According to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, Newt Gingrich (33 percent), Ron Paul (18 percent), and Mitt Romney (18 percent) lead the pack among likely Iowa Republican caucus goers.
The poll also asked which candidate best reflect a series of positive characteristics: Ron Paul trumps the others on honesty, with 23 percent compared to only 13 percent who selected Gingrich and 12 percent who selected Romney. Paul is also nearly tied with Gingrich on best understanding the problems that matter to Iowa voters, and on standing up for what he believes is right. However, Gingrich trumps Romney and Paul on experience, ability to beat President Obama, and reflecting core values of the Republican Party.
Taking a step back, Ron Paul looks pretty good. He’s viewed as the most honest, one of the best at understanding the problems that Iowa voters care about, and standing up for what he believes is right. It sounds like this candidate should be winning.
Yet the poll also revealed some of Paul's potential weaknesses: These same Iowa Republican likely caucus-goers perceive that Paul may not represent the GOP coalition very well, may have difficulty winning in the primaries, and might not fare well against Barack Obama in a general election. (Only 8 percent of Iowa Republican likely caucus-goers thought Paul was best able to beat Obama.)
But the power structure of the GOP has arguably shifted with the emergence of the Tea Party and other ardent advocates of limited government, largely at the expense of values voters and establishment Republicans. Perhaps Iowa caucus goers are confusing today’s GOP for the outmoded GOP coalition of yesteryear. This could explain why they perceive a candidate who leads the pack at understanding the problems they care about as also being simultaneously out of step with the GOP coalition.
Although these Iow voters are unsure of Paul's chances of beating Obama in a general election, a recent NBC News/Marist Poll reveals that among all Iowa registered voters, not just caucus-goers, Paul is the only GOP candidate who does not lose to Obama in a hypothetical match up. In contrast, Gingrich loses by 10 percent and Romney loses by 7 percent, while Paul is dead even.
In another NBC News/Marist poll among all registered New Hampshire voters, Paul is within the margin of error, coming within 2 percent of beating Obama in a hypothetical match up. Gingrich again loses by 10 percent while Romney edges past Obama by only 3 percent.
In sum, among registered Iowa voters Paul appears to have the best shot at beating Obama. However, among Iowa Republican likely caucus-goers, only 8 percent believe Paul has the best chance of beating Obama. Moreover, among registered New Hampshire voters, Paul has the second best chance of beating Obama, second only to Romney, and even then only marginally.
Based on this data, it is not obvious that Paul is less electable than either Gingrich or Romney. So the question remains as to why Iowa Republican caucus-goers continue to perceive Paul as unelectable at the same time that Paul is doing well in hypothetical match-ups with President Obama.
If the 2012 presidential election were held today, whom would you support if the candidates are:
If the Republican caucus were being held today, and the candidates were...who would you support? Which candidate are you leaning toward?
Regardless of who you may support, which of the Republican candidates do you think...?
- best understands the problems of people like you
- is the most honest and trustworthy
- has the best experience to be president
- has the best chance to defeat Barack Obama in the general election
- best reflects the core values of the Republican Party
- is most likely to stand up for what he or she believes in