Monday, June 13, 2011

Frontrunner

I really like the second and third paragraphs of this post by Matt Yglesias about Mitt Romney. I have some cautions, however, about the first paragraph and the title ("Mitt Romney Polls Pretty Well"). Romney is at 24% in the Gallup poll that Yglesias points to. How strong is that? For a frontrunner, not very.

Looking at Nate Silver's summary tables on early polling, what you can see is that the frontrunners who won all cleared 30% in early polling averages. Many of them cleared it by quite a bit: Bob Dole in 1996 was at 47%, George W. Bush in 2000 was at 46%. Romney also has solid, although not universal, name recognition. What I think this adds up to is that there's no reason so far to believe that Romney is actually polling well. All we're really finding out so far is that the field is split in three ways. Several candidates are well-known but unpopular: Palin, Newt, Ron Paul, Giuliani (Rudy isn't tested in the latest Gallup poll, but he's very well known and doesn't score well when he is included). A large bunch including Pawlenty, Bachmann, Santorum, Cain, and whoever else I'm leaving out, are just not very well known. And then there's Romney: well-known, not especially disliked, but not especially liked, either.

All of this can change fairly rapidly. Whoever wins Iowa will jump to full name recognition overnight, in plenty of time to take advantage of it in New Hampshire and the rest of the calendar. Two good weeks of heavy positive coverage on Fox News can, presumably, affect positive views of a candidate, as well.

As Yglesias indicates, it's important what party elites say about the candidates, and also important how Fox News and Rush and the rest treat them. It's also important what activists think, and what campaign and governing professionals think. Voters themselves may well be a factor (partially) independent of all of that. And remember, each of those groups may be internally divided.

So, again, I'd pay a lot more attention to news about elite opinions of the candidates than to polling results, especially this early in the process. But if you are going to look at polling, at the very least it has to be read in the context of history and name recognition, and with those things in mind Romney's 24% is certainly nothing special.

4 comments:

  1. Jonathan, you have argued that the only three candidates you can realistically see winning the GOP nomination are Romney, Pawlenty, and Perry.

    But what about Bachmann? Ezra Klein argues persuasively that she possesses all of Palin's electoral upside, but with a quasi-intellectual, elite-friendly veneer. Do you think she is viable? If not, why not?

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  2. ^If Palin is viable, then Bachmann is viable and a better candidate I think cause of her personal story. If Palin is not viable, then neither is Bachmann - they both have the same problem in that ideology aside, nobody serious thinks they would do competent job.

    If Romney's pole numbers are lower than previous eventual nominee front runners then I'd think that should be worrisome to him precisely because he doesn't have the elite on his side. Besides being the first front runner in memory to be publicly bashed by his party's previous VP nominee, Romney is running against the Koch-Freedom Works-Tea Party machine which seems to be the strongest force in Republican politics right now.

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  3. At least in the Gallup poll, however, Romney's percentage has improved. And the other way in which he is polling relatively well (and I stress "relatively") is in head to head with Obama.

    Now sophisticated observers will tell you head-to-heads at this stage don't matter. But how sophisticated in that sense are Republican primary voters? In other words, the question isn't how such poll results today would correlate with an actual November 2012 election contest, but rather how they would correlate with Republican perceptions of electoral chances in the primaries.

    In that sense, if those head-to-head polls hold up long enough, I could see Republicans (reluctantly) rallying behind Romney as their best chance to actually win.

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  4. How does it play into Romney's standing within the GOP that so many liberal commenters here regard him as the 'least worst' Republican candidate? (For example, in the comments on your Sunday Question for Liberals yesterday.)

    That might indicate greater ability to draw in indies, but surely it is not a positive in the eyes of 'movement conservatives.'

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