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41 percent of those surveyed said they could still change their minds.

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Iowa poll analysis: Race in flux, Santorum gaining

41 percent of those surveyed said they could still change their minds.

The Des Moines Register poll, released Saturday night and conducted by Ann Selzer, showed a fluid race in Iowa, in which 41 percent of those surveyed said they could still change their minds. The poll had Romney in the lead with 24 percent of the vote, followed by Ron Paul with 22 percent, Rick Santorum with 15 percent, Newt Gingrich with 12 percent, Rick Perry with 11 percent and Michele Bachmann with 7 percent.

During the last two days of the four day poll, Santorum was in second place with 21 percent. Romney stayed at 24 percent and Paul faded to 18 percent.

Here are some factors to look at based on the poll’s details, which were released Sunday.

Evangelicals

According to Selzer, Evangelical voters made up 60 percent of those who participated in the Republican caucus in 2008. This year, however, she estimates that Evangelicals will make up only 33 percent. The greater number of Evangelicals that caucus, according to Selzer, the more Santorum will benefit. When Evangelicals were weighted in the poll to represent 2008 levels, Santorum led with 25 percent, followed by Romney with 20 percent.

The lack of enthusiasm, however, among Evangelical voters mirrors the lack of enthusiasm among social conservatives nationally. It also mirrors the inability of social conservatives to coalesce around one candidate to defeat Romney. This is something to keep an eye on in the hours leading up to the caucus and beyond. If evangelical voters decide to turnout and coalesce around Santorum, they could propel him to victory on Jan. 3.

Seniors and independents

Romney leads among seniors, and this may be a sign that he may also do better than expected in South Carolina and Florida, two states with a lot of seniors who have been transplanted from the northeast.

Independent voters made up 13 percent of the 2008 sample, presumably because many caucused on the Democratic side for Barack Obama. Paul and Romney seem to do well among independent voters and a surge among them would be to their advantage. Paul does well among independents who want to shrink government. Romney does well among independents who value electability. The greater the turnout among independent voters, the more Romney and Paul will benefit on caucus night.

Selzer did not factor in Democratic cross over voters in her poll. This may be a potential wild card for someone like Paul. If Paul has more committed former Democrats who are going to cross over, change their party registration and vote for him on caucus night, he may do better than his current numbers show.

Ron Paul

Paul led the field on these questions: “The most concerned about reducing government debt,” “the most consistent,” “the most likely to dramatically reduce spending on war and foreign aid,” “the least ego-driven,” “the best at relating to ordinary Iowans” (tied with Bachmann and Santorum), “the best able to bring about real change” and “the most dedicated to reducing the influence of government.”

Paul, though, does poorly on the electability question, with only nine percent of Iowans thinking that he is electable, compared to 48 percent for Romney. While Iowans may be ideologically in tune with Paul’s beliefs and rhetoric, their questions about his electability in a general election may prevent enough of them to vote for him to allow for Romney or Santorum to edge past him. 

Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum

According to the poll, “78 percent would be very enthusiastic or OK with the choice if he were the nominee — the highest enthusiasm of the three candidates tested.” Basically, Romney is the least offensive among uninspiring candidates to many voters.

Likewise, Santorum is doing well because he is the least offensive anti-Romney candidate. According to The Des Moines Register, “just 3 percent of likely caucus-goers say Rick Santorum is the candidate they like least. But they don’t think he excels at anything either.”

Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann

Gingrich, Perry and Bachmann have faded because people have strong antipathies toward their candidacies. Bachmann is seen as the least knowledgeable candidate and the second most unelectable candidate after Paul, according to the poll. Gingrich was, according to those polled, the most ego-driven, the least consistent, the worst at relating to ordinary Iowans (tied with Romney) and the least dedicated to reducing the role of government.

Among the three, though, Perry’s negatives are not nearly as intense as those for Bachmann and Gingrich. In addition, Perry excels at retail campaigning and has an organization on the ground that Bachmann, Gingrich and Santorum cannot match. This weekend, Perry directly confronted Santorum, particularly over the latter’s many earmarks and his role in the infamous “K-Street” project where Republicans in Congress in the 2000s tried to reward partisan lobbying firms. Perry, who has officially said he would bypass New Hampshire and go straight to South Carolina after Iowa, has two ways of viably doing so. Perry could limp into South Carolina if he finishes ahead of Gingrich with a stronger than expected fourth place finish. On the other hand, if he closes in on Santorum and somehow finishes ahead of Santorum or Paul, Perry could surge into South Carolina and try to re-frame the race as being between Romney and the last  anti-Romney standing, which would be Perry given that Jon Huntsman does not surprise the world and defeat or come close to defeating Romney in New Hampshire.

For Gingrich, who has always said that Iowa was a weak state for him, said he would be happy with a top four finish. Gingrich must hope that the distance between the caucus winner and himself is narrow enough for him to have enough momentum to remain viable until South Carolina.

Of course, if Gingrich, Perry and Santorum make stands in South Carolina, it could again divide the social conservative and fiscal conservative vote and help Romney. In essence, South Carolina could be a replay of Iowa.

Did an inaccurate CNN poll catapult Santorum into the top tier?

One interesting thing to ponder is how reinforcing polls can sometimes be. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Santorum was polling at around 10 percent in the Des Moines Register poll. On Wednesday, though, CNN released a poll in which it only surveyed Republicans (this was a poorly done poll because it did not survey independent voters) and had Santorum in third place. For the next three days, newspapers and television networks were buzzing over Santorum’s showing in the CNN poll. And sure enough, Santorum more than doubled his support in the two days after the CNN poll in the Des Moines Register poll.

As voters temporarily tune out to watch college football and NFL games and partake in festivities associated with the new year, the Des Moines Register poll could help many still undecided Iowans to settle on a candidate, which would help Romney and Santorum.

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Written By

Tony Lee edits The Chase 2012 section and writes on politics and culture for HUMAN EVENTS. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook. E-mail: ALEE (at) EaglePub.com

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