Green Room

Post-CPAC Poll Results: Sarah Palin is “Winning the Future”… but losing votes?

posted at 2:49 pm on February 15, 2011 by

Maintaining her position from our last poll in December, Sarah Palin again stomps the Hot Air Presidential field by a wide and comfortable margin. Yet Palin was also the top vote shedder in the survey; read on to the “Defections” section for that. Questions? You can reach me here.

Since this latest poll was initially faced with a fair amount of ACORN-style fake-votery, let me say up front that Palin’s numbers are absolutely legitimate: her block of voters is one of the most active on the web, and they turned out in force for this survey.

In second place is Chris Christie, who also fell in behind Palin in December. Third place is, surprisingly, Mitch Daniels, doubling his percentage take from 5% of the vote last time to 10% this time. A surprising fourth place also goes to Herman Cain, the only candidate really in the race right now, at 8%. I think there’s little doubt that Daniels and Cain benefited from a sort of CPAC-bounce; Christie, still a GOP rock star, may have been hurt by being out of the limelight in the last couple of months. Mitt Romney comes in at fifth, slightly strengthening over his last showing, from 5% to 6%.

Before I go on, I’d like to make a couple points. Straw polls like this one don’t really match up with scientific polls in their totals because while scientific polls put a particular emphasis on selecting voters that represent the voting electorate, our poll is oriented toward (fairly) gauging the size and interest of the candidates’ online support, particularly at Hot Air. Online zeal does not necessarily make for eventual Presidents, but it may say something about commitment and a little about the size of the movement. (But not always.) Sarah Palin’s numbers bear out both of these points, notably the former one; while 54% of the average candidate’s supporters consider themselves “very committed” backers, 82% of Sarah Palin voters consider themselves “very committed.”

So we’ve got the breadth (the number of people voting for a candidate) and depth (the level of commitment) enthusiasm metrics nailed down pretty well.

Defections

There’s one last poll question I want to highlight before I drop the results of the other questions in. And it’s this one:

I have a few theories about what’s going on here, although having only polled this once, the analysis will take some fine-tuning over the next few surveys. A few ideas:

  • Palin may lead this “defection poll” simply because she has the most supporters to lose; even Hoover Dam leaks sometimes. It may be related to the volume of Palin for President support, as former Palin supporters may be predisposed to vote in polls featuring heavy Palin support. This may also explain Christie‘s reasonably high defection rate, as well, since he comes in third among the defections. Moreover, both have been reasonably out of the limelight in the last month or so.
  • This doesn’t explain, however, the higher defection rates for Romney, Gingrich, and Huckabee, all top tier Presidential candidates. Their respective Presidential vote volumes are relatively low at Hot Air, and yet their defection rates are abnormally high: in fact, in all cases their defection rates are higher than their actual Presidential vote counts. That result, in turn, seems to conflict with how well they all do in published surveys.

Consider this WaPo poll from last month, and note the frontrunners:

Former Govs. Mike Huckabee (Ark.), Sarah Palin (Alaska) and Mitt Romney (Mass.) make up the top tier of the 2012 Republican presidential field, according to a new poll from the Washington Post and ABC News.

Huckabee took 21 percent of the vote while Palin received 19 percent and Romney 17 percent among Republicans and GOP-leaning independents. No other potential candidate made it into double digits, although former House Speaker Newt Gingrich received 9 percent and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took 8 percent. The rest of the field received 3 percent or less support.

The ordering’s a bit different, but the grouping is exactly the same: some combination of Palin, Romney, Christie, Gingrich, and Huckabee make up the top tier.

Of course, this survey question may mean that the race is just fluid, with candidates poaching from each other in the early goings. It may also, however, provide us with a new aspect to survey going forward, a sort of “passive support index” which, ironically, may tell us more about what an actual vote may look like (at this point in the process anyway… it’ll be a very negative indicator come 2012) than the Presidential survey we do. Since voters can’t both “support candidate X” and “change their support from candidate X,” it produces what I think is a fairly independent result not especially affected by the volume of any one candidate for President’s supporters. What the result means is, of course, up for debate.  But I do think that as a few of the more minor candidates drop out, that these are the Republican Presidential contenders with the most to gain. (What happens when only two or three candidates remain? I welcome your hypotheses on how those votes will flow.)

Then again, all of these candidates may simply be bleeding supporters that will not be coming back. It could be due to concerns about policy or electability. But while these defections are very real, my gut tells me that’s not the only lesson or impression we should take from that result, at least not quite yet. I think there’s evidence to support that position.

The rest of the poll highlights follow. Click the images to enlarge.

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