Friday, June 17, 2011

National Primary Polls Show Mitt Romney Leading, Tea Party Candidates Rising

In previous posts, we have seen why national primary polls need to be viewed with skepticism. With few people paying attention early on, name recognition becomes a bigger factor than it will be on voting day. National primary polls also fail to account for the impact that winning (or losing) early states has on the candidates' support.

But national primary polls can be useful in comparing apples to apples: If two candidates both have high name recognition, the one leading in the poll is probably in a stronger position. The same is true for comparing two candidates who lack name recognition. Also, if a candidate lacks name recognition but is still beating a well-known opponent, the well-known opponent is in trouble.

Today we will take a look at some recent national primary polls. Note that only one of these, taken by Rasmussen, was conducted after the June 13th debate:

06/14 Rasmussen -- Romney 33, Bachmann 19, Cain 10, Gingrich 9, Paul 7, Pawlenty 6
06/13 NBC/WSJ -- Romney 30, Palin 14, Cain 12, Perry 8, Paul 7, Gingrich 6
06/12 PPP (D) -- Romney 22, Cain 17, Palin 15, Gingrich 9, Pawlenty 9, Bachmann 8

A familiar difficulty in interpreting these polls is the fact that they're influenced by which candidates are included. For example, the Rasmussen poll excludes Sarah Palin, and the NBC/WSJ poll includes Rick Perry.

Comparing apples to apples, Mitt Romney is clearly in a stronger position than Sarah Palin or (especially) Newt Gingrich. All have high name recognition, but Romney leads. Among those with low name recognition, Herman Cain is leading Michele Bachmann, but not if Sarah Palin is excluded. Palin's harmful influence on the Bachmann campaign continues. The Rasmussen poll may also be indicating a bump for Bachmann post-debate, so it will be important to monitor these numbers as future polls are released.

The polls also show Tim Pawlenty struggling to keep up with Cain and Bachmann. Still, the more flamboyant and less electable candidates do tend to fade over time. Cain has taken damage from gaffes in interviews already, and Bachmann has not yet faced cross-examination by the hostile media.

The poll including Rick Perry shows a surprising amount of support, given how little coverage he's had, and Bachmann--who hardly ranks in that poll--may have somehow lost support to him. Given all the recent speculation, Perry may be included in more polls, and he will no doubt be watching them carefully.