January 13th, 2012

Is Romney down in South Carolina polls?

One would think so from the news:

From an article entitled “Romney Slipping in South Carolina, holds just 2-point lead over Gingrich” [emphasis mine]:

Despite a historic sweep of the first two nominating contests in the GOP field, Mitt Romney holds just a two percentage-point lead in South Carolina, his smallest lead of 2012.

Romney is the favorite of 23 percent of South Carolina voters, narrowly edging Newt Gingrich’s 21 percent, according to the latest poll from Insider Advantage…

The numbers could indicate that Gingrich’s aggressive strategy — which has included controversial attacks on Romney’s business and abortion records — is gaining him traction by hurting the GOP front-runner.

In the three other major South Carolina polls completed in the new year, Romney was earning 37 percent, 27 percent and 30 percent, according to Real Clear Politics — meaning his 23 percent in the latest poll marks a precipitous decline.

And from an article entitled “Gingrich Surging in South Carolina” we have [emphasis mine]:

The InsiderAdvantage poll of South Carolina likely Republican primary voters shows Newt Gingrich surging.

There’s plenty more where that came from—article after article. But I like to do research, and my research tells me something interesting about Romney’s support in South Carolina, and especially that particular pollster’s (“Insider Advantage”) figures.

Take a look and you’ll see that this is Romney’s record in South Carolina in previous Insider Advantage polls:

10/16/11
Romney 16
Gingrich 8 [this was before Gingrich's boomlet when Cain ran into trouble]

11/8/11
Romney 16
Gingrich 19 [this was about a week after the Cain sexual harassment story broke]

11/28/11
Romney 15
Gingrich 38 [this was very shortly before Cain dropped out of the race]

12/18/11
Romney 19
Gingrich 31

1/11/12
Romney 23
Gingrich 21

If you study the South Carolina poll results over time—and not just the Insider Advantage polls, either—you’ll see that Gingrich owned South Carolina from the time Cain started to fade until right after Iowa, a period of a little over two months. Then Romney came into a brief (about a week long) ascendancy, a post-Iowa bounce—but not in any Insider Advantage poll, because none were taken in South Carolina by that pollster post-Iowa till now. The previous most recent Insider Advantage poll in South Carolina (December 18) showed Newt with a commanding lead over Romney; the new Insider Advantage poll there shows gains for Romney and losses for Gingrich.

So who’s “surging,” and who’s dropping “precipitously?” One could just as easily make a case that the answer is the opposite of what all the stories allege, because the stories are comparing apples and oranges—the Insider Advantage polls with other polls—and haven’t paid attention to the trends over time.

Now it’s certainly possible that Gingrich will be surging in South Carolina, and that Romney is dropping precipitously. Attack ads often work. And of course, polls are hardly a perfect measure of anything. But they’re the best measure we have of public sentiment leading up to an election, and these polls show that Romney was never popular in South Carolina until the beginning of January (after Iowa), and we have no after-Iowa Insider Advantage polls with which to compare the latest results.

By the way, how reliable is Insider Advantage as a pollster? I dug up some old polls for comparison and (for example) on December 18, 2011, Insider Advantage had Romney “imploding” in Iowa:

GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney’s decision to campaign negatively in Iowa appears to have backfired, with a new Newsmax-InsiderAdvantage poll showing the former Massachusetts governor plummeting to fourth place in the Hawkeye State — a swift decline that pollster Matt Towery [of Insider Advantage] describes as “imploding.”

Romney’s lead in New Hampshire is evaporating as well, Towery adds.

If you look at other polls around that same time in New Hampshire, you’ll see the Insider Advantage is an outlier, understating Romney’s total compared to the other polls. And then there’s this from Nate Silver, one of the few writers who seems to have done his homework:

InsiderAdvantage has a mixed track record and rates fairly poorly in the FiveThrityEight pollster ratings, which is one reason to interpret these numbers with some care. In addition, Matt Towery, the head of InsiderAdvantage, formerly served as the head of Mr. Gingrich’s political organization from 1992 until Mr. Gingrich left Congress.

Let me repeat, because I want to make it crystal clear: this post isn’t about trying to prove that Romney’s doing well in South Carolina right now. I await further polls on this; I really don’t know. My point is the odd spin so many in the media have given this particular Insider Advantage poll, and their lack of ability and/or desire to look at the bigger picture.

[NOTE: I want to point out the clever little way in which the Justin Sink, the author of the very first article I quote in the post, tries to subtly guide the reader when he writes "[Romney's] smallest lead of 2012.” It is certainly true, but how many readers will stop to think that 2012 is not even 2 weeks old? How many will go back and see that, for several recent months in 2011 and right up till January of 2012, Romney didn’t lead in South Carolina at all, Gingrich did?]

19 Responses to “Is Romney down in South Carolina polls?”

  1. Artfldgr Says:

    When tired of your own navel, gaze at others…

  2. Tesh Says:

    The biggest problem in this country still seems to be the people doing the voting. Sure, the media and politicians are leading them around, but the voters seem perfectly willing to be bamboozled. Voting is a responsibility too many take lightly.

  3. Mr. Frank Says:

    Rasmussen (Jan 12) has Romney up by 7 on Gingrich.

  4. davisbr Says:

    Artfldgr Says:
    January 13th, 2012 at 3:33 pm
    When tired of your own navel, gaze at others…

    LOL.

  5. Wolla Dalbo Says:

    Over the decades, I occasionally worked with the experts in our “polling section” at the Federal think tank I was doing research at–looking for and at particular polls, and chatting with these people who were supposed to be very knowledgeable about them.

    What i took from all of this was that, by carefully picking the group to be polled, by deciding what questions you asked, by how you worded them, and the order in which you asked them, you could elicit pretty much any result you wished.

    Then, of course, there was the further issue, of how these polls-often several pages long, with dozens of questions and answers–were interpreted and presented by the people who administered them, or by the media, and which questions and answers were highlighted and which were just never mentioned.

    So, I trust polls not at all.

  6. Wolla Dalbo Says:

    About as “scientific” and truthful as rolling “loaded” dice.

  7. holmes Says:

    They’re not promoting Gingrich as much as the whole horserace. What will the media do if Romney has this wrapped up after South Carolina and Florida? Report on how awful the economy is despite their most favorite candidate of all time being in office?

  8. I R A Darth Aggie Says:

    Remember when pundits accused the GOP of abandoning its big tent–the one big enough to include a broad diversity of views? You can kiss that meme goodbye. This year’s presidential candidates span the political spectrum. They are both pro-abortion and anti-abortion. They have both embraced and opposed bans on assault weapons. They have both accepted and rejected the idea of human-induced climate change, both promoted and derided a government takeover of health care, supported both amnesty for illegal aliens and building a giant wall on the border.

    And that’s just Mitt Romney. We haven’t even touched on the rest of the field yet.

    Stolen shamelessly from reason.

  9. Parker Says:

    I agree with Tesh, our fellow citizens keep voting for the same politicians who promise them everything and then tax, spend, borrow, tax, spend, and borrow some more. Now the federal debt is 100+% of GDP and a significant % of that GDP is money borrowed from the day after tomorrow to pay for what was consumed yesterday.

  10. From The Battles, A War Forms – Religious Folks Best Armor Up! | Article VI Blog | John Schroeder Says:

    [...] and here.  (If the latest polling is to be believed this apparent rift cannot amount to much, and people are beginning to catch on to the press’ game here.)  Some of it is strange, examples here and here.  Some [...]

  11. Wolla Dalbo Says:

    We are told that a large majority of those on the Right–the figure mentioned is often 75% in the case of Romney– are dissatisfied with the current lot of candidates and, in reality, it seems not one of them–with the exception of Paul who is unelectable– is offering particularly radical solutions for drastically cutting the size, cost, and intrusion of government, for getting our economy going, bringing millions of unemployed workers back into our economy, and getting our economic house in order.

    With all of this apparent dissatisfaction out there, how come none of the “real” conservatives–Sarah Palin comes to mind–have jumped into the fray, and offered themselves as candidates?

    If you say that none have jumped in because they think they can’t win, or that they fear being chewed up by the process, I am wondering at what point patriotism, the horrendous shape we rare in and the obvious needs of the country trump personal comfort.

  12. Wolla Dalbo Says:

    Come to think of it, it is very surprising, when you think that, despite a sky high real unemployment rate of around 17%, and an estimated 25 million people out of work, underemployed, or who have quit even looking for work and edging up to 50 million people on food stamps–the candidates, to a man, have not and are not hammering away on the theme of jobs virtually 24/7—always, in every town hall, every interview, every editorial they write, every “debate” bringing the discussion back around to jobs and the economy.

    Yes, there is Bain and “creative destruction,” but that is still not a solid, full -bore campaign, single-mindedly and almost wholly centered and focused on the issue of jobs. It seems to me that if candidates wanted to generate interest and enthusiasm and gather more votes, this would what they would be doing and saying. Bu,t they really haven’t done this to any great extent commensurate with the urgency and size of the problem.

    No one is really running a campaign whose strong, explicit, crystal clear, central theme is “You want to work again? Elect me, and I will get the economy moving again–and strongly–and there will be plenty of jobs again.”

  13. Wolla Dalbo Says:

    P.S.–I’m not talking about just sound bite slogans like “I can get this economy moving again.”

    I am talking about a much more substantial, easily understood plan and explanation, a whole industrial and economic policy really and, if its out there, I haven’t heard it from any of the candidates.

  14. Don Carlos Says:

    The Federal interest paid annually to China will cover ALL of the Chinese military’s costs by 2015.

  15. J.J. formerly Jimmy J. Says:

    Wolla Dalbo said, “I am talking about a much more substantial, easily understood plan and explanation, a whole industrial and economic policy really and, if its out there, I haven’t heard it from any of the candidates.”

    Government does not create private sector jobs – only government jobs. The President and Congress can set the conditions where the private sector will have confidence in the future and be willing to invest and expand again.

    I have heard all the candidates mention what they would do. Such as:
    1. Rein in government spending. This makes more capital available to the private sector and lowers the expectations for higher taxes.
    2. Unleash our oil and gas exploration industry. This lowers energy costs throughout the economy as well as unleashing capital investment and hiring in oil and gas and susidiary industries. It is like a tax cut, but has a greater multiplier effect.
    3. Quit jawboning against business and profit and start cutting stifling regulation. This creates more confidence among businessmen. Business confidence has been destroyed by Obama’s attitude and full speed ahead regulation production.
    4. Get rid of Obamacare, which is a huge disincentive and cost for businesses.
    5. Put nationwide tort reform in place such as has been done in Texas. Reducing the threat of frivolous law suits frees up capital for expansion.
    6. Make some changes to Medicare and Social Security that will lower the cost of the future payouts. Romney has mentioned that he likes Paul Ryan’s plan and I think the others have praised ( to some extent) that approach as well. The sooner these two programs are made fiscally sound, the smaller the eventual reductions in benefits willl have to be. And the more confident that people willl be in the future.
    7. Allow corporations to repatriate their overseas cash without paying 35% taxes. As an example, Apple has $trillion$ sitting in overseas accounts. There are many others with stranded cash. Lets get the capital back here where it can be used to create more jobs.

    Those steps don’t sound like much, but they would completely change the atmosphere for business in the country – changing a very cautious, head down, take no risks atmosphere into one where businesses and entrepeneurs are willing to take risks again. In fact, I anticipate that just electing a Republican President and majority Republican Congress in November would, by itself, have a huge positive influence on business confidence.

  16. Wolla Dalbo Says:

    J.J.–I have certainly heard these proposals too,and mostly, really, from Santorum, but my point was that these proposals have to be hammered home, have to be the central focus of a candidate’s platform that he talks up–without fail–at every opportunity, and this clarity and consistent, intense focus on jobs is what is not coming through to me from any of the candidates but, rather, bumper sticker slogans, bald assertions in the form of “I can do it”, and references to 50 or 100 page plans you can access online.

    I am afraid, in today’s short attention span world, this diffuse approach just ain’t gonna cut it.

    I would imagine that if someone who wants and needs to work is unemployed–with no prospect of a job anytime soon, can’t make his mortgage, or car, or tuition payments, or maybe even buy the necessary diapers or food, he would focus in like a laser on any candidate who very clearly and, at every opportunity, told him just exactly how he proposed to get the economy, not just “going again” but “roaring,” to bring millions of unemployed or underemployed workers back into the workforce, and to even expand the work force and start America growing again.

    I just haven’t heard this so far.

    There is no real excitement–or optimism or hope. Its just like the candidates aren’t even very excited about the challenges ahead, but are just going through the motions.

    So far, it has been about as exciting as listening to Wayne Newton sing Danke Schoen for the thousandth time.

  17. neo-neocon Says:

    Wolla Dalbo: well, if people such as Sarah Palin really are convinced they can’t win, then I don’t see how patriotism would dictate they jump into the fray. Their entry would just take votes from other conservative candidates, wouldn’t it? And to what avail? Wouldn’t they be spoilers? In fact, if they really think that they themselves could not win and others of the conservative persuasion could, wouldn’t they have a patriotic duty to refrain from entering the fray?

  18. Wolla Dalbo Says:

    Neo–I hate to admit it, but ou make a good point.I f things are as you argue then, it would seem, the best role for people like Palin would be to endorse those candidates best able to win .

  19. J.J. formerly Jimmy J. Says:

    Wolla Dalbo said,
    “I just haven’t heard this so far.

    There is no real excitement–or optimism or hope. Its just like the candidates aren’t even very excited about the challenges ahead, but are just going through the motions.”

    Well, my hearing must be faulty or I’m projecting my sense of things onto the candidates. The only negativity I hear is from Ron Paul and many commenters here (not you, though) who, for whatever reason project that the situation is hopeless if we can’t elect someone who reflects the perfect conservative philosophy.

    I watched Romney’s New Hampshire speech and I heard (or was I only projecting?) most of the ideas I mentioned above. As well as a sense of optimism that things can be turned around with the right policies. Obama’s policies have been so negative for the economy that any new President who merely made said something to the effect that the business of America is business and that his government is going to get out of the way, would create a huge wave of new confidence. Maybe I’m just projecting my beliefs on the candidates. Obviously we are not hearing the same message.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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