Saturday, October 8, 2011

Mitt Romney Leads the Polls; Herman Cain Rises

With the September debates well behind us and the October debates to begin fairly soon, it's time for another look at the recent polls, including national primary polls and early state polls. Whenever possible, it's best to review polling data in groups rather than putting too much stock in each new poll. Individual polls can be--and often are--flawed. But if all the polls say the same thing, there's probably something to it.

There has been little polling in the early states, but several national polls have been conducted recently. Here's what the polls say:

National Primary Polls
10/04 Pew Research -- Romney 22, Perry 17, Cain 13, Paul 12
10/03 Quinnipiac -- Romney 22, Cain 17, Perry 14, Gingrich 8
10/02 ABC/Wash Post -- Romney 25, Cain 17, Perry 17, Gingrich 9
10/02 CBS News -- Romney 17, Cain 17, Perry 12, Gingrich 8
09/27 Fox News -- Romney 23, Perry 19, Cain 17, Gingrich 11

Iowa Caucus
09/27 ARG -- Romney 21, Bachmann 15, Perry 14, Paul 12

New Hampshire Primary
10/06 UNH/WMUR -- Romney 37, Cain 12, Paul 9, Giuliani 8

Florida Primary
09/27 SurveyUSA -- Romney 27, Cain 25, Perry 13, Gingrich 6

The first thing that should stand out is the fact that Mitt Romney is leading in every single poll, both national and state-by-state, including the Iowa poll. That feat might have been more difficult to pull off if South Carolina had been polled recently, as Romney tends not to do as well there. In one poll (the national CBS News one), Herman Cain is tied with Romney for first. That's the outlier of the bunch.

It's obvious that the Romney camp should be happy. About a month and a half ago, Rick Perry led in the Republican primary polls, at least the national ones. Now Romney is back on top. Leading in Iowa should be particularly encouraging--though it's only one poll--because if Romney takes Iowa, the race is over.

On the other hand, Romney's lead is quite small. Aside from the New Hampshire poll, Romney leads by no more than a handful of points. Moreover, putting the NH poll aside again, Romney has a ceiling of 27 points. Nationally, he tends to poll in the low 20s. That's not where a strong frontrunner polls.

Even so, Romney's position is even stronger than the polls indicate. In explaining who will win the Republican primary in 2012, we noted that voters make their strategic shift only in the weeks before the votes are cast. Romney's chief virtue is his high perceived electability. Thus, it's only in the future that voters will be saying "I just want someone who can beat Barack Obama, so I'll support Romney." Until then, voters will consider unelectable candidates. Romney's poll numbers are likely to spike in December.

There are other interesting tidbits to be gleaned from the latest polls: Rick Perry is certainly down, and Herman Cain has gone up dramatically. It seems most of Perry's support has gone to Cain, as opposed to Romney or Michele Bachmann. Since Bachmann is gunning for the same voters as Perry, that's a terrible sign for Bachmann. Whether Cain can hold onto his numbers will be the subject of a future post.

Not to be missed is the fact that Newt Gingrich is pulling into fourth place. Partly he benefits from high name recognition, but it also has to do with his debate performances. Voters have negative memories of Gingrich, and they like him better on stage. They have essentially been reintroduced to him. Unfortunately for Gingrich, he is a distant fourth, and he has no early state in which to play. But at least he's better off than Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman, who so far are nowhere to be seen. As for Michele Bachmann, these are truly awful numbers.