Focus group shows Republican voters have major problems with Romney, Gingrich
December 2nd, 2011
08:49 PM ET
2 years ago

Focus group shows Republican voters have major problems with Romney, Gingrich

Washington (CNN) – Republicans may be enthusiastic about beating President Barack Obama, but a GOP focus group shows they are less enthusiastic about the candidates they're fielding against him.

A focus group of 12 GOP primary voters conducted in northern Virginia–a battleground state–showed that GOP voters have not warmed up to Mitt Romney, are worried about Newt Gingrich's volatility, and have all but dismissed the candidacy of Herman Cain. What's more, they see their two frontrunners as suffering from the same potentially deadly problem: a penchant to flip flop.

While Romney has arguably been running for years, these Republican primary voters seemed to have more respect than affection for him. When Democratic pollster Peter Hart–who conducted this group for the nonpartisan Annenberg Center–asked them which member of their family Romney might be, the answers showed a distance with the candidate: cousin, second cousin, distant cousin or uncle.

"I see him as a dad that is never home," one participant said.

Even worse, said another: "He's richer than the rest of us. He wouldn't come to our events."

While these voters admired Romney's business acumen, they were critical of what they see as a candidate who changes his views on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage–and jeopardizes his credibility as a result. Some described him as a "problem solver," who has "good experience." Yet others saw a politician who is "wishy-washy," and "manufactured."

Romney may be charging Gingrich with being a "career politician," but some of these GOP voters saw Romney in that very same light.

"Republican in name only. If push came to shove he'd give up a founding principle of the Republican Party," said Benjamin Jones, a financial planner.

"He is just wishy-washy," added Chuck Teets, a realtor. "He says what you want to hear."

The good news for Romney is that Gingrich has received the same criticism for flipping on issues like global warming, health care and Libya policy–and that did not escape some in the group. The real worry was that someone who does not stick with his views would be less able to convincingly take on Obama.

“I think when you enter a race this important you have to know from the get-go what your stand is, and stick with it," said Christine Bartlett, a small businesswoman, talking about Gingrich.

So was Michael Mahoney, a business consultant: "I think you need to take a stand. I can see maybe changing your opinion on maybe one issue, but these are multiple issues and I think that raises a red flag."

Even so, Gingrich received praise as "the best politician of the group." Yet his personal history–and his personality–were cause for concern. Some called him "experienced" and "smart," but they also viewed him as "careless and combustible."

Although he has a cranky reputation, Gingrich has lately worked to soften his image–and that may be paying off. Within the focus group, he seemed to be more warmly received than Romney. What relative did they compare Gingrich with? The answers: father, grandfather, a favorite uncle.

But several of the attendees said Gingrich's past - either his three marriages and/or his extramarital affair - caused them some concern.

"It is not a deal breaker, minor concern. It just goes to show his character," Mahoney said.

"I don't care how many marriages he has had. It is the affair that bothers me," said Sue Graham, a retail merchandiser.

One surprise: Many of the attendees voiced support for the position outlined by Gingrich to move some of the 11 million illegal immigrants currently into the country towards legalization because it is impractical to think they will all be deported.

"With the people already here they should be looked at individually. There are some here who are trying to live an American life so on the individual basis if they are working and they have families why would we want to tear apart a family," said Tina Cassasosa, a bookkeeper.

"Our economy couldn't survive exporting all of them. So we need to find a way to legalize the ones that are here," Deborah Secrist, an administrative assistant, said.

As for Cain, he was regarded as essentially a has-been. While he received some praise for his experience as a businessman and being a non-politician, a majority of those in the group thought he should end his candidacy. And they made that very clear, calling him "finished," someone with "no chance."

While the first voting in the nomination contest is just a month away with the Iowa caucuses, half of the attendees said they would love to see somebody else join the race.

"I just have a feeling…" said Sue Graham, a retail merchandiser. "…that we have a group of people here that may not be able to win this election."

Also see:

Romney campaign works on anti-Gingrich strategy

Romney meets former President George H. W. Bush

Newt believes in Newt

On Leno's show, Perry laughs off recent gaffes


Filed under: 2012 • Herman Cain • Mitt Romney • Newt Gingrich • Virginia
soundoff (240 Responses)
  1. Ricke

    How were these people chosen?? There is not data here except they claimed do be Repubs. Twelve people is a small sample. Yes I too have questions about them. However considering how bad crony capitalism is in the Obama administration it is hard to see how it could get worse. C*N is frontrunning the Dem offense and needs to dial back.
    How about reviewing the book " Throw them all out."

    December 3, 2011 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  2. A

    Gingrich's took $1.6 million in consulting fees from Freddie and what is the condition of Freddie now?.

    We don't want USA to go same way as Freddie, from same adviser

    December 3, 2011 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  3. cnase

    Focus Group in Northern Virginia?? This site has been and continues to be a joke. Get a grip!

    December 3, 2011 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  4. Sean

    All in all... what Republicans want to do is to find a Black man to fight a Black man... just like how they let a Black man become the GOP chairman immediately after Obama got elected.... it's disturbing to see GOP allowing less qualified Black man to take over their party just because they want to show others they're not racists.... thus sending out a wrong message that they're worried that they're perceived as racists... non-racists normally don't need and never bother to do such things.... just saying.

    December 3, 2011 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  5. Randy, San Francisco

    The GOP/Tea Party have a candidate in Huntsman who would give Obama a real challenge and don't see it. Only problem, Huntsman can't pass the Tea Party family values social conservative purity test.

    December 3, 2011 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  6. danny

    I don't understand what the republicans are doing,....they should all be throwing their support behind Ron Paul at this point. He is the only true conservative with a long and consistent record, has no skeletons in the closet, AND is the only one of this motley crew that is respected by independents and even other dems – in other words, he is really the right candidate to get support from people who will otherwise be voting for the anointed one

    December 3, 2011 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  7. Charlie in Maine

    The goal of the GOP, now that it had been taken over by the tea party, is to prove that government won't work. To that end they have scared of anyone with ideas on how the govenrment might help so what are they left with? Huntsman has not had his turn as front runner yet. He is the only one of the bunch who has a heart a soul and a brain unfortunately for him he is running in a party that has a religous test and his church does not pass it. Soo GOP if you are looking for a heart a soul and a brain you may have to vote for the President. I know that's what I will do and I am praying that a bunch of independents will join me.

    December 3, 2011 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  8. Jim J

    All of America finds fault with Republican frontrunners.

    December 3, 2011 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  9. johnborg

    The Christian right should love Rick Perry. The only problem is he is out-right stupid. He's now trying to take advantage of his own stupidity... what a stupid thing to do. So, Romney or Gingrich – Mormon or Catholic. The evangelicals are sad. Too bad Bachmann is a woman or else they would vote for her.

    December 3, 2011 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  10. Bryan

    i dont see any scenario where obama doesnt win

    December 3, 2011 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  11. alex208

    I don't understand what the republicans are doing,....they should all be throwing their support behind Ron Paul at this point. He is the only true conservative with a long and consistent record, has no skeletons in the closet, AND is the only one of this motley crew that is respected by independents and even other dems – in other words, he is really the right candidate to get support from people who will otherwise be voting for the anointed one

    December 3, 2011 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  12. terry

    OMG! For MONTHS polls have shown how much people disdain these cardboard, cut-out candidates AND loose-cannon chandidates. But did anyone listen? NOOOOO!!!!!! And the way the system works... it's now too late to have a REAL STATESMAN/WOMAN step in.
    Congratualtions Grover Norquist, you sc-a-rewed the pooch AGAIN!!!!!

    December 3, 2011 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  13. roger

    and no mention of the most intelligent man with the most integrity of them all. Dr. Ron Paul. Polls show ron paul running third and nobody is accusing him of flip-flopping like the 2 in front of him

    December 3, 2011 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  14. Yup

    You can't fix the GOP because you can't fix stupid.
    They keep shoving these oily politicians at us and expect us to vote for them.
    That's because there is nothing but oily people left in the GOP.
    Filthy hands, slicked back greasy hair and faces like weasels, that's the GOP all over.

    December 3, 2011 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  15. I notice here how Rick Perry has fallen off the edge of the earth so to speak here. No one talks about Perr

    I notice here how Rick Perry has fallen off the edge of the earth so to speak here. No one talks about Perry. I guess he is becoming fast a has been, How the mighty fall! This star burned out so fast. Why did the group not mentioned him? Shows you what they think or don't about him.

    December 3, 2011 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  16. Truth Squad

    You mean Republicans have an idealistic view of who they want as a nominee and there is such a vast array of traits different people want in their nominee and not one person has all those qualities?

    FYI, Abraham Lincoln lost two elections for a Senate seat and was heavily slandered and attacked while running for President by the press.

    December 3, 2011 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  17. Doug

    Not one person mentioned Ron Paul? I find this very hard to believe.

    December 3, 2011 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  18. Walter

    At least there's still time to find the right Republican candidate. It would be tragic to have someone who has resided over nearly 9% unemployment his entire term to be re-elected because of a viable opponent. If Obama is re-elected, it will just be 4 more years like the last three.

    December 3, 2011 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  19. Dan K.

    And how about focus groups regarding Barack Obama? Of course you'll never write an article regarding those findings.

    December 3, 2011 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  20. J.J.J. Schmidt

    The republican clown car. What would they do with the Presidency if they actually won? They don't even know. It's just a big Hail Mary pass. Besides these buffoons, who on the right is charismatic or intelligent enough to lead America? They would just be like Dubya...a figurehead puppet for PNAC,

    December 3, 2011 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  21. sidneyhop

    I think everyone will be quite surprised to see Ron Paul as the republican candidate once all the actual votes are counted!

    That is unless they "fix" the polls like they did in 2000, which is a definite reality.

    December 3, 2011 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  22. Rick

    Moderate Republicans who once supported health-care reform but now oppose it are doing a horrible disservice to this country. They've moved from trying to fix a desperate problem to simply ignoring it.

    December 3, 2011 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  23. nolimits3333

    Romney shut down factories in America and shipped their jobs overseas. Newt was thrown out of Congress for ethics violations. I think they perfectly represent core Republican values.

    December 3, 2011 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  24. Doug

    By the way....who is the writer of this story? Is this the view of CNN?

    December 3, 2011 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  25. brian

    12 voters? That's it? That's your data set? And this story gets front page?

    December 3, 2011 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10