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November 22 2019

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Sir Robert Worcester, founder of pollsters MORI, continues his running analysis of the presidential candidates
December 13, 2011            Sir Robert Worcester

Sir Robert Worcester
Sir Robert Worcester, photo courtesy LSE
Each month over the next year I will be summarising, here on The American's website and in the magazine, where the American Presidential election is, as it heads toward Tuesday, November 6, 2012.

So now it's Herman Cain who bites the dust. Or might he surface in July next year as the running mate, i.e. vice presidential candidate, on the Republican ticket? If so, with whom? And who else among the fallen hopefuls fits with which eventual contender for the top slot against Obama?

I found no less than 52 hopefuls for my article in October, and now it appears there's only two, or possibly three. Sure? No, there must be a better choice for the Grand Old Party than former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, now in first place, and Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts.

The table below shows just how volatile the race has so far been. One after another have fallen, first Sarah Palin in the Spring, then Romney who peaked at 25% support of Republican voters in July, then Rick Perry who soared to 32% in September and then crashed, then Cain who hit 26% in October, and who's now toast.

Newt Gingrich, Photo: Gage Skidmore
Surprise GOP leader Newt Gingrich, Photo: Gage Skidmore
So what's now the lay of the land across America as we get the first of the polls in December? The national front runner today is Newt Gingrich, a politician whom I'd written off a few months ago. Three times wed and an admitted adulterer with a record of being fined $300,000 for giving 'inaccurate statements' to the House of Representatives' Ethics Committee, Gingrich is now leading Mitt Romney, a Mormon, in a country where nearly a quarter of voters say they will never vote for a Mormon, while one potential Republican candidate after another talked herself (Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann) and then himself (Tim Pawlenty, Rick Perry and now Herman Cain and many others) out of the running.

But as the attention turns to 'real people casting real votes' (as politicians love saying when they're behind in the polls) we must now focus on the early state races.

With the Iowa caucus less than a month away, immediately followed a week later by the first true test, the New Hampshire primary, the dropouts are busy positioning themselves as the pollsters begin to test the strength of matched pairs of Republicans to go to the wire next November against the Democratic ticket of Barack Obama and, most likely, Joe Biden. We won't know for sure who the candidates for president will choose as their VP partner until the party conventions in the summer.

Iowa is not a primary where voters go into polling booths and swing one lever on the electronic voting machine to choose their favourite candidate. Party supporters meet in people's front rooms in small groups. Supporters of one candidate or another gather in one corner of the room or another, and argue their support for their man or woman. And there will be some who chose to sit in the kitchen, figuratively speaking. They are the 'don't knows/none of the above/haven't focused yets'. A few will still be holding out for one of the many candidates no longer on the ballot, and may well sit on their hands on January 3 and not vote, or more likely vote for the one they find least offensive.

At the moment the field is narrowing to a handful of candidates to be tested in less than a month in Iowa. The lead is held by Newt Gingrich at around 33% to Romney's 21%, but with Congressman Ron Paul tied with Herman Cain at 12%, it will be interesting to see where Cain's votes go now that he's out of the race. Cain's dramatic surge in support came largely from Tea Party supporters of Palin, who had peaked at 31%. Bachmann peaked at 14%, Cain at 14%, lately the fading Tea Party's favourite to beat the comparatively moderate Romney. As a black to try to win over the solid black supporters who made up 11% of voters in 2008 with 19 out of 20 of them voting for Obama, Cain's a strong contender, but would twice–admitted adulterer Gingrich want multi–accused Cain as his vice–presidential candidate?

For that matter, would anyone want Sarah Palin? Sure they want her endorsement, which has recently been trying to boost Rick Santorum's standing, languishing with just between 2% (New Hampshire) 3% (nationally), and 5% (Iowa). She leaped to fame as John McCain's running mate in 2008, and since then is mainly known as a rent–a–mouth on late night chat shows. She certainly wouldn't do any better bringing in the women's vote in 2012 than she did in 2008. The swing among all voters between 2004, when the Republican candidates for president and vice president were two men and 2010, was 5%. In 2008, one man and one woman's (McCain and Palin's), swing nationally was 5%, and among women also 5%.

Jon Huntsman, former Governor of Utah, with service in no less than five administrations and recently Obama's Ambassador to China (a very big job indeed for a man who originally worked in Ronald Reagan's White House) is in my view the best qualified vice–presidential candidate. Yet he can only muster a couple of points nationally, and is from a safe Republican state so fails to bring any big block of marginal states delegates to the ticket, and besides, he is a Mormon. He's death to a Romney ticket, so Gingrich's nominee, maybe, could be a runner.

New England New Hampshire is a very different place than Middle America Iowa, and so is its political composition. While Gingrich leads Romney (by 13 points) in Iowa, the situation is reversed in New Hampshire, where Romney is leading Gingrich by 23. Romney has a substantial war chest and a well organised campaign team with offices and volunteers throughout New Hampshire. Gingrich is less well funded but catching up fast, and just building his local campaign, in a state in which the local campaign catches the national attention big time and is flooded with cameras, news reporters, feature writers and pundits. They sometimes say to pollsters and media in New Hampshire that their reason for not voting for one candidate or another is that they haven't met him yet. Likely Republican voters are making up their minds as to who they think should be their candidate, with 82% giving a choice among the eight front runners in September, 85% in October, and 87% in November. My next month's column will be written the day after Iowa, and before New Hampshire, and I'll be updating it and tweeting on the weekend following @RobertWorcester

Rank End Sept Rank Early Nov Rank Early Dec Change Candidate Position RCP % Oct 5 RCP % Nov 6 RCP % Dec 12
9 3 1 +2 Newt Gingrich Former Speaker 9 12 33
1 2 2 = Mitt Romney Former Governor, Michigan 23 22 21
3 1 3 –2 Herman Cain Georgia Entrepreneur 14 25 12
4 5 4 +1 Ron Paul Congressman, Texas 7 8 10
2 4 5 –1 Rick Perry Governor, Texas 20 10 7
7 6 6 = Michele Bachmann Congresswomen, Minnesota 5 3 5
N/R 8 7 +1 Rick Santorum Senator, Pennsylvania N/R 2 4
6 7 8 –1 Jon Huntsman Former Governor, Utah 2 1 2
N/R Not Rated in www.realclearpolitics.com average of recent polls (18.11.11 to 10.12.11) which included polls from Gallup, CBS, NBC, ABC, Rasmussen and Fox (further details on their web sites)

Other sources are available via the Internet, most biased, but a few dead straight. www.realclearpolitics.com must be primus inter pares to which I owe a huge obligation now and certainly in 2008, the last time we had the excitement and wide–spread interest in the American election and its outcome throughout the world. I recommend it to you to update my stats and references if you want to pick up the thread and update my poll references. Other useful sites include www.fivethirtyeight.com, politics.betfair.com, www7.politicalbetting.com, www.electoral-vote.com and others, plus the media sites of course, led by www.nyt.com.

I promise to do my best as a political scientist, a practicing pollster in Britain and practicing political consultant in several other countries, to call it as I see it, unbiased and independent, while stating for the record that I have in the past been active in Democrats Abroad (as DA (UK) vice president, back in the 70s, and a member of the delegation for the Carter Convention in 1976). I founded MORI in 1969, and for 18 years did the private polling for the Labour Party. I have since worked for the Tories under Margaret Thatcher, the Liberal Democrats, even the Referendum Party (once only, and then fired my client) and other fringe parties, and for candidates for Mayor of London campaigns, first Jeffrey Archer then Ken Livingstone.

Sir Robert Worcester may be better known to you as Bob Worcester, one of the most knowledgeable and influential psephologists in the world. A Kansas City native, he is the founder of the MORI polling and research organisation and the best known pollster in the UK. Follow him on Twitter @RobertWorcester

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