Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum leads the pack of Republican primary candidates in Oklahoma, but voters think some candidates are better than others when it comes to certain attributes, according to a recent SoonerPoll study.
Results indicate that a plurality of likely Republican primary voters think Santorum is the best candidate when it comes to honesty and ability to understand the problems facing people like them. However, pluralities of Republican voters said that former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is the strongest leader with the best experience.
Despite believing that other candidates are better suited for the Republican nomination, a plurality of Republican voters said that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has the best chance to beat President Barack Obama in the general election.
SoonerPoll CEO, Bill Shapard Jr., presented the results at a Republican primary panel discussion held Tuesday.
Shapard said that as voters begin to coalesce around a particular candidate in a typical election, it is rare to find a different candidate leading in particular attributes.
“When people begin to pick a candidate, they think not only do they have the best chance of winning, they think they are also the strongest leader, they also think that it’s somebody that understands the problems of people like them,” Shapard said.
“That is not the case here in Oklahoma.”
On February 28, 2012, SoonerPoll.com released GOP primary poll results and hosted a discussion panel to start a dialogue in the media. The panel featured guests Keith Gaddie, Sheryl Lovelady, and Karl Ahlgren, as well as SoonerPoll CEO Bill Shapard.
Republican consultant Karl Ahlgren said he thinks the reason Romney is seen as the best candidate to beat Obama is because of the size of his campaign.
“Obviously Romney has the most money the most ability to get his message out and so that is what voters are looking at,” Ahlgren said. “We may not like everything about him, but we feel like he is the best person that can represent us.”
Sheryl Lovelady, a former Democratic consultant, said that though a candidate’s ability to beat Obama has been an important characteristic for voters thus far, she doesn’t think it’s a sustainable characteristic for the future.
“At the end of the day, voters want to be for something and not just against something,” Lovelady said.
Political Science Professor Keith Gaddie agreed with Lovelady’s assessment and went on to say that he feels there is a race to the bottom in the GOP primary.
“It keeps moving so far to the right, and so far away from those issues that affect everyday voters,” Gaddie said. “It makes it hard for the GOP and the eventual nominee to move back to the center.”
Referring again to the recent results, Shapard pointed out that Romney does better among liberal and moderate Republicans, while Gingrich and Santorum lead among conservatives.
“The voters are really identifying well the ideological perspective of the candidates themselves and it is pretty much aligning that way,” Shapard said.
Lovelady echoed Gaddie’s earlier evaluation.
“The longer they run the more conservative they get and the more people in the electorate they disenfranchise,” Lovelady said. ”It will be very interesting to see if they are so far out there that they can’t appeal then to the middle of the country.”
Other results from the same SoonerPoll study find three Republican primary candidates polling above 50 percent in favorability.
When asked whether they had favorable or unfavorable opinions of the candidates, 70.3 percent of respondents said they had favorable opinions of Rick Santorum, 57.3 percent had favorable opinions of Mitt Romney, and 55.6 percent had favorable opinions of Newt Gingrich.
Ron Paul was the only GOP candidate who had more unfavorable opinions than favorable opinions, with 49.3 percent unfavorable and just 35.7 percent favorable.
Sheryl Lovelady said the results highlight what has been the story of the 2012 Republican primary election from the beginning, “there is no real consensus among Republican voters.”
“We’ve seen consistently over a period of months and months and months that there is not one candidate that’s breaking away from the fray, Oklahoma is really no exception,” Lovelady said.
Keith Gaddie said that the up and down of the candidates is driven by the fact that none of them are satisfactory candidates for the majority of Republican voters.
“Absent some strong candidate who they find persuasive, these voters are falling back on those attributes of themselves that they look for in candidates,” Gaddie said. “In Oklahoma, because we have such a strong socially conservative base these voters are falling back to that core principles candidate, which in the current environment is Rick Santorum.”
Bill Shapard cautioned that though Santorum is the current front-runner in Oklahoma, this election cycle has seen the rise and fall of many GOP primary candidates.
“As a pollster I would only say that that’s where the numbers sit as of this moment and that is what we would probably anticipate would carry forward if the election were today,” Shapard said.
SoonerPoll.com, Oklahoma’s public opinion pollster, commissioned this poll. SoonerPoll.com conducted the scientific poll Feb. 8 – 16, 2012. The survey was administered via telephone interview to 300 likely Oklahoma voters who were selected at random. All respondents who took the survey identified themselves as Republicans and said they planned to vote in the March 6th primary election. The margin of error is plus or minus 5.66 percentage points.
Bill Shapard Jr., CEO of SoonerPoll.com, is the state’s leading media pollster, having conducted more publicly-released polls since 2006 in the state of Oklahoma than all other pollsters combined. Bill is a frequent political commentator and has conducted the Tulsa World’s Oklahoma Poll since 2005.
Keith Gaddie, PhD, is a Political Science Professor at the University of Oklahoma and a frequent political commentator for many local, national and international media outlets. Keith is the author, coauthor, or coeditor of fourteen books. Keith and Kelly Damphousse (Sociology) are the newly appointed editors of Social Science Quarterly.
Sheryl Lovelady is Director of the Women’s Leadership Initiative at the University of Oklahoma. For the past two decades, Lovelady has worked throughout the United States as a political consultant. Today, along with her role at OU, she owns a private communications and public policy firm.
Karl Ahlgren, co-owner and general partner of AH Strategies, a Republican political relations firm with offices in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. A 28-year veteran of Oklahoma government and politics, Ahlgren has a client list that includes more than 40 current members of the Oklahoma Legislature. Ahlgren served for 2-years as co-secretary of the State Senate during its historic tie.