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Romney, Paul and a Game of Musical Chairs in Iowa

A Commentary By Scott Rasmussen

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Following the roller-coaster poll results from Iowa has been entertaining for some - and frustrating for many. In five consecutive Rasmussen Reports polls, five different candidates came out on top: Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and now Mitt Romney. Adding to the confusion, most Iowa voters are still deciding and could change their mind before the January 3 caucuses.

But beneath the surface confusion, the data reveals far more continuity than is commonly acknowledged. For example, Romney has attracted between 17% and 23% support in each and every Rasmussen poll. Barring a major gaffe, this suggests that Romney will have a decent share of the vote and is likely to leave Iowa somewhere near the top.

Ron Paul also has been pretty consistent by reaching double digits in every Iowa poll. He also has some of the most devoted followers and a pretty strong organization. So he too is likely to feel pretty good when the votes are reported on January 3.

While both Romney and Paul have consistent bases of support, both men also have limited upside potential in Iowa. That leaves more than half the vote up for grabs and four candidates playing musical chairs in hopes of winning the remaining top-tier seats heading out of Iowa. It is possible to envision Gingrich, Bachmann, Perry or Rick Santorum finishing near the top, and it is equally possible to see any one of them finishing near the bottom.

Roughly half of all Iowa caucus-goers have favorable opinions of all four candidates. All have some flaws, and all but Santorum have fallen dramatically after spending time as the front-runner. But all four also have their strengths and could conceivably benefit from an ongoing search among many GOP voters for a credible conservative alternative to Romney.

Gingrich is the best known and has the longest track record of any involved in the campaign. Still, his poll numbers fell quickly following a withering series of ads from the Romney, Paul and Perry campaigns. The former speaker has earned a shot at the top tier through his debate performances but has a weak organization that may not be able to deliver.

Perry entered the race as the front-runner and flopped in several early debates. The question for the Texas governor is whether voters will give him a second chance. His last debate performance was less painful, and he is all over Iowa with advertising and campaign activity.

Many in the state believe two other candidates—Bachmann and Santorum—generate enough enthusiasm from some segments of the GOP base to outperform their current poll numbers (9% and 6% respectively at this time). Both are courting many of the same voters, and if one of them were to gain a decisive edge during the next two weeks, support might consolidate behind that candidate leading to a much stronger than expected finish.

Put it all together, and it’s impossible to know which candidates will join Romney and Paul in the top tier when the votes are counted in Iowa on January 3. But at least two of the candidates in this game of musical chairs will see their 2012 dream come to an end on that day.

See Other Political Commentaries.

See Other Commentaries by Scott Rasmussen

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