Saturday, July 16, 2011

Why Is Newt Gingrich Doing So Badly in the Polls?

Of all the declared candidates with high name recognition--Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Mitt Romney--Gingrich has fared the worst in the polls. This is particularly true when you exclude Paul, who cannot win, from consideration. In the early state primary polls, Gingrich has struggled to even make fourth place. He has done even worse since Bachmann entered the race in mid-June.

Given the fact that Gingrich has such high name recognition, why is he doing so badly in the polls? After all, we know that early polling is often a function of name recognition, as most voters know next to nothing about the low-recognition candidates--if they've even heard of them. As we've detailed on a number of occasions, Gingrich stumbled out of the gate, and the media has generally written him off as a serious candidate. But there's more to it than that.

Although the name Gingrich is familiar to most voters, the Gingrich running for president in 2012 is not the same as the man who resigned in defeat in the late '90s. Nor is he the same Gingrich as the one who attempted to reach the middle and soften his partisan image with commercials where he sat on a couch with Nancy Pelosi and Al Sharpton. Gingrich faces a unique challenge: He must reinvent himself so that he is perceived differently by people who already know a fair bit about him.

Thus, Gingrich is probably more comparable to one of the candidates with low name recognition. Like them, he must introduce himself to the voters of early primary states. He must win them over in town hall meetings, speeches, and debate performances. That being the case, he is unlikely to rise in the polls until much later: Even early primary voters are not paying attention to the race during Phase Two of the primary. But if Gingrich does well enough in the many debates over the course of Phase Three, he will rise in the polls.

Gingrich's other issue is that none of the early primary states really suits him the way it may suit others. Gingrich is not a Tea Party candidate, or an establishment candidate, or even really a Southern candidate. Some feel he is too bitterly partisan, while many others think he is a RINO. Elephant Watcher believes that as long as a candidate faces serious questions about whether he is conservative enough to be a "true" Republican nominee, he's better off running in New Hampshire than Iowa or South Carolina. Thus, Gingrich must compete against Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman in New Hampshire. That's a tall order. Elephant Watcher calculates that Gingrich currently has a 2% chance of winning the nomination.