Original Source and Copyright: The Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics
Presidential stage newcomer Scott Walker, the conservative reform pit bull who inspired death threats from the left, has become the one to watch in the race for the Republican nomination a year out from the Iowa caucuses.
At 15 percentage points, he leads a big, tightly packed field of potential contenders in a new Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics Iowa Poll of likely Republican caucusgoers. The caucuses are scheduled for Feb. 1, 2016.
The Wisconsin governor is also the No. 2 most popular choice for likely caucusgoers who want an establishment candidate, and he’s the No. 2 for those who want an anti-establishment candidate, the poll shows.
“He’s in a sweet spot,” pollster J. Ann Selzer said. “People who don’t want an ultra-conservative think he’s OK. People who don’t want a moderate think he’s OK.”
Just one point behind is Rand Paul, a U.S. senator from Kentucky and the son of three-time presidential candidate Ron Paul, a hero to dissidents who want to shake up government. Paul draws support from the same anti-establishment well.
Rounding out the top tier are Mitt Romney, the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee; Mike Huckabee, the 2008 winner of the Iowa caucuses; Ben Carson, a best-selling author and famed brain surgeon; and Jeb Bush, a relative to two past presidents.
The day after polling wrapped up, Romney announced he’s out of the competition. When the numbers in this poll are shuffled by giving Romney’s votes to the contenders his supporters named as their second-choice pick, the five others in the top tier gain support.
Huckabee, a former TV commentator and two-term Arkansas governor, benefits the most, picking up 3 percentage points. The pecking order doesn’t shift, though.
For the bottom tier, the horse race ranking shifts slightly without Romney in the mix. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie moves up a notch to tie with Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz for sixth place. Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania stays in eighth. Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio climbs one spot into ninth, followed by former Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is next, followed by a three-way tie among TV star and real estate developer Donald Trump, former computer company CEO Carly Fiorina and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence doesn’t register on poll respondents’ radar.
Sophisticated campaign operatives will now decide which candidate they have to topple for their candidate to rise and begin targeting them with negative information, said Katie Packer Gage, a Washington, D.C.-based strategist who was deputy campaign manager for Romney in 2012.
“This is where campaigns start to matter,” Gage said. “Huckabee will go hard after Santorum. Jeb and Christie will go to war. Cruz and Paul will figure out that they have to take Carson down, then each other.”
The poll of 402 likely Republican caucusgoers was conducted Jan. 26-29 by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
Historically, caucusgoers have rewarded those who show up in Iowa and get involved in early activist conversations. Six months after the 2012 election, Walker gave a political speech in Iowa, then shunned 2016 activities to focus on winning re-election as governor in Wisconsin in fall 2014.
Last weekend, he made his big debut as a potential presidential contender, delivering a forceful speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit that elated the audience. Extensive national media coverage billed Walker as the best of show among nine potential candidates who spoke at the summit.
“He got a big bounce,” Selzer said.
Walker’s support has jumped 11 points since the last Iowa Poll. In October, only 4 percent of likely caucusgoers named Walker as their first choice for president.
Meanwhile, Romney’s support in the Iowa horse race tumbled 4 points, from 17 percent to 13 percent.
The trinity of big establishment contenders all saw feelings toward them sour since the last poll. The percentage of likely caucusgoers who view Romney favorably slid 8 percentage points since October. Bush, the only one of the three who hasn’t yet come to Iowa since the 2012 election, dropped 4 points, and Christie 3 points.
At the same time, the favorability rating for Walker has climbed 11 percentage points; Carson, 9; Huckabee, 7; Cruz, 6; Santorum, 5; and Paul, 5, the new poll shows.
“The candidates perceived as more conservative are not only leading but are gaining,” GOP strategist Vin Weber, a former Minnesota congressman, noted after looking over the results.
Electability is secondary for these likely caucusgoers, the poll found.
Sixty percent say it’s more important to vote for the person who aligns with their values, even if that candidate isn’t electable, compared with 36 percent who say winning the White House for Republicans is more important.
A majority 51 percent of likely GOP caucusgoers, would prefer an anti-establishment candidate without a lot of ties to Washington or Wall Street who would change the way things are done and challenge conventional thinking. That compares to 43 percent who think the better leader would be a mainstream establishment candidate with executive experience who understands business and how to execute ideas, the new poll shows.
For respondents who say they want an establishment candidate, Romney is their first choice. With Romney out of the picture, Walker leads. Huckabee is next, then Bush.
The vote share is spread thinly across the 16 contenders, but with a large field, the Iowa caucuses could be won with less than 20 percent, political strategists say.
Look at the extremes in the favorability ratings for clues about what the future might hold, Gage said.
It’s bad news for Trump: 32 percent say their opinion of him is “very” unfavorable, the worst in the bunch. Christie’s number is the next worst, with 22 percent who view him very negatively, and Bush is next, at 18 percent.
In contrast, Walker has the highest percentage saying they feel “very” positively about him 32 percent. No one else tops 30 percent on that score.
“The passion is in the ‘very favorable’ and ‘very unfavorable,’ ” Gage said. “Everyone else is movable.”
About the poll
The Iowa Poll, conducted Jan. 26-29 for The Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, is based on phone interviews with 401 registered Iowa voters who say they definitely or probably will attend the 2016 Democratic caucuses and 402 registered voters who say they definitely or probably will attend the 2016 Republican caucuses.
Interviewers contacted 3,813 randomly selected active voters from the Iowa secretary of state’s voter registration list by telephone. Responses were adjusted by age, sex and congressional district to reflect all active voters in the voter registration list.
Questions based on the subsamples of 401 likely Democratic caucus attendees and 402 likely Republican caucus attendees have a maximum margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points. This means that if this survey were repeated using the same questions and the same methodology, 19 times out of 20, the findings would no
t vary from the percentages shown here by more than plus or minus 4.9 percentage points. Results based on smaller samples of respondents, such as by gender or age, have a larger margin of error.