

Both of these actions -- the auto bailout and the healthcare act -- are exemplifications of Obama's philosophic conviction that the federal government should be used as a tool to help fix problems, help Americans, and to help fix the American economy.  His Republican opponent (regardless of who that may be) will no doubt argue from an entirely different philosophic perspective -- that that federal government should be used as little as possible in the effort to fix society's problems.

Obama will argue that the auto bailout and the healthcare act are both excellent examples of the good that the federal government can do.  At this point, however, the majority of Americans do not agree that either of these actions were warranted.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Next Up for Romney and Santorum: Arizona and Michigan

As predicted, Rick Santorum has moved up in support among Republicans nationwide.  Meanwhile Newt Gingrich is down and Mitt Romney has slipped modestly. We are now in a situation in which Romney and Santorum are statistically tied. Santorum's meteoric rise is, of course, a direct reaction to the results of his Feb. 7 victories in the caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota as well as the primary in Missouri.

Now when I say direct reaction, I’m underscoring the fascinating way in which Republican support has played itself out all year. Generally speaking, a sizable segment of Republicans nationally have been willing to shift their preferences from candidate to candidate extremely quickly, based on the latest events on the campaign trail. These events have mostly been debates and actual voting in primary and caucus states.

When Gallup reaches a person by phone who identifies themselves as a Republican or says that they lean Republican, it seems like we essentially find them figuratively scratching their heads and scanning the news environment to figure out whom they support. As in “Hmmmm, I see in the news that Rick Santorum won in Minnesota, Colorado, and Missouri Tuesday night, so I guess I will support him.” This suggests that Republicans nationally are letting the process provide them with a continuing flow of information that they take into account when constantly adjusting their support preferences. The fact that they are open to this type of movement, of course, allows us to rule out the hypothesis that large numbers (i.e., a majority) of Republicans across the land are excited by Romney and eager to get behind his candidacy.

This is not exactly how the Mitt Romney campaign team had hoped this would play out. They were hoping that Republicans nationwide would coalesce around Romney in the same way the coalesced around John McCain by February 2008.  By late February 2008, over 6 in 10 Republicans nationally supported McCain. We certainly have not seen that level of support for any candidate so far this year.

The next two big events that could shake the race up -- once again -- are the looming primaries in Michigan and Arizona. Romney, in theory, could do well in both. He was born in Detroit and his father was governor of the state. Arizona forms the entire southern border of Utah, a state to which Romney has a number of ties.

I've been looking at the composition of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in those states, based on our state-by-state analysis of 2011 Gallup Daily tracking interviews.

Republicans in both states look roughly the same in terms of ideology. About 66% of Michigan's Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are conservatives, compared to 69% of Arizona's Republicans.

Ethnically, the vast majority of the Republicans on both states are white. But 11% of Arizona's Republicans are Hispanic, compared to just 2% of Michigan’s. Michigan has 3% black Republicans; Arizona 1%.

Religiously, Romney has a little bit of an edge in Arizona, where 9% of Republicans are Mormon, compared to less than 1% in Michigan. (Remember that entrance polling in the Nevada Republican caucus showed that over 9 in 10 Mormon voters went for Romney, and that Mormons turned out to vote in numbers that were much higher than their population percentage).  On the other hand, Michigan is slightly more positive for Santorum (and, in theory, Gingrich), in that its Republicans are 27% Catholic, compared to 19% Catholic in Arizona.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Where Will Santorum Go From Here?

The national Republican preference gap between Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich has closed to four percentage points. As of our latest update, Mitt Romney leads with 37% support -- tying his highest level of support so far -- while Gingrich has 21%, and Santorum has 17%.  Ron Paul has 12% support.

Santorum's current 17% support level is not unusual; he was at this same level of support a couple of times in late January and early February, and his all-time high was 18% in early January.  So Santorum's support has been semi-steady over the last month or so, while Romney and Gingrich have been riding a steeper rollercoaster, up and down. At this juncture, Romney is up; Gingrich, down.

Gingrich's support was as high as 32% in Gallup's Jan. 22-26 update, but has been sliding since. Of course, Gingrich was as high as 37% back in early December, before he started sliding at that

Our latest five-day averages extend back to Feb. 1 and incorporate interviewing conducted Wednesday through Friday of last week, and interviewing conducted Monday and Tuesday of this week.  (Gallup did not interview Saturday and Sunday of Super Bowl weekend).

So the impact of Santorum's victories in Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado on Tuesday night are not yet factored into the equation.  Given the topsy-turvy nature of Republican preferences so far this year, it would not be shocking to find that Romney slips over the next several days, and Santorum rises, perhaps to eclipse Gingrich.  The last time Santorum was ahead of Gingrich was Jan. 10-14, when the former had 14% support and the latter 13% support. (When Gallup began tracking on a daily basis Dec. 1, Santorum had 3% support of Republicans, compared with 37% for Gingrich, 22% for Romney, 8% for Ron Paul, and 7% for Rick Perry).

All in all, since Dec. 1, Newt Gingrich has been the most volatile candidate, going from a low of 13% support to a high of 37% support.  Romney has been second, with a range from 21% to 37%, Santorum third with his 3% to 18% range, and Ron Paul last, with support ranging from 8% to 14%.

I'm often asked what these national figures tell us.  I think they are quite important, because they allow us to continually monitor the attitudes of the big "audience" of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents out there across the country as the campaigning, primaries, and caucuses unfold "on stage."  At this juncture, as we emphasized in our recent update on where the election stands today, nothing is for certain.  Romney is not assured of the nomination, although he remains the favorite, and the outcome of the general election in November is also still undeterminable.

Right now, our biggest interest is in the impact of Santorum's victories on the mindset of Republicans nationally after his Tuesday night showing. As I noted above, the former Pennsylvannia senator's high point of support so far this election cycle has been 18%.  He is at 17% now.  The odds are pretty good that he will go higher. Is it possible that Santorum could match or beat Romney's national support?  Stay tuned.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Mormon Vote in Nevada's GOP Caucuses

Mitt Romney most likely will have a strong foundation of assured votes in Saturday’s Nevada Republican caucuses if this year’s voting patterns duplicate those in 2008. In that year, the Romney campaign was able to get a very disproportionate number of Mormon Republicans to turn out at the caucuses -- at what looks like about two and a half times their representation in the overall Republican population in Nevada. There is no reason to believe that they will not try to duplicate that feat this year.

Although there is a Super Bowl going on this weekend, for political junkies, of course, the relevant action will be in Nevada. Mitt Romney will be trying on his newly re-acquired front-runner status among Nevada’s GOP caucus goers. There are few recent polls of caucus goers in the state, but those that exist seem to point to a Romney win.

Caucuses are an interesting way to assess voter preferences.  A Feb. 3 New York Times article headlines the criticism that caucuses are, in fact, not very democratic. That's in part because they have widely varying procedural rules, but also because caucuses usually involve a very small percentage of the population of a state's eligible voters. According to a review by Mark Blumenthal on Huffington Post’s pollster site, less than 3% of eligible voters turned out in the 2008 Nevada caucuses.

That’s where the Mormon vote comes in. According to “entrance polls” (voters were asked questions as they entered the caucus sites) of voters in Nevada’s 2008 GOP caucuses, 26% of those who participated were Mormons. Not surprisingly, the data show that 95% of these Mormon caucus participants voted for their fellow Mormon Mitt Romney.

That 26% figure is important because, by our calculations at Gallup, 5.6% of the adult population in Nevada is Mormon. Mormons are highly likely to be Republicans, so we find that about 10% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in Nevada are Mormons, and 9% of basic Republicans are Mormon. This is based on a combined sample of 5,862 Nevadans Gallup interviewed in 2009 and 2010.

This means that Mormon Republicans in 2008, apparently, turned out to participate in the GOP caucuses at about two and a half times their population representation. Had turnout been roughly proportionate to the underlying population of Republicans in Nevada, about 10% of the caucus goers would have been Mormon. The entrance polls, as noted, suggests that it was in reality about a quarter.

These data certainly suggest that Romney’s campaign team was very successful in activating and/or persuading the Mormon population in Nevada to show up at the caucuses four years ago. If they do the same this year, Romney will have a built-in cushion of support in Saturday’s voting.

It's important to note that Romney would have won in 2008 without the strong Mormon representation. The entrance poll data showed that he won at least a plurality of the vote of every religious group participating, except for those who said they had no religious identity, and those were just 7% of the GOP caucus-going population. But Romney won by more than 50% in 2008, which was symbolically important. I’m sure that he and his campaign strategists would like to show the world a similarly powerful margin this year as well.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Ron Paul's Surprising Strength Against Obama

You may have missed this, but Texas Congressman Ron Paul scores just about as well against Barack Obama in a general election match-up as does Mitt Romney. Both men do much better than Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum against Obama.

Overall, among national registered voters in USA Today/Gallup's polling ending Jan. 28, it’s Obama 48%, Romney 48%. And it’s Obama 49%, Paul 46%. Not much of a difference at all. By contrast, Gingrich trails Obama 53%, 41%; and Santorum trails Obama 51%, 43%.

Let’s dissect what’s going on here.

First Romney and Paul both do equally as badly among Democrats, with Romney getting 9% of their support and Paul 12%. In other words, Obama swamps both among Democrats, as we would predict.  No surprises there.

Among independents both Romney and Paul do about equally as well against Obama. Obama wins by four percentage points over Romney and by three points over Paul. Maybe this doesn't come as much of a surprise, since we know that Paul's libertarian, idiosyncratic policy positions and style may resonate with Americans who are less aligned with the traditional parties.

A somewhat bigger difference between these two men is evident among their native Republicans. Romney does better. Romney gets 90% of the vote of Republicans, while Paul gets only 80%.  That's what mainly drives Romney's slightly better positioning against Obama than Paul's.

Paul’s relative liability, in summary, is that he is not quite as attractive a candidate among the GOP as is Romney. Paul’s relative strength, on the other hand, is the fact that he holds his own among independents, yielding nothing to Republican front-runner Mitt Romney.

So. If you just dropped in to planet Earth from Mars and spent time examining Gallup poll data -- certainly the first thing that a newly arrived Martian would want to do -- you would say that this person Mitt Romney and this person Ron Paul are doing about equally at this point in terms of match-ups against Barack Obama.  

Most political observers would not give Paul much of a chance of beating Obama in November, in part because he isn't given much of a chance of winning the GOP nomination. In Gallup's daily tracking through Jan. 30, Romney receives 27% of the vote, Paul 13%.  The betting market Intrade gives Paul about a 3% chance of being the nominee. Paul got only 7% of the Republican vote in the Jan. 31 Florida primary (although he did not campaign actively there).

Yet his appeal to voters relative to Romney's shows how structural the race is at this point.  Many respondents to our polls when asked whom they are going to vote for in the general election are being guided by their party allegiances and traditional voting patterns.  The actual candidates involved have some impact, but at this point more on the fringes.  Apparently, Gingrich and Santorum have more negatives, or edges -- causing more independents to shy away from voting for them.  Apparently, Paul doesn't share these negatives, or the edge he does have is actually appealing to some independent voters in particular. These things can and will change as the campaign progresses.

The Gender Gap in Support for Gingrich and Romney

One thing analysts noted after Tuesday night's Florida GOP primary was the gender gap.  According to the Edison Research exit polls as reported by CNN, Mitt Romney beat Newt Gingrich among women by a 24-point margin, 52% to 28%, while Romney barely squeaked by among men by a five-point margin, 41% to 36%.

We have found the same thing in our daily tracking of the GOP race

In the latest weekly compilation, Jan. 23-29, Gingrich had a 10-point male skew in support, while Romney had a 5-point female skew.  That is, the gap between the percent of male Republicans who supported Gingrich in our tracking and the percent of female Republicans was 10 points.  On the other hand, Romney got 5-points higher support among women than men.

This same pattern has occurred most, but not all, weeks since we began tracking.

To some degree this reflects the underlying ideological dynamics of the Republican Party.  Strong Tea Party supporters went for Gingrich in Florida, and these tend to be more male in orientation. Of course, some may want to ascribe causality here to Gingrich's personal history, with his serial progression through three wives. That contrasts to Romney's 43-year marriage to one woman without any hints of impropriety. We don't have any data that allow us to measure directly the impact of these two candidates' personal lives on support among men and among women.

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