The Des Moines Register released their new 2012 GOP poll for the state of Iowa today, and as expected the three most well known names, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Sarah Palin lead the pack. What is a surprise isn’t the overwhelming favorability of Romney, but the high unfavorabilily rating for Palin, who is not favored by 39% of the state’s Republicans.
The Des Moines Register poll did not measure preference, but instead focused on favorability. Romney had the highest favorable at 62%. He was closely followed by Sarah Palin at 58% and Newt Gingrich at 56%. Where the potential candidates separate themselves is in unfavorables. Romney has a very low unfavorable rating of 26%. Gingrich is second at 33%, and Palin is third at 39%. Another negative working against Palin is that almost all those surveyed have made their minds up about her. Only 3% of those surveyed were not sure about her, compared to 12% for Romney and 11% for Gingrich.
The Iowa caucuses are more than a year and a half away, so it makes sense for pollsters to measure favorability not preference. Favorability is simply a measure of whether the electorate likes a candidate. For my money, it is the most important statistic in all of political polling, because at a gut level voters have to like a candidate before they can support them. A candidate can everything else working in his or her favor, but if voters don’t like them at a very basic and personal level, they won’t win.
The problem that Sarah Palin is going to face not only in Iowa, but through out the 2012 campaign is that there are a substantial number of Republicans who have serious doubts and reservations about her. Her favorability issues are compounded by the fact that the American electorate has already made its mind up about her. While it is true that Palin is just as popular as any of the other Republican contenders, she is also more disliked by people in her own party than any of the other contenders.
In 2008, Romney spent lots of time and millions of dollars in Iowa. His organization remains very strong there and there is no reason to believe that he will not emerge from the Iowa caucuses with a solid victory. The story to watch is whether or not Palin can overcome her own image and negatives and be a force in Iowa and New Hampshire. Team Palin appears intent on running a cult of personality campaign built on the aping the style of Ronald Reagan. Being that Palin’s only strength is her personality, they will be limited to running a style over substance campaign.
Polls like the one in Iowa highlight the potential limitations of Sarah Palin as a presidential candidate. Voters, and a sizable number of Republicans, don’t like her. Most importantly, she has been so overexposed that people have already made up their minds about her. Instead of working to change this perception, Palin continues to reinforce it with erratic behavior, fence building, and celebrity feuds. Just because this poll shows that there are real trouble signs for Palin in 2012, doesn’t mean that she should not be taken seriously. The 2012 GOP field is so weak, that even a deeply flawed candidate, who has no chance of winning a general election, like Palin, has a chance to win.