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. Andra

    Oh brother–this focus group is how many people?

    December 2, 2011 10:38 pm at 10:38 pm |
  2. god

    Ron Paul is the one. Without him GOP looses!

    December 2, 2011 10:39 pm at 10:39 pm |
  3. bluemax77

    You think..??

    December 2, 2011 10:40 pm at 10:40 pm |
  4. Wayne

    There's only one real solution: RON PAUL. The only man who can save America.

    December 2, 2011 10:41 pm at 10:41 pm |
  5. abtime

    There has to be someone as the Republican Nominee otherwise why have an election. Has this ever happened before?

    December 2, 2011 10:41 pm at 10:41 pm |
  6. ChrisGar

    I'm surprised about this.

    As Chris Matthews would say ... "I'm giddy about these candidates".

    December 2, 2011 10:42 pm at 10:42 pm |
  7. winstonsmith

    Something all the Obama "worst president ever!" idiots don't take into account. Kerry lost to Bush for the same reason. Being negative isn't enough. Saying just "I won't do what he does" is not enough.

    December 2, 2011 10:43 pm at 10:43 pm |
  8. Sanzio

    I propose a competiotion between these candidates . It would be selling donkies to their neighboors . The winner is the one who gets most punches by unhappy donkies.

    December 2, 2011 10:43 pm at 10:43 pm |
  9. Stigmatic

    What a foolish survey – they seem to have left someone out.

    December 2, 2011 10:44 pm at 10:44 pm |
  10. John

    Way to leave out Ron Paul, as usual.

    December 2, 2011 10:45 pm at 10:45 pm |
  11. evensteven

    Obama's sleeping with a smile on his face tonight . . .

    December 2, 2011 10:45 pm at 10:45 pm |
  12. dan

    Every politician says whatever it takes to get elected. That's how our "great" system works. You can't tell me that Obama won't do the same. The bottom line is that Romney is the candidate most likely to turn the economy around.

    December 2, 2011 10:46 pm at 10:46 pm |
  13. Rick Perry

    i lik perry an cain. he is tea support. dont believe all that crep. dreme team cain-perrys 2012. joint tea baggers an get cain perrys supports. gets smarte lik me and tea bagger.

    December 2, 2011 10:48 pm at 10:48 pm |
  14. Susan Wilde

    Let's get over the flip flop angle, it's old and tired. Focus on what's going on now.

    December 2, 2011 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
  15. Bigred

    Frankly the Republican field of candidates are either dumber that a bag of hammers, or as unpalatable as an unripe persimmon.

    December 2, 2011 10:50 pm at 10:50 pm |
  16. cnn apologist

    it ain't a big headline with a video if it ain't anti republican on CNN

    December 2, 2011 10:51 pm at 10:51 pm |
  17. Terry

    The GOP has a real problem; none of the presidential candidates can win in the general election. I am hoping that a viable candidate will step forward soon, or at the convention. Otherwise, a great deal of money has been wasted on this three ring circus.

    December 2, 2011 10:51 pm at 10:51 pm |
  18. Blayze Kohime

    If push came to shove he'd give up his core principles. Guess what? That's why he has the best chance of any of them in defeating Obama. Cause republican core principales are crazy.

    December 2, 2011 10:52 pm at 10:52 pm |
  19. Freethinksman

    12 people in one focus group from a single state warrant a whole story here? As one of the 300 million Americans not part of this focus group I don't see any relevance whatsoever. The collective opinion of one bowling team could have skewed the results by 50%. A focus group of 12 can not possibly be representative of anything significant. Why not just write a piece based on the reporter's own gut? It could be written while sitting on the toilet and have just as much credibility.

    December 2, 2011 10:54 pm at 10:54 pm |
  20. MarineVet

    "Focus group shows Republican voters have major problems."

    Quite so, I'm afraid.

    December 2, 2011 10:54 pm at 10:54 pm |
  21. John

    It took a focus group to give us this insightful information? Who didn't know this already?

    December 2, 2011 10:57 pm at 10:57 pm |
  22. Guest

    They based this article off a focus group of 12 people?

    December 2, 2011 10:58 pm at 10:58 pm |
  23. Bigred

    Mitt the boring and Newt the boor. Not much of a choice really.

    December 2, 2011 10:58 pm at 10:58 pm |
  24. djrashn

    These results are not surprising. The Republicans have nothing to offer to anyone in America except the rich. They have nothing to offer except more corporate welfare and welfare for the rich. If you need an example, google sears, and read what they're doing to the state of Illinois right now.

    The real question is: Which candidate is far right enough to get the Tea Party vote, yet moderate enough to get the Independent vote, and at the same time, has a shred of integrity, an ounce of decency, is capable of intelligent thought, and can actually get our do nothing congress to work for the American people?

    December 2, 2011 10:59 pm at 10:59 pm |
  25. Spencer

    Yes, finally someone makes some sense. Start choosing canadites based on their history and what they have done, not their blabbering ideas about how things should be.

    December 2, 2011 10:59 pm at 10:59 pm |
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