By Craig Robinson
While Michele Bachmann is the frontrunner in the Iowa Caucuses, she has yet to seal the deal with Iowa caucus goers. TheIowaRepublican.com poll shows that Bachmann is head and shoulders above the current crop of candidates campaigning in Iowa, but that could change if a high-profile candidate enters the race and competes in Iowa.
In addition to polling how the current candidates perform in a head-to-head ballot test, TheIowaRepublican.com poll includes a second ballot, one with the names of those individuals who are making considerable noise about seeking the Republican nomination, including Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, and Rudy Giuliani. The second ballot also includes the candidate who says he has no interest, but the media continues to talk about – New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
In the poll’s alternative ballot, Romney leads the field in Iowa with 18 percent, followed by Bachmann at 15 percent, and Chris Christie with 13 percent. Herman Cain and Sarah Palin tie for fourth at 7 percent, ahead of Perry and Pawlenty at 6 percent, Paul at 5 percent, Gingrich 3 percent, Giuliani 2 percent, and Santorum and Huntsman with one percent.
The second ballot shows that Bachmann’s support, while still impressive, is rather soft. When other candidates enter the race, Romney hangs on to 76 percent of his vote, Ron Paul holds on to 80 percent of his support, but Bachmann only hangs on to 44 percent of her support. Even Herman Cain, who holds on to 65 percent of his voters, appears to have more solid support than Bachmann. Other than Santorum, who only has 12 supporters on the ballot that only contains the current field, Bachmann has the squishiest support of the candidates campaigning in Iowa.
Of the people who responded ‘other’ on the question about the current field of candidates that we looked at yesterday, 67 percent of them mentioned Palin, clearly waiting for her to enter the race. However, when she is included on the ballot, Palin does not garner a lot of support, even though the support she does have is pretty solid.
Having not yet campaigned in every corner of the state, Bachmann’s young campaign will have opportunities to solidify its supporters. The poll also indicates that she has plenty of room to grow her level of support. After respondents were asked who they would support on the expanded ballot, we followed up by asking them who their second choice was. Bachmann led the way by being the second choice of 27 percent of respondents. That is more than twice the 13 percent that Romney received on the question.
The person who could flip the race on its head is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. If Christie enters the race, Romney would lose almost nine percent of his support to Christie, but the biggest loser would be Bachmann who sees 22 percent of her support go to the New Jersey Governor. Christie also takes a chunk, 20 percent, from Pawlenty.
Christie performs very well among people who mention spending as their top concern. Christie garners a 19 percent vote share in this group versus 13 percent in the sample as a whole. After the economy, cutting spending was the concern mentioned by most caucus participants.
When asked whether or not Christie should run for president, 36 percent of likely caucus goers said they would like to see him run, while 35 percent said they would not like to see him run. That number suggests that Christie has a very high ceiling should he choose to enter the Republican race for president. It also could indicate that his standing in the poll would increase significantly once people are convinced that he is actually serious about running. Bachmann’s poll numbers jumped when she entered the CNN New Hampshire debate. A Christie candidacy could experience a similar result.
The traces of ideological differentiation are already visible in the poll. First of all, caucus participants clearly want a very conservative candidate for President. Of those surveyed, 47 percent want a “very conservative” nominee, 33 percent want a “somewhat conservative” nominee, and only 17 percent want the Republican nominee to be a moderate.
There are clear differences between the candidates in the ideological flavor of their supporters. For instance, people who plan to vote for Perry or Palin want someone who is more conservative than Romney supporters. The following chart displays these findings. Some of the candidates are not included on this chart, because too few respondents selected them to have reliable results:
Romney and Pawlenty are clearly competing for the moderate conservative vote, while Perry, were he to enter, would compete for the conservative vote along with Palin if she were to enter the race. Note that Bachmann supporters are not as strong in their desire for a very conservative candidate as Palin or Perry supporters.
Looking at the current leaders in the race, Bachmann and Romney, it looks like Romney has a relatively low ceiling unless he is successful in shifting himself in a more conservative direction. He may, of course, lose current supporters to Pawlenty if his repositioning is seen as pandering. He could also lose support if Pawlenty’s campaign gains traction in Iowa since Romney has only visited the state just once this year.
Bachmann’s equation is different. It is possible that she may lose some current supporters if she moves further right, or perhaps more correctly, as voters figure out how conservative she is. On the other hand, that’s where the votes are, so her appeal to voters shouldn’t change all that much, especially if she is perceived as the Iowa frontrunner.
Another metric to keep an eye on is the voters who are paying the most attention to the race. These well informed caucus goers may provide some insight to how candidates will do once more people begin to pay attention to the race. About half, actually 42% to be precise, of those who intend to participate in the caucuses say they are paying a great deal of attention to news coverage. The poll indicates that this group not just focusing on the current field of candidates, but they are also following those potential candidates who might enter the nomination fight.
For instance, 80 percent of the most engaged caucus goers know who Rick Perry is. That number falls to 48 percent with those who are not currently paying much attention to the race. It also turns out that those paying the most attention like Perry a lot: 51% of the plugged in crowd have a positive impression compared to 21% among those who are not following the race closely.
Perry is not the only one with whom these engaged caucus goers are intrigued. They also like Chris Christie a lot. The same can also be said for Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, and Tim Pawlenty. But, that’s not the case for Romney or Ron Paul. Romney and Paul are equally well liked among those who pay a lot of attention to the race as they are among the people who do not pay a lot of attention. Jon Huntsman is actually disliked more among the people who pay the most attention. No wonder he is not campaigning here.
To date, the race does not yet appear to have developed into an ideological contest. Caucus goers do not currently appear to be ranking the candidates according to the way they view them ideologically, but to the extent they are perceived as popular, and therefore electable. You can see this trend in the graph below:
We were looking for ideological clustering of the candidates. For example, Romney should be close to Giuliani, and Palin should be close to Bachmann, but that’s not what the data shows. Instead, it lines up by popularity. The more unpopular candidates are located at the top/center of the graph. The more popular candidates are located at the bottom right. For example, Gingrich and Giuliani are very close together even though ideologically they are not close at all.
While the campaigning in Iowa has finally begun to heat up, the race is still in its infancy. With candidates just now beginning to convince supporters to get active in their campaigns, it is no surprise that the polls are being influenced more by popularity than by the grassroots organizations some of the lower ranking campaigns have invested in heavily.
With the field of candidates yet to solidify and the possibility that a major Republican figure could still enter the contest, the Iowa caucuses seem to be as wide open as they have ever been.
About the poll:
Voter/Consumer Research conducted the poll by telephone interviews between the dates of June 26th and June 30th. It has a sample size of 500 likely caucus goers, and has a margin of error of ± 4.4 percent. Dr. Jan van Lohuizen, an expert in the field of public policy and public opinion research, founded Voter/Consumer Research. Dr. van Lohuizen was President George W. Bush’s primary pollster and has provided his services to a number of political candidates, corporations, and various think tanks. This is the third Iowa poll Dr. van Lohuizen has conducted for TheIowaRepublican.com.
The poll was commissioned by TheIowaRepublican.com and The Iowa Republican magazine. Craig Robinson founded both entities in 2009. Robinson was the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa in 2007. In that capacity, he organized both the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and 2008 Iowa Caucuses.
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