Thursday, August 25, 2011

Rick Perry Starts Strong in National Polls

National polls show that Rick Perry is off to a strong start in the Republican primary. He leads the other candidates by a significant margin. Is Perry in the lead? Primary polls that poll the entire country are less useful than early state primary polls for a number of reasons. First, voters in the early primary states (e.g. Iowa and New Hampshire) pay attention to the race earlier. Most of the country will not pay close attention until next year, so the opinions they hold today are subject to factors like name recognition. Second, the perceptions people have of the candidates will be changed by who wins (and loses) the early primaries.

With those caveats out of the way, here are the most recent national primary polls, all of which were conducted after Perry entered the race:

National Primary Polls
08/21 Gallup -- Perry 29, Romney 17, Paul 13, Bachmann 10, Cain 4
08/21 PPP (D) -- Perry 33, Romney 20, Bachmann 16, Gingrich 8, Cain 6
08/15 Rasmussen -- Perry 29, Romney 18, Bachmann 13, Paul 9, Cain 6

Looking at polls from several different pollsters is helpful. One poll may be off, but you can trust something if it forms a pattern across multiple polls. Here, despite data coming from very different pollsters, the results are almost identical. Perry has a commanding lead, and is near one-third of the vote. Mitt Romney is clearly in second place. Not too far behind is Michele Bachmann, and everyone else is in the single-digits.

Two main points are revealed in these polls. First, Romney's support is quite shallow. He took a beating from the entry of another candidate. While many support him, few are very dedicated to him. The second point is that Bachmann has also been tossed aside by the Tea Party in favor of Perry.

Based on these polls, it's possible that the media may change its prevailing narrative of Romney as the front-runner, and begin treating Perry as the main threat to win. Other candidates may do so as well. But the reality we see in early state primary polls is that the race is split between Iowa and New Hampshire. In Iowa, Perry must fight off Bachmann (who is much stronger there than she is nationally) and Romney. In New Hampshire, Romney has a lock.

We can conclude that the configuration of the early primaries tends to favor Romney and hurt Perry, compared to the country as a whole. This isn't too unusual. Recall that in 2008, Rudy Giuliani led many national primary polls, but the early states disliked him. Without a state to win in early, Giuliani was quickly out of the race.