Iowa and beyond
Tonight is the final debate between the GOP presidential primary candidates before the Iowa Caucuses on Jan. 3rd. After that, there’s nothing between the candidates and the caucus other than a lot of open roads, corn fields and a bunch of towns full of Iowans. Just check out Gov. Perry’s 44-city, two week bus tour throughout Iowa. At least he’s taking some time off for Christmas. But he’s not alone as every single candidate will be criss-crossing the state, possibly passing each other on the roads or towns. December must be a strange time in Iowa if you’re really not interested in politics. With all the attention focused on the state and with a field of six candidates courting votes, you’re probably ready for caucus day to come and go so you can get back to normal life. So is Iowa really giving us that deeper glimpse into the candidates?
As I’ve stated before, the Iowa caucuses are a strange brand of politics in America, where most everyone really just wants to find a polling place and cast their ballot. In Iowa that process differs in that you must show up at the caucus location by 7 p.m. on a Tuesday night and be present to cast your ballot along with your friends and neighbors. It’s about as personal a form of voting as you can get. So few votes are really cast (only 119,000+ votes were cast in the 2008 Republican caucus out of 2.1 million registered voters) that you have to wonder if that’s really a good indicator. Couple that with Iowa’s demographics (91.3% White, 5.0% Hispanic, 2.9% Black, 1.7% Asian) and affiliations and you definitely don’t have a true representation of the US population.
Even with these skewed demographics and low participation numbers, Iowa still serves a purpose. Iowans participate more in the political process than most states. In 2010 voter turnout for the Iowa General Election was 53% compared with 38% in Texas. Iowans also seem to press candidates more on issues than other states. Add to the participation the level of media attention given to Iowa during the process and you gain a sense for what the candidate’s positions are. Granted, primary campaigns tend to skew towards the middle of the pack, with Republicans leaning more conservative and Democrats leaning more progressive, but after its all said and done, the position marks are left for the rest of us to see. The Des Moines Register has compiled many of these positions in a handy guide for voters.
But more telling is how voters are seeing these candidates and who those voters are. Digging into those numbers tells us more about what segment a candidate might appeal to. This week Public Policy Polling released the latest in-depth poll of Iowa voters on the candidates and issues; 364 pages worth of information nicely tallied and cross tabbed. Sample size of the poll was 555 voters through an automated telephone survey with a margin of errror of +/-4.2%. On the surface, that poll showed the numbers for the pack: Gingrich – 22, Paul – 21, Romney – 16, Bachmann – 11, Perry – 9, Santorum – 8, Huntsman – 5, and Johnson – 1. Here are some quotes from PPP on the in-depth data:
- 59% of likely voters participated in the 2008 Republican caucus and they support Gingrich 26-18. But among the 41% of likely voters who are ‘new’ for 2012 Paul leads Gingrich 25-17 with Romney at 16%.
- He’s also very strong with young voters. Among likely caucus goers under 45 Paul is up 30-16 on Gingrich. With those over 45, Gingrich leads him 26-15 with Romney at 17%.
- Among Republicans Gingrich leads Paul 25-17. But with voters who identify as Democrats or independents, 21% of the electorate in a year with no action on the Democratic side, Paul leads Gingrich 34-14 with Romney at 17%.
As you can see, while Gingrich carries a lead with established voters, Paul takes the young and new voter category and also tends to pick up more progressive voters. The poll also shows that 60% of the voters have locked in their choice, providing a good opportunity for a candidate to still sway the field between now and caucus day. As far as a second choice, the top three are still the top three, indicating a tight horse race coming down to the final day.
- When it comes to issues, the voters tend to sway more conservative in both fiscal and conservative issues. 41% do not support gays in the military and 46% believe there’s a “war on Christmas.” In a surprising question, 48% have a favorable view on Tim Tebow. While that may seem like an odd question for a presidential poll, it gives more indication of the voter makeup and further reinforces the socially conservative views. On that note, 35% consider themselves somewhat conservative and 42% are very conservative. However, the Tea Party seems to have lost out with 61% not affiliating with that movement. That number could indicate a shift in voter approval of Tea Party activities.
- Paul seems to have the most committed voters with 29% locking in for him. Gingrich and Romney have 21% and 18%, respectively. That indicates voters are still not sure about two of the top three candidates but the numbers are still low, leaving room for change. Another interesting number is comparing their 2008 vote to today. Paul voters stuck with him at 81% compared to 44% sticking with Romney. Thompson and Giuliani voters are gravitating to Gingrich at 41% and 43% respectively. Most of Bachmann’s voters can’t seem to remember who they voted for. You be the judge of that.
- There’s much more data to look at if you’re so inclined but I think you’re getting a picture of how Iowa is shaping out. It’s still too close to call on a winner there and will really depend on how well the ground game works from this point out. With the last debate televised tonight, there’s very little chance to vet the candidates against each other any more. Now it will be up to candidates to make a strong impression on voters as they traverse the state and getting voters to turn out that cold Tuesday night, two days after New Years. Both Iowa and Iowa State play on Dec. 30 in bowl games so there’s no football distraction for them (yes, I look at everything).
But what about after Iowa? From there the candidates move on to New Hampshire and South Carolina with two debates a piece schedule in each state. Both states employ a primary system which attracts more voters to turn out. New Hampshire’s primary has no early voting and is a hybrid primary, meaning if you’ve locked into a party you can only vote in that primary but if you’re independent you can vote in either primary. As of the end of August, 29.3% had registered Democrat, 30.3% Republican and 40.4% undecided.
In a 7News/Suffolk University poll of very likely voters released this week (sample size – 400), 59% were registered Republicans and 41% as undecided. Once again demographics don’t represent the country with 93% White, 2% Hispanic and 1% Black. In that poll Romney takes the expected lead with the numbers showing: Romney – 38, Gingrich – 20, Hunstman – 13, Paul – 8, Bachmann –3, Santorum – 2, and Perry – 1. New Hampshire typically skews more moderate but not quite progressive in voting so these numbers reflect that trend.
What could be very interesting in New Hampshire is the status of Hunstman’s campaign. Huntsman is at the bottom of the heap in Iowa and money is probably pretty scarce. If Huntsman remains in that position the question will be whether he has the fortitude to continue into New Hampshire, knowing he’s not going to be the nominee, or drop out. He has a sizable chunk of voters in New Hampshire. Most likely those voters will go to either Romney or Paul. One interesting question is what voters don’t like about Paul. 22% said he’s too radical/extreme.
From there whatever candidates are still left head to South Carolina where voters are more conservative and lean towards southern candidates. That should have been Perry’s bonanza state. However, the latest numbers from a week ago don’t paint a rosy picture for him. There’s not the in-depth polling data as there was in Iowa or New Hampshire so we only have the candidate choice with Gingrich blowing through that state: Gingrich – 43, Romney – 20, Perry – 8, Bachmann – 6, Paul – 6, Santorum – 4, Hunstman – 1. Seeing Perry and Bachmann either leading or tied with Paul in South Carolina reinforces the conservative nature of the state.
Based on this information it’s a pretty safe bet that the top three candidates after the three early state primaries will be Gingrich, Romney and Paul. If Perry can’t muster more than fourth in Iowa and second in South Carolina his campaign will be definitely over. Money will be flowing to other candidates that should have been heading his way. Running an operation of his size cannot be sustained into Florida, the next state on the calendar. The other candidates don’t have enough support to even win dog catcher in some of the states.