Can the Iowa Caucuses be Far Behind? | | 12.20.11

If Christmas is here, can the Iowa caucuses be far behind?  What are the candidates’ prospects weeks before the voting begins? You have heard about ups and downs in the major polls. Following are data on Romney, Gingrich and Perry you have probably not heard about, as well as an item on Ron Paul.

Romney-Gingrich-Perry Poll:
In this hard-to-predict GOP primary season, some of the most interesting polls are coming out of a husband-wife team, Adam and Sabrina Schaeffer.  He holds a PhD in American politics, she a masters in American history, both from the University of Virginia.  She is a long-time director in the firm I head.

Through their own firm, Evolving Strategies (, these two have been experimenting with Internet-based, low-budget ways to test not just the state of opinion but the dynamics.  Using control groups as well as groups that they expose to differing lines of competing arguments and mixes of competing ads, they try to duplicate the back and forth of campaign debate. They ask not who is up today, but who can be up tomorrow – and whose star will fade, if something isn’t done fast?

Two weeks ago, they demonstrated the promise of their methods as they, in the words of their website, “executed an online message experiment testing pairs of positive and negative ads about Romney, Gingrich, and Perry.”

Dividing nearly 700 opt-in respondents into the control and testing groups, they showed those they were testing a series of pro and negative ads (all of which had actually run on TV) for Gingrich, Romney and Perry.

Here is what they found, which has proven prescient:

“Despite his surge and continuing lead in the polls, Gingrich appears highly vulnerable to attack. GOP primary preferences still appear unstable and susceptible to small changes in the flow of information.
“Gingrich’s support is decimated when respondents are exposed just once to a positive and negative ad about Gingrich. The percentage of respondents picking Gingrich as their first choice in the primary falls more than 15 points, from 42 to 26 percent.
“Mitt Romney’s negatives seem to be priced in; Romney ads don’t shift his vote share. Romney benefits most from Gingrich’s decline, rising 10 points, from 27 to 37 percent.
“There are signs of hope for Perry, but he gains only slightly as Gingrich deflates. A first look at the performance of Perry’s 5 positive ads suggests his ‘Outsider’ message is most effective….
“[V]oter opinion in the early caucus/primary states could shift quickly and substantially against Gingrich in the coming weeks as the information flow intensifies and voters tune in to the contest.”

In Iowa, Ron Paul and Romney and to a lesser extent Perry have shared the fruits of Newt’s fall. But here is a flash: While Romney’s message about himself is getting much better, he still struggles with his message about where the nation is and where it can and should go.  Ron Paul’s message can take him only so far.  And don’t count that Gingrich is out.

In Iowa and nationally, the GOP contest will come down to one question: who is the best carrier of the message of limited government, economic growth and national security? No one has even close to a lock on that role yet.

Ron Paul, really?:
He is at the top of the Iowa polling today, on the strength of his libertarian domestic message and Gingrich’s rapid descent from the stratosphere.  But can he last?

As with Herman Cain (and Michele Bachmann), are we really going to nominate someone who has not served in the Senate (Speaker of the House is comparable), a governorship, the cabinet, or won a war?  Almost every president since Washington has had experience in one of those positions.  With a global economic crisis, a domestic debt and spending crisis, a continuing employment depression, and gathering threats from Iran to China to our own hemisphere, are we really going to put someone forward with this little senior experience?  And is Paul’s pullback approach to national security really the best way to defend our liberties, or does it just show a lack of experience and understanding?

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