Sunday, January 1, 2012

Romney leads Paul in new Des Moines Register Iowa Poll; Santorum surges

The Des Moines Register’s latest Iowa Poll shows a surprise three-way match-up in contention to win the Iowa Republican caucuses: Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum.

Santorum, who has been largely invisible in the polls throughout the campaign season, is now beating the other evangelical choices and has a clear shot at victory Tuesday night.

But political analysts note there’s little time for Santorum to cash in and regroup before New Hampshire, where voters weigh in nine days from now, while Romney is positioned to replicate what he’s done in Iowa in all the early states.

In four days of polling, Romney leads at 24 percent, Paul has 22 percent and Rick Santorum, 15 percent.

But if the final two days of polling stand alone, the order reshuffles: Santorum elbows out Paul for second.

“Few saw this bombshell coming,” GOP strategist David Polyansky said. “In an already unpredictable race this is another stunning turn of political fortune.”

What makes Santorum’s growth spurt particularly striking is his last-second rise: He averaged 10 points after the first two nights of polling, but doubled that during the second two nights. Looking just at the final day of polling, he was just one point down from Romney’s 23 percent on Friday.

Paul has marched higher in every Iowa Poll, but his momentum may have stalled last week. His support eroded from 29 percent on the first day of polling to 16 percent the last.

As for the rest of the field, over the four days of polling, Newt Gingrich is at 12 percent, Rick Perry, 11 percent, and Michele Bachmann, 7 percent. Their support remained relatively steady over the four days.

But in the month since the Register’s last poll, in late November, and in the 31 days since Gingrich boldly said in Iowa, “I’m going to be the nominee,” he has experienced a screeching double-digit drop.

Perry climbs 5 points since the last poll, but is stuck in fifth place. Bachmann falls 1 point, leaving her in a very poor position, said the Register’s pollster, J. Ann Selzer.

The final Iowa Poll before the caucuses is seen as a bellwether for Tuesday night’s first-in-the-nation voting. Still, the race is fluid, as 41 percent have a first choice but said they could still be persuaded to support another candidate. Fifty-one percent said their minds are made up.

The poll, conducted by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, was based on telephone interviews with 602 likely Republican caucusgoers Dec. 27-30. The margin of error for the full four days is plus or minus 4 percentage points. For the last two days, 302 likely GOP caucusgoers were surveyed, and the margin of error is plus or minus 5.6 percentage points.

There’s so much volatility in Iowa that the numbers could change in a snap, said GOP strategist Mike Murphy of California, who has advised presidential candidates Lamar Alexander in 1995 and John McCain in 2000 but is currently unaligned with any campaign.

“Polling is a nightmare right now,” he said.

Santorum benefits as others drop

What happened to give Santorum a lift?

The collapse of the bottom half of the field fueled Santorum’s surge, said Charlie Cook, founder of the Cook Political Report.

“He has become the remainder man,” Cook said.

Undecideds decided to decide, and Santorum was the fresh choice. He hasn’t endured the media scrutiny into his record and whomping from negative advertising like others who made flash-in-the pan ascendancies, analysts said.

On Wednesday, the minute a Time/CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll came out showing Santorum in third with 16 percent, it was off to the races for him, said Republican strategist David Polyansky of New York, who worked for Mike Huckabee’s campaign four years ago and for Bachmann’s 2012 campaign until September. He is currently unaligned.

That poll gave Santorum enough validation that the public could accept his candidacy.

“It is kind of interesting to see that, by pure luck and timing, in what many have dubbed the ‘Fox Primary,’ that it might actually be CNN as the network that had the biggest impact and influence on the Iowa caucus,” Polyansky said.

In the new poll, 76 percent of Santorum supporters say they will definitely caucus rather than probably attend, a higher proportion than for any other candidate. For Romney, 58 percent of his supporters are definite attenders; it’s 56 percent for Paul.

Santorum tackled Iowa the old-fashioned way, virtually living in the back seat of a car and crisscrossing the state. He has spent more than 100 days campaigning in Iowa since the last presidential election, leading the field on that measure. He slipped into every county when few were watching, and captured influential endorsements late in the game.

But Santorum’s organization in Iowa is somewhat suspect because he hasn’t had much money to put behind it, analysts said. It’s the opposite for Romney and Paul, who have drawn far bigger crowds in recent days.

Romney regains lead; flat over week

Romney held steady all week, starting at 22 percent Tuesday and ending at 23 percent Friday. But over the last month, the former Massachusetts governor has climbed 8 points, regaining the front-runner status he held in the June Iowa Poll.

Likely GOP caucusgoers still believe Romney is most electable, the new poll shows. He also wins the “best able to bring about real change” category. And 78 percent would be very enthusiastic or OK with the choice if he were the nominee, the highest enthusiasm of the three candidates tested.

Poll respondent Michele Pratt, 55, of Cedar Rapids, thinks that Romney projects competence and confidence and that he should appeal to political independents. She supported him four years ago, and doesn’t hesitate to do it again.

“He’s everything we want in a president right now,” said Pratt, who sells dietary supplements.

Where Romney places in the caucuses may prove less important than where his rivals land, Polyansky said. Santorum and Paul would be much easier to dispose of in South Carolina and Florida than the more dangerous Perry and Gingrich, he said.

Vulnerabilities appear for Paul

More Iowans have gravitated Paul’s way over the last month: He climbs 4 percentage points since the Register’s last poll in late November.

But the Texas congressman’s negatives have increased in Iowa over the last few weeks.

The libertarian-leaning Paul’s vulnerability: 21 percent say he’s the candidate they like least, just 2 points behind Gingrich at 23 percent. Bachmann, who led on this measure in the past, claims 14 percent.

When it comes to positive attributes, Paul gets first place for five of nine: most likely to dramatically reduce spending on war and foreign aid, most concerned about limiting the influence of government and reducing government debt, most consistent and least ego driven.

Paul, regardless of where he falls, is likely to stay in the race, Polyansky said. It may be tough to replicate the power he’s seeing in Iowa in New Hampshire, but he could do well in states like South Carolina and Florida, he said.

See full top-line results

How the poll was conducted:

Des Moines Register

7:00 PM, Dec 31, 2011

Categories: Caucus Insider

The Iowa Poll, conducted Dec. 27-30 for The Des Moines Register by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, is based on interviews with 2,527 registered Republican and independent voters in Iowa ages 18 or older, of which 602 said they would definitely or probably participate in the January 2012 Republican caucus.

Interviewers contacted individuals randomly selected from the Iowa voter registration list by telephone, stratifying contact by age and sex. The full sample of 2,527 respondents was adjusted for age and sex based on distribution among active Republican and no party registered voters. Questions asked of the 602
likely Republican caucusgoers have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.0 percentage points. Results based on smaller samples of respondents—such as by gender or age—have a larger margin of error. For responses based on the 302 likely Republican caucusgoers who were contacted on the final two nights of
polling, the margin of error is plus or minus 5.6 percentage points. Republishing the copyright Iowa Poll without credit to The Des Moines Register is prohibited.

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