Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Polling Report: Special Iowa Edition

And you thought the holidays were over. Having the Iowa caucuses so soon after the new year is a great gift for political junkies and opens what should be an expensive, long, important and uniquely-American national election season. That Iowa and New Hampshire take all of the attention so early is an unfortunate quirk of the system and will provide us with untimely candidate exits and lots of wasted money.

If you're new to the process, or just can't believe this is how we elect our president, here's how the Iowa caucuses work.

And now onto the analysis and predictions.

The poll that everyone is talking about was released on Saturday: The Des Moines Register's poll of likely caucus attendees.

The poll, conducted Tuesday through Friday, shows support at 24 percent for Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts; 22 percent for Paul, a Texas congressman; and 15 percent for the surging Rick Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.

But the four-day results don’t reflect just how quickly momentum is shifting in a race that has remained highly fluid for months. If the final two days of polling are considered separately, Santorum rises to second place, with 21 percent, pushing Paul to third, at 18 percent. Romney remains the same, at 24 percent.

“Momentum’s name is Rick Santorum,” said the Register’s pollster, J. Ann Selzer.
Another sign of the race’s volatility: 41 percent of likely caucusgoers say they could still be persuaded to change their minds.

Rounding out the field, in results from the full, four-day poll: former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, 12 percent, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, 11 percent, and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, 7 percent.  

Based on the results of this poll, one scenario stands out to me. If Romney wins, it gives him great momentum heading into New Hampshire one week from today. Assuming he wins that, we could see full carnage among the challengers. Bachmann will either drop out of the race or her supporters will go to another conservative candidate, probably Santorum if he comes in second in Iowa. A fifth place finish for Perry would also lead many of his supporters to Santorum. Jon Huntsman will also leave after losing in New Hampshire, with his supporters moving to Romney and perhaps Gingrich. In any event, a conservative will emerge as the main challenger to Romney. That will become the main story through South Carolina and Florida later in January. If it's Santorum, it will represent one of the great come-from-behinds in a long while.

It's hard to say that a Santorum win immediately sets him up as Romney's most viable main challenger. He'll need to quickly establish a presence in South Carolina and Florida, which takes money and ground game, and he doesn't seem to have much of either. He can, as can Gingrich or Paul if they place highly in Iowa, bypass New Hampshire or at least pass it off as Romney's backyard and focus on the states where there are more social conservatives. Gingrich could spend more time in New Hampshire and claim a moral victory. I'm not putting much faith in a Paul victory after Iowa.

The 41% of Iowans who could change their mind are the wild cards in this race. If they decide that Romney is most electable, he'll win a resounding victory and the race will be all but over. If they stay with one or two of the conservatives, then the race gets more interesting and probably lasts a bit longer. A stronger Gingrich showing than fourth makes him the main competition, but I don't see it. Mainly because the thought frightens me a bit. Nothing scientific about that.

A PPP poll released on Monday shows

Ron Paul at 20 percent, Mitt Romney at 19 percent and Rick Santorum at 18 percent on a survey for which PPP reports a margin of error for each candidate of +/- 2.7 percent. Running farther back are Newt Gingrich at 14 percent, Rick Perry at 10 percent, Michele Bachmann at 8 percent, Jon Huntsman at 4 percent and Buddy Roemer at 2 percent. PPP interviewed 1,340 likely Republican caucus goers on December 31 and January 1.

Santorum again seems to be the recipient of a late surge and is the second choice of 14% of respondents, the highest of any of the candidates. His personal approval rating of 60% is twice his disapproval rating. heady stuff for someone who lost their last election.

The rest of the polling can be seen at RealClearPolitics.com

Both NBC and the Rasmussen poll have Romney, Paul and Santorum in that order, which supports the Register poll from the weekend.

And here's a nice chart from Polls and Votes

My pick for the results are as follows:

Romney 26%
Santorum 24%
Paul 21%
Gingrich 15%
Perry 8%
Bachmann 5%

It's always more fun when you stick your neck out (like Louis XVI and his lovely wife Marie), so make your prediction in the comments section. Remember that in order to complain about the process, you have to commit to it.

As always, you can follow the action at www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives

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