What the Iowa Poll Means
By Steve Deace
The Des Moines Register’s latest Iowa Poll provides the most recent benchmark on where things stand down the stretch in the 2012 Iowa Caucuses.
Granted, the Iowa Poll missed forecasting the outcome of the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary by 19 points, but the poll still is vital because at the very least it provides a snapshot of mindshare if not necessarily market share.
While I don’t believe the results of this poll will come close to being the actual vote total come January 3rd, I do believe the data in the poll has something to say for everybody in the race:
He’s the current trendsetter, and the Iowa Poll confirms what I have been telling media around the country for weeks now—Gingrich is in a strong position because he appears to be a lot of people’s (regardless of what faction of the GOP they represent) second choice. In a race without an unmistakable frontrunner complete with his own devoted following, being everyone’s second choice is a good place to be. However, Gingrich’s propensity to out-kick his coverage will be tested like it wasn’t before when he was second tier. The presidential forum hosted by Mike Huckabee on Fox News provided a preview of the grilling Gingrich is likely to get from ideologically-driven conservatives the rest of the way. If Gingrich stays disciplined and aggressive he will likely emerge as the winner of the Caucuses and the eventual nominee. However, if past history is indicative of future performance, that’s a big “if” in Gingrich’s case.
He might have the best political organization in the state other than Senators Tom Harkin and Charles Grassley. In fact, Paul may have more loyal allies on the Republican state central committee than Lt. Governor Terry Branstad does. Now that organization is matched by voter enthusiasm in the latest Iowa Poll. If anything, I wonder if Paul’s actual support could be under-reported, because his supporters are the most suspicious of mainstream media and the least responsive to traditional polling mechanisms. For most of this year I have been the lone wolf among analysts saying Paul was a very real threat to win, while others kept clamoring about his perceived ceiling. However, Paul has already exceeded that supposed ceiling. I wonder where Paul would be had he not been flippant about Iran’s nuclear program at the pre-Straw Poll debate. Those comments likely stopped Paul from winning in Ames two days later, and had he won that event he’d be in an even stronger position.
For the most poll-driven candidate, this Iowa Poll is very bad news. It’s clear that Romney is losing substantial ground to Gingrich, as establishment Republicans see the grown-up former Speaker as an alternative that is not the anathema to social conservatives that Romney represents. Cain’s departure is also bad news for Romney, since that helps to consolidate the anybody-but-Romney vote. Romney is becoming increasingly isolated as a presidential candidate. He’s now a man without a faction in the party, except those who have a vested interest in him individually. Romney’s only path now is to wait and hope for Gingrich to repeat his history of self-inflicted wounds, leaving the party establishment with no other option but the flip-flopping opportunist 80% of Republicans still don’t want after five years of running for president.
The Conservative Grassroots
Hard to believe after all the conservative uprisings around the country we’ve seen since the rise of the Tea Party movement that there isn’t a true Tea Party champion (or Christian conservative for that matter) anywhere near the first tier of this poll. Straw Poll winner Michele Bachmann is at 8 percent, as is the departed Herman Cain. Rick Perry and Rick Santorum are each at 6 percent. Put all of those numbers together and you come up with 28% of Republicans in the poll, which would be the top spot if it coalesced behind one candidate. Those vying for the conservatives are cannibalizing one another, and their failure to distinguish themselves is Balkanizing conservatives. At some point 1 or 2 of these candidates perhaps have a moral obligation to get out of the race if they’re not going anywhere if they truly care about the issues they’re running on. Otherwise, it may be up to Iowa activists to make that decision for them before it’s too late.
What Really Matters
60% of those polled are still willing to change their minds. 92% of those that consider themselves “soft-committed” to a candidate are open to switching to another candidate. 25% of respondents are concerned about a new revelation about their first choice. Translation—this race is still very fluid and very wide open. For example, the current frontrunner was only at 7% in the last Iowa Poll in October. Other than Paul, whose support is stable, every other candidate is still on probation with Iowa Republicans.
This will be a photo finish, but Gingrich and Paul are the only candidates that control their own destiny. Everyone else is at the mercy of the process, meaning they need someone to falter if they’re to excel.