The website “Polls and Votes” has an interesting (and somewhat discouraging) analysis of Gallup polling data.
You should be able to click on the photo to enlarge, but here’s an overview: gray lines represent name recognition amongst voters, over time; red lines represent favorability of the candidate over time. Note that neither Gary Johnson nor Buddy Roemer are included. The vertical axis represents height (as a percentage) of name recognition; the horizontal axis represents time (beginning in January of this year). One would expect minor variations in name recognition just as a function of different polling samples.
So, what do we see?
- Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, when polled at the beginning of the year, had a high degree of name recognition. Amongst this year’s candidates, Ron Paul has consistently been just barely behind them in terms of recognition. That’s the good news—Ron Paul no longer elicits “Who’s Ron Paul?” reactions. Around 90 percent of those polled know who he is—within a couple of points of the former Speaker of the House and former Governor of Massachusetts.
- That suggests that favorability has little to do (for those candidates) with increased visibility/recognition (like, for instance, Cain and Bachmann’s numbers, which—at least for a time—paralleled each other, with favorability growing as recognition grew).
- The goal, then, for highly recognized politicians, would be to have a growing level of favorability (or in the case of already highly favorable views, a maintenance).
Now, with the caveat that these numbers are still likely to be pretty volatile for a month or two—at least until the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary are out of the way—the trend at the moment doesn’t look good for either Paul or Romney (although Paul has a higher gap to bridge between recognition and favorability than does Romney), and is (right now) looking pretty good for Gingrich. Of course we all know that Gingrich has plenty of baggage—and a mouth—which could backfire on him.
Gingrich and Romney have to be careful with each other, I think—both have high recognition, and both of their favorability numbers are probably somewhat brittle at this point—Gingrich going negative on Romney, and Romney retaliating, could end up in the favorables for both of them plummeting (although my personal opinion is that Gingrich is even more likely to harm himself with an exchange that is perceived as negative). But what about Ron Paul?
Paul’s favorability numbers have trended downward since his announcement in March. They’re currently at about 20%—very close to Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann numbers, and still below (by about 10 points) Herman Cain’s numbers, even post-sexual harassment accusations. Dr. Paul’s supporters are probably the most enthusiastic and confirmed in the whole field—but it appears that they are still relatively small in number.
Ron Paul’s highest favorability numbers came in the first month or so of his candidacy this year (as did Mitt Romney’s). But the danger to both of them at this point (as opposed to Gingrich), is that the trend is down instead of up. Gingrich dropped through the summer, but has since been trending upward (although Romney’s favorables have been more steady, and his low point is still higher than Ron Paul’s high point was).
With only a little over 5 weeks until we get into the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire straw poll, these favorable numbers are critical to these three candidates (and to an extent, the other highly recognized candidates: Bachmann, Cain, and Perry).
Every campaign has these two elements: name recognition, and buying what the candidate is selling. Five months ago, almost everyone knew who Newt Gingrich was, but very were buying. That seems to be changing. Ron Paul started out with high recognition numbers, which have continued to trend upward—his problem is that the favorability for him hasn’t increased. How he changes that in the next two months, I don’t know. I’m pretty sure that sign-waving and brow-beating by his supporters aren’t going to do the trick…