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. Shelby

    Romney is the man of higher morals which is important to me. I want to be able to trust my president.

    I love this quote by Andy Borowitz :

    "If Newt Gingrich can have a comeback in 2012, by 2028 we will be looking at President Anthony Weiner."

    December 2, 2011 09:00 pm at 9:00 pm |
  2. carmelle

    The conservative base is starting to realize that Obama is getting a second term. They have no one who can win in the general election that can pass their purity test.

    I feel bad for them........NOT!

    December 2, 2011 09:04 pm at 9:04 pm |
  3. jeremy watson

    Ron Paul could win. But he is the 13th floor of the hotel. To much of a threat to the moneyed power brokers in the places of power in this country. God i hope we wake up.

    December 2, 2011 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  4. Joe

    Is there a reason why NONE of these individuals mentioned anything about Ron Paul?

    I mean COME ON! His consistency and character speak for itself!

    December 2, 2011 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  5. Jake

    they shouldn't worry! they still have Santorum and Bachmann!!

    December 2, 2011 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  6. Alex

    Yeah no kidding because you're forgetting the one candidate who does have the most enthusiastic support – Ron Paul!!

    The message of freedom and cutting taxes and government spending is one that will only get more popular time.

    We're tired of flip floppers like Romney and Gingrich who will say anything to please the crowd they are in front of, then when they become elcted they turn into another Bush/Obama one president which no one with any common sense wouldactually support. Obama has wasted trillions of dollars in government spending along with his trying to distribute e wealth destructive policies and I suspect Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney wouldn't be that much different unfortanetly.

    Vote Ron Paul if you want some 'real'change and freedom from Government invading on your personal lives.

    One more example of why what I am saying is relevant. Newt Gingrich supports extending the patriot act, meaning he supports the government tapping into your internet data and into your cell phone records. This is not what a free country is about and if we terrorize our citizens then sadly the terrorists win.

    December 2, 2011 09:20 pm at 9:20 pm |
  7. bawana

    admit you racist bigoted repuged pukes,,, you don't like him because of his religion you call a cult,,just like you don't like obama because of his skin color

    December 2, 2011 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
  8. Kai Randle

    Ron Paul 2012, just waiting for everyone else to wake up...

    December 2, 2011 09:39 pm at 9:39 pm |
  9. ChrkeePrde

    I don't understand why people don't like Ron Paul...

    December 2, 2011 09:39 pm at 9:39 pm |
  10. Eye of Newt

    Most republicans are having a huge problem with the size of Newt's massive head.

    December 2, 2011 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  11. Paul Fielder

    Again, CNN makes no mention of Ron Paul. He has been consistant and non flip-flop in his views and positions for decades. AND what he's been saying for decades keeps proving to be true. He's won many straw polls in many states this year – but CNN sure doesn't say much about that either. Ron Paul might be the guy that CNN does not want to be President – but he is the serious, non wishy washy, willing to make major changes candidate that this country needs.

    December 2, 2011 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  12. MoMo

    OBAMA 2012!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    December 2, 2011 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  13. Grand Oil Party

    Gingrich doesn't have a prayer. Women will not vote in a man who cheated on his dying wife. They also will not make a woman who slept with a married man the First Lady. The GOP is throwing away this election because they won't support moderates like Huntsman or principled candidates like Paul. The Republicans are a total joke.

    December 2, 2011 09:43 pm at 9:43 pm |
  14. DR Darrough

    And Ron Paul is ignored again. Not surprising.

    December 2, 2011 09:43 pm at 9:43 pm |
  15. JRH

    Or in other words: The GOP ain't got nobody. Funny, this doesn't seem like a new story at all. There's nobody in the party worthy of a leadership position in a Boy Scout troop, much less the oval office.

    December 2, 2011 09:44 pm at 9:44 pm |
  16. colbyh

    Ron Paul sitting back in his chair with a smile. Poll numbers raising 1-3% a week. Steady she goes.

    December 2, 2011 09:46 pm at 9:46 pm |
  17. Tough USA

    Ron Paul by Default 56 minutes ago
    Thomas is actually correct based on Pauls last drive at nomination, He could win by default. I asked alot of supporters why Paul wants to stay on platform with status quo (No Offense) most replied that Paul needs to stay in GOP top tier and capture double digit voting which equates to a very large number of populists votes. Next Paul is surging as independant favorite and last which no one counted on is millions of democrat swingover and young college age voters into pauls camp. Yes Ron Paul may not only win, but it may be by default. No matter what the outcome, history will be made in 2012.

    December 2, 2011 09:46 pm at 9:46 pm |
  18. c bennett

    ron paul is our only hope

    December 2, 2011 09:46 pm at 9:46 pm |
  19. Ralf

    Maybe it is not too late for Chris Christie coming to America's rescue

    December 2, 2011 09:47 pm at 9:47 pm |
  20. MacDav

    Senior Producer Kevin Bohn and Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger what a pair obama fools;,come on CNN get some real reporters.These communist cheer leaders are getting boring.

    December 2, 2011 09:47 pm at 9:47 pm |
  21. scott

    You think they are nasty now? Wait till Obama and the Democrats dominate them.

    December 2, 2011 09:50 pm at 9:50 pm |
  22. Norm

    It took some sophisticated "focus group" to find the front runners lacking?
    Hahahahahaha....oh what a circus this is turning out to be.

    December 2, 2011 09:52 pm at 9:52 pm |
  23. MaryM

    Especially with the Newt. Think real hard on that on Repubs.

    December 2, 2011 09:53 pm at 9:53 pm |
  24. Troy

    Ron Paul, pick up the slack!

    December 2, 2011 09:54 pm at 9:54 pm |
  25. Patrick

    Sadly for the Republican Party, there is no 'White Knight' waiting in the wings to unite the Party behind one Standardbearer and win the Election against President Obama. You would think that those that have said 'no' for 2012 might take another look and join the race before Iowa. The have been more falling stars this cycle than we could see by watching the skies in a night. Obama may just end up winning by default.

    December 2, 2011 09:55 pm at 9:55 pm |
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