New Register poll indicates interesting situation for Iowa Caucus

Mitt Romney, former Republican governor of Massachusetts, answers questions from supporters during a campaign stop at Kinzler Construction in Ames on Thursday, Dec. 29. Much of Romney’s time in Ames was spent interacting with those in attendance.

David Bartholomew

In the latest Des Moines Register poll, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has emerged as the statistical leader with 24 percent of the votes, with Texas Congressman Ron Paul in second place with 22 percent and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in third place with 15 percent.

Throughout the last few months, the various political polls throughout the state of Iowa have shown the rise and fall of several Republican candidates from the bottom of the pack to the top and then back to the bottom, in almost a bell-curve fashion.

This phenomenon was true for Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, businessman Herman Cain (who has since dropped out), and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, all the while Romney and Paul have seen a steady growth of support throughout the state. 

Santorum, who has up until recently been at the bottom of the polls, has seen a significant jump in his support in the last two weeks leading up to the caucus, especially with the downfall of Gingrich and faltering numbers for Perry and Bachmann.

Santorum has spent time traveling around Iowa, holding town hall meetings, and running on his philosophy of social conservative purity. Since doing so, he has seen a sharp increase among Evangelical voters who like his conservative views and want an alternative to Paul and Romney, said political science professor David Peterson. 

“I think the main effect that this latest poll will have is it will solidify support for Rick Santorum,” Peterson said. “You have a whole lot of people who don’t like Romney and Paul… and what we have seen in the polls is the rallying effect for candidates who are seen as the anti-Romney.”

Additionally, the fact remains that he is still in third place with only one day to go.

“The result of the caucus will probably be pretty close to what the poll is suggesting,” said political science professor Mack Shelley. “One issue is whether the Evangelicals will show up again, like they did for Huckabee in 2008… If they turn out, Santorum will do a lot better. He is the last hardcore right-wing candidate who hasn’t self-destructed yet.”

Paul, whose libertarian-leaning views have resonated well with many young voters and is gaining strength among many Republican regulars, has also done well in polls. Sitting at 22 percent, Paul is sitting comfortably going into Tuesday’s caucus, Shelley said. 

“Ron Paul does have a chance. He will be relying on young people and military veterans as well as independents — people who are outside the social conservative wing of the Republican Party,” Shelley said. “But he needs his troops to show up to the caucus even though he has developed a reputation as having a good ground game and a strong base of organization.”

Peterson also spoke of good chances for Paul on Tuesday.

“Paul has a good chance and is the most-likely winner because 22 percent for Paul is almost guaranteed,” Peterson said. “Whoever gets the last 10 percent of the vote of caucus-goers will win and Ron Paul has the best chance.”

Romney has consistently remained at the top of national polls, has raised the most money, and is already presumed by many people inside and outside the party to be the eventual nominee. 

“The big upswing among Romney supporters is that he is seen as the most electable and has very few negatives,” Shelley said. “He is a safe bet who can potentially beat President Obama in the general election.”

The other factor for Romney’s success in Iowa is the extraordinary amount of money he and his PAC’s have put into Iowa, Peterson said. 

“Romney has sunk a lot of money into Iowa and it’s working,” Peterson said. “Going into this race, many Republicans already knew a lot about Romney from when he ran in 2008… and it doesn’t hurt that Gingrich imploded.”

This campaign season has revealed the stark contrasting views within the Republican Party. In one part, there are moderates and business-minded conservatives who support Romney. In another part, libertarians and young voters have built up support for Paul. And in another part, social conservatives and Evangelical voters are still struggling to find a candidate to back, with Rick Santorum being the latest.