OK, so the author actually said “it’s probably just flat impossible…,” but that didn’t sound as good in the title line. And I added the parenthetical reference to Romney because the quote is from a pollster who was drawing conclusions about Romney from his poll data.
The point is this: GOP voters are getting much more conservative, which portends trouble for Romney, who is perceived as more moderate than other potential 2012 Republican presidential nominees.
Tom Jensen at Public Policy Polling compares 2008 exit polling data in 6 states with new polls of likely Republican voters in the same states going into 2012 and concludes that GOP voters are getting much more conservative:
- “2008 exit polls showed that conservatives accounted for anywhere from 56 to 68% of the primary voters in these states. Our polls for 2012 find that range to be from 70% to 77%.”
- “Liberals have become completely extinct in the Republican Party…9% of primary voters…still identified themselves as liberals even in 2008. That figure is all the way down to 2.5% on these polls.”
- “On average the percentage of GOP primary voters identifying themselves as conservatives in 2008 was 63%. Now it's 73%.”
These results need to be tested by others. But one thing seems clear: the rightward shift of the GOP electorate is not helping Romney. PPP’s results show that Republican voters are simply unenthused by him compared to candidates perceived as more conservative.
Our Republican Panel, which surveys a large national pool of Republicans each week, shows similar results in a slightly different way.
While 70% of those we polled say Romney’s a proven leader, when asked if he’s the kind of leader America needs right now, only 42% said yes. Voters clearly appreciate Romney’s leadership experience, but that does not translate into enthusiasm about him as President. Only 23% say he’s more electable than other potential candidates. And a majority say that he is either out of touch with ordinary voters or they aren't sure - leaving a minority who believe that he can relate to average Americans.
UPDATE: Philip Klein at the American Spectator picks up on this PPP post this morning, as well, and writes that even if the GOP is trending conservative, that "still doesn't answer the question -- who is going to beat Romney? Tim Pawlenty? Sarah Palin? Newt Gingrich? Mike Huckabee? As long as conservatives are fighting over the answer to that question, Romney can sneak in."
Klein voices a concern that rolling back Obamacare becomes a lot more difficult if Romney wins - a view I share. But I'm less worried about Romney "sneaking in." Why? Because conservative voters have some very clear ideas about policy changes they want, and in the end, it will be the candidate who best articulates a vision for those objectives.
Along with showing a lukewarm embrace of Romney among conservatives, our poll this week shows that even fairly pessimistic middle class voters want tax relief in a big way, corporate tax relief, an environment favorable to small business, healthcare reform, and entitlement reform. They don't care much about unemployment insurance or making the rich pay their fair share. In other words, they have pretty conservative policy views. We know from previous polling we've done that repealing Obamacare is a big motivator for conservatives as a whole.
So the question about splitting up the conservative vote seems to reflect a partially valid concern, in my opinion, but it's ultimately an incomplete question. The 2012 primary will also be about which candidate can consistently and persuasively address these multiple concerns and interests that conservative voters have. Romney doesn't stand apart from the group as the one moderate versus all the conservatives. He'll be one among a larger group being asked where he stands. I personally think that will be an uphill climb for him.