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

    Yes, I have problems with the GOP frontrunners also. I traditionally vote GOP, but I can't trust them anymore. Will vote for the president–he has done a good job despite the intense efforts of the GOP to undermine the government in order to make him look bad. (What kind of nutty system is this?)

    December 3, 2011 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  2. joe

    Are the Republicans ever going to realize that their only candidate qualified to be president and with a chance of beating Obama is Jon Huntsman?

    December 3, 2011 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  3. Erik Taylor

    CNN. . . .cheerleading for the DNC yet AGAIN–what a joke. Look, it's over for Barry. His policies are more unpopular than New Coke was. Unemployment remains nearly 10%. People are depressed, broke, unemployed and afraid to spend money at Christmas. He has been absent as an Executive and has spent all of his efforts trying to get reelected letting the ship of state drift further and further off course. Between the Fast and Furious and the Solyndra debacles, his administration is scandal-ridden. However I think it is unfair to compare Barry Obama to Jimmy Carter. . . .The Peanut Farmer was a much better President than the current empty suit in the WH.

    December 3, 2011 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  4. Laura

    Ron Paul is the only one who has a chance of beating Obama. But the GOP will go for slimy Newt.

    December 3, 2011 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  5. alice

    this should be under the category of NO FREAKIN' DUH!!!! how much money was spent on this focus group? I'd take 1/2 that and told them the exact same thing!

    seriously - how dumb are these political pundits?

    December 3, 2011 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  6. yellowstone

    the candicates all belong in a retirement home. after what 12 debates it time to cancell this tv show. find new writers, new plot lines, and new and younger faces. other wise president obama had another 4 seasons.

    December 3, 2011 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  7. steve

    wow all 12 voters in Virgina this is front page?

    December 3, 2011 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  8. Jim

    Face it. They are all losers. No new ideas. No magnetic personalities. Just the same old snake-oil salesmen trying to snooker the same old stupid people.

    December 3, 2011 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  9. Larry pooface

    The cult of personality we seem to desire is ruining our politicians. We are getting more characters than competent policy makers. They have to flip-flop because Americans want to hear certain things at certain times. This time around, the candidates are trying to appeal to the ultra-conservative right that has been vocal for the last 2 years; event though most Americans are more moderate. We need qualified candidates, not good haircuts and a quick wit. This is a problem plaguing both parties.

    December 3, 2011 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  10. John A

    So, you do a story on how Perry, Caine, Romney and Gingrich have fallen out of favor with voters. You report that the latter two are seen as flip-floppers. What's a good GOP voter to do? If only we had a steady candidate, without past skeletons who has maintained his same convictions for over 30 years, who routinely polls in the double digits. Oh, wait, we do...but CNN and the rest of the mainstream media ignores Dr. Ron Paul out of hand . Please stop telling the people what they 'should' want and report the news at hand

    December 3, 2011 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  11. nytw

    I don't understand how any real conservative could vote for either these politicians. They are both flip floppers and are willing to lie about anything to get elected.

    December 3, 2011 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  12. Coffeehead

    There are plenty of GOP canidates out there who could have a serious shot at Obama. Its unfortunate that the tea-bag/ extream right wing factions of the party have highjacked the whole process. Republican thugs like Grover Norquist think theyre saving the party when in fact all they are doing is burning down thier own house !!

    December 3, 2011 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  13. Don McGrath

    I think the writer of this piece and the GOP focus group is missing one point here. While none of the GOP candidates here are perfect, ANY OF THEM would be a better choice than Obama. Also, how can anyone honestly criticize a GOP candidate for flip flopping after looking at a list of all the broken campaign promises from Obama? Has he actually kept any promise that he made during his election?

    December 3, 2011 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  14. bruceinva

    Why no mention of Huntsman? Consistently conservative, proven leader, reformed health insurance in Utah without a govt mandate, speaks mandarin, turned around a failing business and took it global. What's not to like?

    December 3, 2011 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  15. TRH

    Then they better have problems with the rest of them, especially Bachmann and Perry. If I DID happen to be a Republican (I'm not) the only one that makes any real sense is Jon Huntsman. At least they've written off Cain, a man with few qualifications unless you consider a huge ego, lots of money, and questionable morals as being qualifications.

    December 3, 2011 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
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