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More 2012 Primary Polling

As Kevin Madden has stated, these polls “are like pre-season football: Fun to watch for a few minutes until you realize they don’t matter.”  Then again in pre-season football Peyton Manning is only around for one or two drives; these polls enable us to follow our favorites on all of the way through 2012 – even if at this point it really doesn’t matter. So with the usual “this doesn’t matter” caveat out of the way, here is a quick look at what the past week has brought us in its look at yet distant primaries.

First of all is a poll by the Clarus Research Group, surveying 374 registered Republicans or Independents trending Republican nationwide. Their findings put Romney in the lead nationally with 26%. Huckabee is second with 21%, Gingrich 14%, Palin 12%, and a host of others in the low single digits. This poll has gained a fair bit of attention over the past week due to its showing of Sarah Palin in fourth place; her support has dropped most significantly since this poll was last taken in March. Romney’s support has dropped as well, though not enough to take him out of the top spot. More notably is the rise in “undecided” voters, from 10% to 15%, not really a surprising development as it shows that voters are not exactly focused on the 2012 elections right now. This far removed from the elections, they are not sure who they want to see defeat Obama.

Of course the CNN Opinion Research Poll, released Friday, shows that while unsure, voters are indeed keen on the idea of somebody defeating Obama. The poll of “1009 adult Americans,” 935 of whom are registered voters, shows the President’s potential reelection effort coming to defeat 50-45 against… well, nobody in particular. CNN did not poll specific candidates on the general election, but Obama is trailing a generic Republican by five points. As for the Republican primary, Romney leads once again with 21%, Palin 18%, Gingrich 15%, Huckabee 14%, and Paul 10% – others at 3% or lower. In this case, it is Mike Huckabee whose numbers see a significant drop compared to previous polling. The CNN poll taken in April, showed Huckabee leading Romney 24-20, a sign of how quickly these things can fluctuate.

A third national primary poll, released yesterday afternoon, by Public Policy Polling, gives no clear answer to the 2012 primary question. In this poll, Huckabee leads very narrowly with 23%, but Romney is right there with him at 22%. Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin each carry 21%. The poll surveys 400 “national Republican primary voters,” and although concludes with the reasonable analysis that there is room for other outside contenders to join the fray, did not poll Pawlenty, Thune, et. al. (Ron Paul was surveyed, but took only 4%.)

The internals of the PPP poll are fairly interesting. Romney’s favorable numbers, though only at 57% overall, were the strongest in carrying the crucial moderate voters with a consistent 59/22 split among moderates, compared to 58/19 among conservatives. Unsurprisingly Palin’s favorables were strong with conservatives, 86/6, and oddly strong among liberals, 42/25 (Romney’s meanwhile reverse that, 25/42). The disadvantage for Palin is that her support, as usual is quite polarized. Only 6% of conservatives and 7% of moderates are unsure of their opinion on the former Alaska governor. Romney meanwhile still has room to grow among some voters, with 22% overall yet to form an opinion. Once again the takeaway story is that there is no clear candidate, but Romney is well positioned among the front-runners.

Finally, there has been a poll released by The Iowa Republican regarding the 2012 primary, in the important early state of Iowa. The poll shows a familiar sight from 2008; Huckabee leads with 22%, Romney in second with 18%. Gingrich takes 14%, Palin 11%. Others 5% or lower.  Despite mirroring the devastating results from the 2008 primary, this is actually good news for Mitt. In 2008, Mitt came into Iowa with all of the expectations behind him. Giuliani was not actively contesting the early states. McCain was not expected to do well. Thompson was looking at South Carolina. Romney, meanwhile was expected to win in Iowa, and when Huckabee made a surprise charge to take the state, it destroyed the momentum of the Romney campaign. For 2012, though, that onus is on the Huckabee campaign. After succeeding in 2008 with such little name recognition, Huckabee is expected to win Iowa. A result showing the numbers above would not change the race at all; a Romney victory could send Huckabee home early.

In the end that is the ultimate difficulty with all of these national primary polls. Although generally useful as a basic guideline to who the front-runners are, it ultimately results in the state contests. Four years ago, the buzz was about Rudy Giuliani. He was leading national primary polling, and set about a strategy of competing in the primaries as a national campaign. It just did not work that way. The primaries are set up to reflect the nuances and shifts in momentum that come with each state contest. It means that the nominee is required to be a leader who works and develops connections with voters and conservative politicians at the grassroots level. Even with all of the historical theorizing about “next in line” and who the established front runner is, being a national figure does not bring one a primary victory. The winner of the Republican primaries is the candidate who is willing to travel the country, help out conservative candidates and causes, speak at events, and lead at a time when there is not a looming Presidential race.

It will be the actions and events of the coming few months that will truly shape our strongest candidates for the 2012 Presidential race. As has been the case and will continue to be the case until November, the 2010 midterms are far more important for conservative leaders and activists than any polling on 2012. In that regard,  Mitt Romney is definitely in very good shape.

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