The bad news for Perry fans? The group behind this poll is Make Us Great Again, a super PAC formed to benefit — ta da — Rick Perry. The good news? Their numbers are in line with the latest Iowa polls from left-leaning PPP (which has it Perry 21, Romney 18, Bachmann 15) and right-leaning Magellan (Perry 24, Bachmann 22, Romney 19). Read the fine print and the news gets even better:
The poll also shows Perry leading the way when respondents were asked to name the candidate they felt would be best at creating jobs and improving the country’s economy, and also the candidate with the best chance to beat President Obama.
Perry’s lead expands slightly when you look only at voters who describe themselves as “very conservative” and “tea party conservatives.” Perry leads Bachmann 30 percent to 23 percent among the “very conservative” respondents and 30 percent to 22 percent among tea party supporters.
That’s the makings of a true coalition-builder, trumping Romney on the core issue of jobs and trumping Bachmann in red-meat appeal to the base. Iowa’s not the only place he’s doing that, either. An intriguing detail from yesterday’s national Gallup poll:
According to figures provided to National Journal by Gallup, Perry leads Romney not only among Republican voters without a college education — a group always expected to be responsive to Perry’s anti-government and culturally-conservative arguments — but also among GOP voters with at least a four year college degree. That group had been Romney’s strongest in earlier polling, offsetting his difficulty among working-class Republicans. In 2008, the GOP primary electorate split almost exactly in half between voters with and without a college degree.
Specifically, the Gallup survey shows that, among Republican voters without a college degree, Perry tops the field with 27%, followed by Romney with 15%, Ron Paul with 14% and Michele Bachmann with 11 percent. Among Republican voters with at least a four-year college degree, Perry has rocketed to the top with 33.4%, dwarfing Romney’s 21 percent, Paul’s 10 percent, and Bachmann’s 9 percent…
This broad appeal for Perry may be overstated in that it comes before he has truly engaged with his rivals for the nomination. It’s entirely possible that his support will narrow as his opponents spar with him more directly; for instance, if former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who lags at just 1 percent in the survey, continues his criticism of Perry’s rejection of the science of climate change and questioning of evolution, it’s possible that the Texas governor’s backing among college-educated voters might erode.
Huntsman’s too minor a player in the race to turn swaths of educated voters against Perry on science grounds. Romney, as a major player, could theoretically do it, except (a) he’d have to abandon his bread-and-butter economic message for a boutique issue like evolution, (b) an intraparty cultural war on Darwin and creationism would risk alienating base voters whom Romney needs against Obama and who are already suspicious of him for various reasons, and (c) given Texas’s record on jobs, I doubt college-educated Republicans would bail on Perry even if they did object to his views on evolution and climate change. Primary voters are savvy about their coalitions; pro-life Democrats (and yes, they do exist) perennially tolerate nominees who are pro-choice because that’s what it takes to get the base to turn out. Same with conservative Darwinists on the right. Not everything about your candidate or your party will make you happy, but that’s politics.
So no, Romney won’t attack on those grounds and Huntsman’s attacks won’t do much damage, but it’s amusing to think of Mitt benefiting indirectly from his Utah rival’s cultural shots at Perry. Exit question via Nate Silver: If Perry continues to surge in Iowa, can Romney afford not to compete in that state? A narrow victory for Perry over Bachmann isn’t too damaging to Mitt since it leaves them both still viable to split the base in South Carolina. But if Perry crushes her in Iowa, suddenly he heads into SC and Florida looking like a juggernaut. Romney may have try to weaken him before the caucuses. Short of that, there’s only one person who can save him by weakening Perry instead. Hmmmmm.