General Election Viability as of Super Tuesday

Let’s take a couple views of the electoral map as of Super Tuesday and see how the Republican hopefuls fare.

1. If we look at the AP Delegate Tracker Map and compare it to the 2008 Electoral College Map, one of the striking contrasts is how well Romney has done in states that Obama previously won and how poorly Santorum and Gingrich have done in those states. Considering that Obama’s job approval ratings are relatively low, it seems that the Republicans have a decent chance of holding onto the states that voted Republican in 2008 and, consequently, much of the electoral game in 2012 will depend on putting states into play that Obama won in 2008. Looking at the 13 states where Obama won in 2008 and where Republicans have held primaries in 2012, we have the following results:

Romney: 10
Santorum: 3
Gingrich: 0

If we look at the states that voted Republican last time, the race is much closer:

Romney: 4
Santorum: 4
Gingrich: 2

However, I think these states are unlikely to become battleground states in 2012 given that they already cast their vote in 2008 against a President who is currently suffering in popularity.

2. If you don’t fancy my view of where the crucial battles lie, we can turn to Gallup’s list of 12 key swing states: CO, FL, IA, MI, NV, NH, NM, NC, OH, PA, VA, and WS. All of these states went to Obama in 2008, so Gallup is basically taking a smaller slice of the same pie that I was looking at. Here’s how the candidates stack up on Gallup’s list of swing states:

Romney: 6
Santorum: 2
Gingrich: 0

Santorum has done best among the very conservative in the Republican primaries so far. Admittedly, he has also done well among the very liberal: in both Michigan and Ohio, he handily won the vote among Democrats who voted in the Repbulican primary, but it seems pretty clear that those voters won’t provide him a general election boost. Romney, on the other hand, seems to be doing best where a channel to victory could conceivably be opened.

It seems to me that the choice now facing Republicans is whether they want someone who can recapture the same states they won in 2008 or someone who has the best chance of bringing new states into play.

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Republican Primary: Who Has the Numbers?

There’s been lots of talk about the changing winds of the Republican primaries, but let’s take a careful look at the numbers from all of the contests that have been held so far and see where that leaves the final four contenders.

1) Total votes – Romney wins in this category. He is the only candidate who has accumulated over a million votes. He has received 1.4 times as many votes as the second place finisher in this category.

Romney = 1,183,979
Gingrich = 837,611
Santorum = 569,488
Paul = 337,894

Note: if you want to review the state-by-state results, 2012 Election Central has a convenient summary page.

2) Average percentage of the vote – Romney wins in this category. Taking the percentage of votes he earned in the nine contests that have been held so far and averaging that number, Romney has averaged 34% of the vote. This is 1.3 times better than the second place finisher in this category.

Romney = 34%
Santorum = 26%
Paul = 19%
Gingrich = 18%

Note: I boosted Gingrich’s numbers by only averaging the 8 contests he participated in. If I had counted his 0% Missouri finish, that would have dropped his average to 16%.

3) Average Place (i.e., first, second, third, …) – Romney wins in this category with an average place of 1.7, putting him comfortably ahead of the second place finisher in this category, who scored an average place of 2.4. The breakdown of this tally is telling: Romney had only one finish that was not a 1st or 2nd place finish, while Santorum had 5 finishes that were 3rd place or lower, Gingrich also had 5 that were 3rd place or lower, and Paul had 6.

Romney = 1.7
Santorum = 2.4
Paul = 3
Gingrich = 3

Note: I again boosted Gingrich’s numbers by only averaging the 8 contests he participated in. If I had assigned Gingrich a 4th place finish in Missouri, that would have dropped his score to 3.1.
4) Delegate count – Romney wins in this category also. You would have to combine every delegate from all three remaining contenders to tie with Romney’s total.
Romney = 123
Santorum = 72
Gingrich = 32
Paul = 19
My conclusion is that Romney can still safely be considered the Republican front-runner.
  • Gingrich has done well in two high-population states (South Carolina and Florida).
  • Santorum has done well in four states that involved relatively low numbers of voters (the most votes he received from a state that he won was 138,957 in Missouri) and relatively high percentages of Evangelical voters (all his victories came from states where Evangelicals make up more than 20% of the population). He has placed 3rd, 4th, or 5th in the states where Evangelicals make up less than 20% of the population. That may not bode well for Santorum in the evangelical-poor but delegate-rich states of California, New York, Illinois, and possibly even Santorum’s home state of Pennsylvania (the latest poll in Pennsylvania shows Santorum and Romney in a statistical deadheat). See the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life for religious composition summaries by state.
  • Romney is the only candidate who has consistently scored 1st or 2nd place finishes almost entirely across the board. He has won all three contests in the states where Evangelicals make up less than 20% of the population, but he has also placed 1st or 2nd in 5 of the 6 states where Evangelicals make up more than 20% of the population.

With the most total votes, the highest average percentage of the votes cast, the best average place in the first 9 contests, and the highest delegate count, Romney is clearly the best-positioned to do well in the long haul.

#1: Gingrich Has Promised a Constitutional Showdown on His First Day in Office

Republicans would be well advised to avoid a candidate who has committed to order a Constitutional showdown on his first day in office.

During an appearance in South Carolina on January 18, Gingrich said:

The President interprets the Constitution as President…. If the court makes a fundamentally wrong decision, the President can, in fact, ignore the courts.

One may well ask how likely Gingrich would be to actually carry out such a radical idea. The only problem is that Gingrich also said:

I fully expect, as President, that there will be several occasions when we [Gingrich and the Supreme Court] will collide.

Gingrich actually promised to provoke his first Constitutional showdown on his first day in office. He said that he would order the “national security apparatus” to ignore the Supreme Court’s Boumediene decision, which ruled that Guantánamo Bay detainees have the right to challenge their detention in US court.

Gingrich’s plans for Constitutional brinkmanship seem to match too well with his views that were revealed during the House ethics investigation that I discussed in a previous blog entry. The ethics committee’s report cited a Gringich quote that provides worrisome insights into his thinking:

Mr. Gingrich told the New York Times that he acted very aggressively in regard to 501(c)(3) law: ‘Whoa,’ [Mr. Gingrich] said, when asked after class one recent Saturday if the course nears the edge of what the law allows. ‘Goes right up to the edge. What’s the beef? Doesn’t go over the edge, doesn’t break any law, isn’t wrong. It’s aggressive, it’s entrepreneurial, it’s risk taking.’

I find it frightening that a Republican presidential candidate would consider himself, as President, to be far enough above the law that he has promised to defy a Supreme Court ruling. Even more frightening is the idea that 40% of the Republican electorate in South Carolina voted for Gingrich three days after he promised to stage a Constitutional showdown on his first day in office. One can only hope that they weren’t aware of his views on Presidential supremacy.

Gingrich’s current views and past behavior make me think that Republicans would be far wiser to choose Romney, the candidate who seems much more likely to work for change within the scope of our Constitutional system.

#3: Gingrich’s Favorability Ratings Would Hobble Him in General Election

The numbers in the recent New York Times / CBS News Poll clearly indicate that Romney would be a stronger general election candidate than Gingrich.

1. Favorability Scores

Romney scores pretty well among Republican voters on the favorability scale, with favorable = 37% and unfavorable = 19%. Gingrich doesn’t score quite as well among Republicans as Romney, with favorable = 31% and unfavorable = 34%.

However, the real difference comes when you look at the favorability ratings among all registered voters. Romney scores 21% favorable and 35% unfavorable, while Gingrich scores 17% favorable and 49% unfavorable (i.e., Gingrich has a much higher unfavorability percentage and a somewhat lower favorability percentage).

The important point to note here is that, although Romney has a higher unfavorability score among the general electorate than he does among Republicans (not too surprising), Gingrich’s unfavorability scores far surpass Romney’s. In fact, Gingrich was the only Republican candidate with a higher unfavorability score than President Obama himself (who had 45% rate him as unfavorable).

2. Likelihood of Republicans to sit on the sidelines

14% of Republican primary voters said they would not support Gingrich if he becomes their party’s nominee, while only 10% of Republican primary voters said the same of Romney. The numbers are closer here, but Gingrich may do slightly worse than Romney within the Republican party in a general election.

3. Possible Obama-Republican match-ups

Among those surveyed, Romney was the only one of the Republican candidates who would break even with Obama in a head-to-head match (45% Obama vs. 45% Romney).

A Gingrich-Obama match would put Republicans at an 11% deficit (50% Obama vs. 39% Gingrich).

Among all of the Republican candidates, Romney fared best against Obama in the head-to-head contest.

4. Best chance of beating Obama

56% of Republican primary voters said Romney would have the best chance of beating Obama, while only 17% said Gingrich would have the best chance of beating Obama. These numbers tell the same story as Gingrich’s high unfavorability ratings among the general electorate (Republicans believe that Romney is stronger than Gingrich, while non-Republicans view Gingrich with much higher unfavorability than Romney).

5. Business vs. government experience

44% of Republican primary voters said they would prefer a candidate with mostly business experience, while only 12% said they would prefer a candidate with mostly government experience. If independent and swing voters have any of these same sentiments, Republicans may do well to put their money where their mouth is.

Since 56% of everyone surveyed said the economy is the most important issue in the campaign and 54% said they disapprove of the way Obama is handling the economy, the Republican candidate who scores better on the favorability scale could make a very competitive bid for the White House.

Conclusions:

Gingrich clearly succeeded at appealing to a plurality of the Republican party base in South Carolina, but Republicans should be very wary of a candidate who appears slightly more likely than Romney to leave Republicans at home if he becomes the party’s nominee and who appears far less likely than Romney to draw independent and cross-over voters into his camp.

With an unpopular president in the White House, one has to question whether Republicans would be wise to choose as their standard-bearer a man who has an even higher unfavorability rating than the current president.

Why Gingrich Might Not Stand a Skeleton of a Chance in the General Election

I have blogged previously about why I thought Rick Perry would face challenges in a general election battle. However, with Gingrich, I don’t think “challenge” adequately describes the situation Gingrich would face.

I think it is likely that if Republicans choose Gingrich as our standard bearer in the general election, we will then be placed in the disagreeable position of watching our candidate be demolished by Obama. My prediction is that a Gingrich candidacy would see very few cross-over and independent voters casting ballots for him but large numbers of long-time Republicans choosing to sit on the sidelines.

So, here’s my beginning of the top reasons of why I think Republicans should think twice before they cast a ballot for Gingrich.

#4: Gingrich’s attacks on Romney give the impression that he is more of a true opportunist than a true conservative.

Gingrich has described Romney’s involvement in capitalism as “rich people figuring out clever legal ways to loot a company.”

The only problem with that claim is that even Romney’s Republican opponents and liberals are among those who disagree with Gingrich’s characterization. It seems that Rick Perry and Obama campaign staffers were among the few people eager to jump on Gingrich’s anti-capitalism bandwagon.

Ron Paul and Rick Santorum both defended Romney.

One commenter who describes himself as being “on the far left politically” described Romney’s involvement in the turnaround at Bain & Company in highly favorable terms:

In fact, of all the apocryphal stories about [Romney], this is the only one that I am personally aware of that tells me that he might actually be a credible president. I think the Dems would be wise to stay clear of this particular episode.

Even NPR – not exactly a bastion of conservatism – ran a story largely favorable of Romney, in which Steven Kaplan – a university professor and expert on private equity – is quoted as describing Gingrich’s charges as “ridiculous”:

Looting a company and destroying a company does not create value…. At the end of the day, in order to make money, you have to sell the company to somebody, and if the company … has been looted and is unproductive, nobody is going to buy it.

NPR wasn’t alone in providing a review of the Bain attacks that was sympathetic to Romney. The Washington Post gave the highest possible score for dishonesty to the “King of Bain” video created by a pro-Gingrich super PAC … four pinocchios.

Only one of the four case studies [in the video] directly involves Romney and his decision-making, while at least two are completely off point. The manipulative way the interviews appeared to have been gathered for the UniMac segment alone discredits the entire film.

On the other hand, Obama’s deputy campaign manager was quick to jump on the anti-Bain bandwagon and said:

“President Obama – who, like Mitt Romney, earned a degree from Harvard and all the opportunities that affords – began his career helping jobless workers in the shadow of a closed-down steel mill. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, made millions closing down steel mills.”

Another Obama campaign staffer relished Republicans dog-piling on Romney and making Democratic attacks on Bain appear more credible and less partisan:

I would have preferred to wait, yes, to keep the bottle of whup-ass fresher,’ one Obama campaign strategist told TPM. ‘At the same time — and this is important to note — having the Republicans eat their own actually makes the Bain story more potent than we ever could because it instantly validates it as a line of attack and falls on independent ears as a matter of legitimate debate, not as a partisan line of attack.

With Gingrich using Obama’s playbook, my only question is: how would Gingrich prefer that Romney had made his money?

One can only presume that if Romney had made his millions in an honorable way – such as consulting for Freddie Mac – that would have left Romney above reproach in Gingrich’s eyes.

At least to me, Gingrich accusing Romney of opportunism during his tenure at Bain – in addition to being inaccurate – is kind of like a laser accusing a rainbow of being monochromatic.