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. m

    huntsman , paul <
    its interesting how the keep pushing newt and romney to be the nominee , like if they say it over and over youll vote for who they want

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

    If one really pays attention to what Newt Gingrich says you can tell he has a grasp on just about any issue. He's smart, direct, and doesn't mince words like most politicians do. He would make a great president.

    December 2, 2011 09:55 pm at 9:55 pm |
  3. scott

    Romney's a rhino......translation......I'm not voting for a Mormon.

    December 2, 2011 09:56 pm at 9:56 pm |
  4. Conrack

    All this news from just 12 people. It's very economical, but how do you extrapolate any serious conclusions from such a ridiculously small sample. And as for their feeling that Gingrich is like a father, grandfather or favorite uncle, how about more like the grouchy neighbor that yells at kids to stay off his lawn and and stop playing in front of his house and complains about school taxes as soon as his kids are done with school.

    December 2, 2011 09:57 pm at 9:57 pm |
  5. loathstheright

    This is the worst, most immoral, unethical bunch that the Republican crime family has ever had...completely unacceptable, all of them.

    December 2, 2011 09:59 pm at 9:59 pm |
  6. John M.

    Game, set and match - Obama. It looks like we Republicans will just chalk up a forfeit in 2012, so let's make sure send the A-team onto the field in 2016.

    December 2, 2011 10:00 pm at 10:00 pm |
  7. mettahu

    Once again, nobody has mentioned Ron Paul. Why?

    December 2, 2011 10:01 pm at 10:01 pm |
  8. Alina1

    Gingrich has no chance to win the National electorate, Romney has no chance to win the Republican.

    December 2, 2011 10:02 pm at 10:02 pm |
  9. Charlie from the North

    And if even the Republicans are having "problems" with them how do you think someone like myself would feel about them?

    The GOP made fun of Bill Clinton for touting his "Bridge to the 21st Century. Well I would take that bridge any day compared to the tunnel these guys(and girl) want to build to the 16th Century.

    December 2, 2011 10:03 pm at 10:03 pm |
  10. eli

    this article is stupid, 12 people surveyed really

    December 2, 2011 10:03 pm at 10:03 pm |
  11. Lindalou

    Oh I don't know..I find them quite comical, all that backpedaling is kinda funny to watch.

    December 2, 2011 10:06 pm at 10:06 pm |
  12. Freeb

    No way in hell is the GOP going to win the Presidency.

    December 2, 2011 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  13. Patricksday

    Its amazing a Focus Group cant make sense of the Hypocracy of these Candidates who even attach each other like people drowning and dragging the others down out of their desperation. This is the very BEST of the Republicans could scrape together as possible future Presidents of the United States. Ron Paul is the most passionate but the corporate news wont give him any play.

    December 2, 2011 10:10 pm at 10:10 pm |
  14. Wes

    Where are the U.S. leaders of tomorrow? Either the educational system in the U.S., or the culture has failed miserably. This political "race" is a pathetic embarrassment. No wonder the U.S. is falling of an economic cliff.

    December 2, 2011 10:11 pm at 10:11 pm |

    "they have been weighted, measured and found lacking"

    December 2, 2011 10:11 pm at 10:11 pm |
  16. Jack213

    There's one guy who still hasn't had is turn at #1 condender. He's been saying the same things for 30 years, he predicted the financial crisis, the fallout from Iraq and some say he predicted 9-11 based on US foreign policy "blowback". I'll let you figure out who that is. I hope you do it before the primaries so that you make your vote count for real this time. Good luck and vivre la rEVOLution.

    December 2, 2011 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  17. Come On

    Ron Paul is none of the listed complaints. Once again, he is glossed over. Sick of it.

    December 2, 2011 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  18. John

    No mention of Ron Paul yet again. The media blackout is disgusting. I've never read a single message board, or political thread where he wasn't the clear favorite and most talked about candidate. The silence is deafening.

    December 2, 2011 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  19. KW

    Ron Paul should be a front runner come on people.....

    December 2, 2011 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  20. Ron Paul

    Why do people keep forgetting about me? *pouts in corner*

    December 2, 2011 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  21. zip

    I am a lifelong Republican and conservative. But if Newt Gingrich is the nominee, I will stay home.

    December 2, 2011 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  22. Kevin

    Focus groups provide directional, qualitative information, not statistically valid results. They do not provide the kind of results this article claims. You cannot say, based on a focus group of 12 people, that GOP voters in general prefer a candidate or have dismissed another.

    December 2, 2011 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
  23. rand

    So 12 voters have now determined the fate of the two republican contenders?

    December 2, 2011 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |
  24. Ron

    The Republicans see Obama as vulnerable and they can't come up with better candidates than the circus we have witnessed? This has been like a soap opera (and a not very good one).

    December 2, 2011 10:20 pm at 10:20 pm |
  25. krissmith777

    True, but Gingrich is not a mormon, so he is superior to Mitt. Never mind the fact that Gingrich divorced his cancer inflicted wife for another woman.

    December 2, 2011 10:20 pm at 10:20 pm |
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