If Gallup’s newly-released poll looking at the GOP presidential field tells us anything about the current mood of Republican voters, it’s that despite the GOP base's much-publicized outrage over the nation's lack of fiscal restraint, they’re not terribly focused on candidates with strong records of limiting government spending. None of the top three candidates—Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, and Mike Huckabee—have particularly distinguished themselves as serious government cutters. As governor of Arkansas, for example, Huckabee allowed state spending to rise by 65 percent, raised the average tax burden by 47 percent, and expanded the state’s government workforce by 20 percent. Romney, meanwhile, presided over the creation of Massachusetts’ over-budget, subsidy-and-mandate-driven health care system, which served as a model for ObamaCare. And while Palin has dabbled in limited government rhetoric, her main role on the national stage has been as a culture-war lighting rod.
And the fourth-place candidate, Newt Gingrich, isn’t much better. He’s tried at times to portray himself as a policy entrepreneur—a Republican ideas man who is serious about governance. But he also has a reputation as a say-anything-for-attention political opportunist, which seems to be the character he’s been playing lately while talking up Dinesh D’Souza’s "hackneyed psychological theory" that Obama’s liberalism stems from a “Kenyan, anti-colonial” worldview.
To find a candidate with any demonstrated record of fiscal restraint, you have to drop down to the five spot, with Ron Paul, who picked up seven percent of the respondents. Further down the charts, Indiana governor Mitch Daniels garnered only two percent, and New Jersey governor Chris Christie and former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson got just one percent each.
How much does this actually mean for the 2012 election? This far out, the answer is probably not much. It’s still early, so polls are arguably measuring name recognition as much as actual support for the potential candidates’ records. It's telling, though, especially because Republican leadership seems to be singing much the same tune—feigning interest in small government while sidestepping the root causes of the country's dire fiscal situation.