Thursday, July 7, 2011

New Hampshire Poll Shows Mitt Romney's Competitor Is Chris Christie

From the beginning, Elephant Watcher has cautioned that early polls are problematic for a number of reasons. One of the biggest issues is that a poll's results can be skewed simply by a pollster's choice of which candidates to include. Whenever a pollster chooses to include an unusual set of candidates, particularly if Chris Christie is one of them, it's worth taking a closer look.

Public Policy Polling, a Democratic pollster, has released a new poll of New Hampshire. One might expect a Democratic pollster's results to lean left, such as that moderate candidates overperform. However, as we saw in our polling round-up a few days ago, PPP's polls tend to skew in favor of candidates like Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain. (Then again, a Democratic pollster might want to push candidates perceived to be unable to defeat President Obama in the general election.)

At any rate, PPP did a New Hampshire poll that included some candidates who either say they aren't running or are unlikely to run, including Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan, Rudy Giuliani, and Chris Christie. Here are the results:

New Hampshire
Mitt Romney 26
Chris Christie 20
Michele Bachmann 14
Rudy Giuliani 9
Jeb Bush 8
Sarah Palin 8
Tim Pawlenty 5
Paul Ryan 3

Although Christie has repeatedly said he's not running, though most pundits assume he won't, and although New Hampshire is widely considered a Romney stronghold, Christie trails by only 6 points. This demonstrates an impressive amount of latent support for Christie--and vulnerability for Romney. Were Christie to run, Romney would need to pour every resource he has into New Hampshire. This is another good reason why Romney shouldn't gamble too much on Iowa. If he loses New Hampshire, his campaign is over.

Another interesting finding from PPP's data is the level of support Christie receives from Tea Partiers. Christie is governor of New Jersey and has generally avoided alienating social moderates. The Republican establishment views him favorably. But, in fact, it is the Tea Party that supports him most. Of those who identify with the Tea Party movement, 81% view him favorably and 7% unfavorably. Even Michele Bachmann, the "Queen of the Tea Party," only posts comparable numbers: 86% favorable, 11% unfavorable. No other candidate comes close. Sarah Palin receives 70% to 19%. Romney gets 59% favorable, 34% unfavorable.

That data suggests that Christie's Tea Party opponents will be hard pressed to call him a "RINO" or a moderate. As Christie is so uniquely poised to gain support from both wings of the Party, he has the best position in the race. Elephant Watcher calculates that Christie currently has a 66% chance of winning the nomination.