Romney Rolls in Florida Despite Gingrich's Previous Debate Mastery
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With the Presidential Preference Primary looming on Tuesday, Mitt Romney holds a solid lead over the Republican presidential pack in Florida, according to a Sunshine State News Poll of likely primary voters.
Romney tops the poll, which was conducted by Harrisburg, Pa.-based Voter Survey Service (VSS), with 40 percent. When he ran in the 2008 presidential primary, Romney placed second in Florida, taking 31 percent and winning 18 of the 67 counties in the Sunshine State. Newt Gingrich places second with 31 percent. Rick Santorum takes third with 12 percent followed by Ron Paul with 9 percent. One percent of those surveyed back other candidates while 6 percent remain undecided.
When the poll is recalculated with undecided voters who are leaning toward candidates, Romney takes 42 percent followed by Gingrich with 32 percent, while Santorum stays at 12 percent and Paul retains the backing of 9 percent.
“Romney continues to lead by 10 points over Gingrich when you factor in the undecided voters who are leaning toward a candidate,” James Lee, the president of VSS, told Sunshine State News on Thursday. “Among ‘excellent’ voters, including those who have already voted, Romney’s lead is 8 points. Given the tough couple of weeks Romney has had, you’d have to conclude he’s Teflon.”
Earlier in the month, a Sunshine State News/VSS poll found Romney taking 46 percent followed by Gingrich with 20 percent, Santorum with 12 percent and Paul with 9 percent.
Romney is also seen by Florida Republicans as the candidate with the best chance to defeat incumbent Democrat President Barack Obama in November. Forty-five percent of those surveyed think Romney has the best chance of knocking off Obama. Thirty-three percent believe Gingrich has the best chance of winning. Eight percent think Santorum has the best chance of winning, while 5 percent think Paul would be the strongest candidate to beat Obama. One percent of those surveyed think another candidate would do best against Obama in November.
The poll finds that Florida Republicans have been tuned in to the procession of debates between the presidential hopefuls, with 85 percent of them having watched at least one. Fifty-five percent say the debates have influenced their vote.
“The movement for Gingrich has clearly come from the televised debates,” Lee told Sunshine State News. “Among those who say the debates have influenced their opinions, Gingrich leads with 42 percent of the vote, while Romney is at 33 percent, Santorum 12 percent and Paul 8 percent. In comparison, among those who say they have not been influenced by the televised debates, Romney has a commanding lead at 50 percent, far ahead of the second-place challenger -- Gingrich at 19 percent. This says to me that Thursday’s final debate performance could be pivotal if Newt is the perceived winner.”
Lee said the debates played a greater role than televised ads in shaping the views of Florida Republicans.
“It’s also interesting to note that despite Romney’s dominance of the paid TV wars -- at least until recently when Gingrich got an infusion of late money -- only 15 percent say they have been influenced by the ads they have seen,” Lee noted. “This means either people already had their minds made up to support Romney, or that the ads are simply ineffective. Nonetheless, you’d have to wonder if ‘businessman’ Romney is happy with this return on investment when it’s clear from the poll that the televised debates are the only thing moving the numbers -- and not in his direction.”
While Romney leads in the Sunshine State, Lee noted that Gingrich has made progress with certain voters.
“When I compare this poll to the last one, Newt’s growth has come from the conservative Panhandle, young voters and males,” Lee told Sunshine State News. “In the last poll, Romney led Gingrich by 20 points among male voters (41-21); this has now been reduced to a 6-point Romney lead (37-31). Romney leads big among females in both polls. This makes perfect sense because males tend to be more conservative, and are thus responding positively to Newt’s brand of politics and his ability to better articulate a message conservatives are longing to hear.”
Lee also noted that Gingrich has made strides in certain parts of the state.
“From an area standpoint, in the last poll, Romney led Gingrich in the Panhandle by 10 points (35-25),” Lee told Sunshine State News. “This has been reversed to a 7-point (40-33) Gingrich lead. There is also major movement in Southwest Florida for Gingrich. In the last poll, Romney led by a whopping 50-14 margin over the second-place challenger in Southwest Florida. In the current poll it’s a statistical tie. 34-33 (Romney/Gingrich).”
Lee also noted that Romney was doing well with seniors while Gingrich was doing better with younger Republicans.
“From an age standpoint, in the last poll, Romney held leads with all age groups, although his biggest lead was with seniors,” Lee noted. “In the current poll, Gingrich has literally taken a narrow lead with voters from 18-44 years of age -- 33-30 -- over Romney, while among the 45-plus and older crowd, Romney still leads 43-31. This is critical because senior citizens account for more than 50 percent of the vote, given past GOP performance in these types of primaries, so if Romney holds this lead with older voters it could be a brick wall for Gingrich if he can’t substantially change the voter turnout model.”
While neither Santorum nor Paul appears to have a shot at winning Florida, Lee told Sunshine State News, their backers could prove a deciding factor in the primary.
“One final factor that could really impact who surges in the remaining days are the Paul and Santorum supporters,” Lee said. “Collectively, these two have remained at 20 percent of the vote combined in both the last and current poll, which says their supporters heretofore remain loyal to their respective candidates. However, in the remaining days, if their supporters get the sense they are throwing away their votes, this could clearly benefit Gingrich. Based on this, you cannot say Romney has this in the bag because the current trajectory still favors Newt given where the 'big mo’ is going.”
The poll of 865 likely Republican primary voters was taken Jan. 24-26 and had a margin of error of +/- 3.33 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.
VSS is the same firm that in 2010 conducted some of the most accurate polls taken of races in the Florida primary and general election. It has conducted hundreds of polls in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Florida, Delaware, Maryland, and other states across the nation. It is a leading survey research and political polling firm for GOP candidates for public office and a variety of corporate clients, trade associations, public relations firms and the media.
The work it did in Florida in 2010, commissioned and reported by Sunshine State News, included polls on all races in the primaries and the general election -- some of them taken more than once, as issues and trends through the summer and fall shifted.
RealClearPolitics.com gave VSS/Sunshine State News a tip of the cap after the primary elections because its poll results, particularly in the surprise gubernatorial race, were nearly "spot on." The election ended with Bill McCollum at 43.5 percent, Rick Scott at 46.5 percent and the spread at plus 2.9 percent. The last VSS/Sunshine Poll taken showed McCollum at 42 percent, Scott at 44 percent and the spread at plus 2 percent. No other polling firm came anywhere near Sunshine's result.
Lee has 17 years of polling experience and background as a former lobbyist for the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry and as a special projects coordinator for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. He has a bachelor of science degree in political science from Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pa., and he's a member of both the American Association of Public Opinion Research and the American Association of Political Consultants.
See the poll's crosstabs in the attachment below.
Methodology: This poll was commissioned by Sunshine State News and conducted by Voter Survey Service. The automated poll was conducted Jan. 24-26, 2012, using automated polling software both owned by VSS and programmed by our internal survey associates. The universe for the poll includes registered Republican voters with a vote history in at least one of P10, P08, or PP08. Prequalified voters are then asked to complete the survey by scoring their answers to a prerecorded series of questions using their telephone key pads. The surveys are carefully monitored to ensure a representative sample of likely Republican voters in Florida is achieved based on geographic location, age, gender and other demographics. Results can be statistically weighted to adjust for either an over- or under-sample of respondents within demographic groups.
Repeating: The margin of error for a sample size of 865 interviews is +/- 3.33 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859.