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. Jay

    A frontrunner focus group that brings up the concerns of others' that have paved the way for Paul to become a frontrunner... without mentioning Paul?

    December 2, 2011 10:21 pm at 10:21 pm |
  2. jennynewyear

    Can't trust Romney, Cain, or Ginrich to do anything but stuff their own pockets. Then there was Ron Paul - the honest, intelligent, steady, conservative who foresaw the folly in our monetary and foreign policy decades ago, and has gone against the grain to try to warn us about it/ He's the only one genuine enough to right the ship for real, so the only way I vote Republican is if Ron Paul is on the top of the ticket.

    December 2, 2011 10:21 pm at 10:21 pm |
  3. Polaris64

    Focus Group This: I have serious problems with Barrack Obama's performance and have found him lacking. Both Romney and Gingrich are far more capable of handling the Presidency than Obama ever will be.

    December 2, 2011 10:22 pm at 10:22 pm |
  4. pete

    Ummm...Ron Paul is also running... Oh that's right, mainstram media is ignoring him...again. thanks for an unbiased report.

    December 2, 2011 10:23 pm at 10:23 pm |
  5. Dan J

    Each "anti-Romney" candidate seems to last a few weeks and then sinks again. I sincerely hope the next one is Huntsman, as it would be just in time for the primaries. Being the most moderate candidate, democrat OR republican, I'm very surprised that he's not polling better.

    December 2, 2011 10:24 pm at 10:24 pm |
  6. Ravi

    What the Republicans need is Ron Paul. He will not only appeal to the Republican base but swing voters as well in key states such as Ohio and Florida. Then and only then do they have a chance against Obama. Ron Paul is the only one out of all of them that's proposing actual and believable solutions.

    December 2, 2011 10:24 pm at 10:24 pm |
  7. blake

    With all their warts and wrinkles, I will take any one of the Republican GOP candidates over the Marxist currently running for re-election.

    December 2, 2011 10:25 pm at 10:25 pm |
  8. M-Theory

    Yes, Sue Graham.... you are correct ma'am. None of these these folks will win this election. Guess ur gonna have gays runnin' rampant and socialist pot heads havin' abortions in solar cars. Armageddon is a comin'! Hallelujah!!

    December 2, 2011 10:25 pm at 10:25 pm |
  9. Joe Mahma


    They needed a focus group to tell them that?


    December 2, 2011 10:25 pm at 10:25 pm |
  10. mike

    If Romney is nominated I'll reluctantly vote for him as being the lesser of two evils. I cannot vote for Gingrich. How can I choose between a Socialist and an Adulterer ?

    December 2, 2011 10:25 pm at 10:25 pm |
  11. monolith

    This whole story is based on the opinions of a total of 12 people? C'Mon CNN!

    December 2, 2011 10:25 pm at 10:25 pm |
  12. Roberto

    Well, is it any wonder? Look at the potential candidates, Democratic candidate aside. Looks to me like the Republicans have their hands full. Mitt "good-hair" Romney, Rick "good-hair" Perry (to borrow from the late Molly Ivins), Newt the-bloviator Gingrich. Cain...well, we won't go there. Ms. Bachman, the expositator (that could go for Gingrich as well). Ron "Let's-do-a-hysterectomy-on-the-federal-government" Paul, Jon "couldn't-get-any-recognition-if-he-controlled-the-galaxy" al. Come the 2012 elections, given what's presented itself, I'm going to fall back on the old "tried and true". Dwight D. Eisenhower. Even certain deceased people have more credibility than what's above ground.

    December 2, 2011 10:26 pm at 10:26 pm |
  13. Pat

    I do not think Cain should be counted out. There is no way the media should be running this election and choosing for me who my candidate will be. You all want Romney so Obama can be assured of a win. Well, I would rather move to Canada than have that choice. Leave us alone to make our own choices and stop slandering the candidates. We the voters will choose. Not you.

    December 2, 2011 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  14. M-Theory

    Yes, Sue Graham.... you are correct ma'am. None of these these folks will win this election. Guess ur gonna have gayz runnin' rampant and socialist pot heads havin' abortions in solar cars. Armageddon is a comin'! Hallelujah!!

    December 2, 2011 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  15. buck cameron

    My biggest problems with Romney was his statement in 2008 that his sons wouldn't serve in thew military because they had more important things to do – work on his campaign. Tells me exactly where he place his priorities and how little respect he has for us "little people". I'll have more important things to do then vote for him!

    December 2, 2011 10:28 pm at 10:28 pm |
  16. Lisa Lewis

    Really. One focus group result is now the basis for a CNN article about the Republican candidates. One focus group does not have any statistical significance to anything. They did not even do a multiplicity of focus groups. This is just more BS from CNN to present a negative view of the Republican primary process. Yesterday it was an article about the "endless audition" of candidates. Duh, its called the primaries. In 2008, the democrats spent a lot of time determining who their candidate was and yet, we did not hear the same negativity.

    The press, especially the "most trusted" CNN has completely lost all integrity.

    December 2, 2011 10:29 pm at 10:29 pm |
  17. FocusonObama

    Focus group should focus on Obama and his failure as a president...GOP will 100 percent beat Obama next year..

    December 2, 2011 10:32 pm at 10:32 pm |
  18. J.R.

    And no mention of RON PAUL. The only candidate worth mentioning at all. Shame on CNN and this article and the FOCUS GROUP.

    December 2, 2011 10:33 pm at 10:33 pm |
  19. donna

    Our founding fathers gave us instructions on how to grow the garden of America. But none of the politicians are following them. Now the roots of our country are sickened by the flood waters of easy spending, and the fruit it bears, corrupted by the worms of war.

    December 2, 2011 10:34 pm at 10:34 pm |
  20. Anonymous

    Has Huntsman been forgotten? Or is he just underfunded so nobody hears anything about him. I think he is the best choice in the republican pack. But my vote still is going to Obama. The seeds of his efforts are sprouting. He is turning things around, and even though corperate interests have done all they could to not hire, they can't hold their breath forever. It shows how self serving the international business cartels really are. Under Bush, they robbed us blind. Obama was our answer.

    December 2, 2011 10:34 pm at 10:34 pm |
  21. Mike

    Stop voting for the same people. End the status quo! Vote for Ron Paul!!!!

    December 2, 2011 10:34 pm at 10:34 pm |
  22. salty

    No liberal biased stories here, move along people, nothing to see here, nothing to see......or read! What a bunch of crap. And I guess Obama isn't a flip flop.....hope and change....I hope we change administrations, we the people can't take any more of this union loving idiot! The lines at the voting booths will be longer than when we ran Carter out of office. They didn't even have to count California before the networks gave it to Reagan!

    December 2, 2011 10:34 pm at 10:34 pm |
  23. Ronald

    Just as anyone with brains has been saying all along...all of them are clowns and belong to a party that cares nothing for those in need.

    December 2, 2011 10:35 pm at 10:35 pm |
  24. Peter

    The focus group was funded by a grant from NPR and the cartoon federation of America

    December 2, 2011 10:35 pm at 10:35 pm |
  25. Charles

    Romney, Cain, and Gingrich are the three worst lying flip-flopping candidates in the whole Republican lineup, and the media STILL wont give Ron Paul the time of day. Something stinks here.

    December 2, 2011 10:36 pm at 10:36 pm |
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