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. djrashn

    After reading my post, I realize I should have written:
    It's a sad day for Rush Limbaugh and co. when the sheeple stop believing all of the Republican lies.

    December 2, 2011 11:00 pm at 11:00 pm |
  2. GonzoG

    The 2012 election will come down to a vote for the sorry and the .

    December 2, 2011 11:02 pm at 11:02 pm |
  3. GonzoG

    that was supposed to be "meh"

    December 2, 2011 11:02 pm at 11:02 pm |
  4. Boogerman

    Romney is going to be nominated, he's the best of the worst. The vocal minority of morons can just go away now.

    December 2, 2011 11:04 pm at 11:04 pm |
  5. Rob

    When you mouth the same tired, failed GOP theme over and over again and the majority begins to realize that your policies are not in their best interests, this is bound to happen.

    December 2, 2011 11:06 pm at 11:06 pm |
  6. lou

    Speaker Newt Gingrich paid a $300,000 penalty imposed for violations of House rules. He also had 84 ethics charges dropped because he paid the fine. America must have a very short memory of these events which in reality should disqualify this man from being even considered a presidential candidate. Americans had better wake up soon.

    December 2, 2011 11:06 pm at 11:06 pm |
  7. msadr

    Nobody I know of gives a flying fig about the media-dubbed "front runners". We want to hear about Ron Paul. He's the one who makes sense. I don't believe anyone else is truly a "front runner" in the minds of real voters. Who in their right mind would vote for anyone else? i just can't believe it.

    December 2, 2011 11:06 pm at 11:06 pm |
  8. cpeters

    Dream on, CNN. Your guy is the antichrist, so good luck...

    December 2, 2011 11:07 pm at 11:07 pm |
  9. epicism

    Of course they can't win the election. They continue to assert that Obama has done nothing, despite the fact that he's tried, and congress has failed.

    December 2, 2011 11:09 pm at 11:09 pm |
  10. djrashn

    Or maybe I should have written:
    The saddest thing about this election is that the main opposition has no plan, no ideas, and no care for this country. They only want to defeat Obama. This has been the Republican mantra since he won the last election, long before he ever took office.

    December 2, 2011 11:10 pm at 11:10 pm |
  11. JeffreyRO5

    The weakest collection of GOP candidates ever.

    December 2, 2011 11:10 pm at 11:10 pm |
  12. Captbeefheart

    Duh. They're all idiots or dishonest or both. Newt is a hypocrite – impeached Clinton while cheating on his wife – while Mitt is named after a sporting appliance, is a Mormon who says what the public wants to hear. I'm not against Mormons, per se, my wife's family is Mormon, but I fear the paternal link to god and the idea that his Mormon cronies will be placed in government positions of authority. I fear that this will lead to Mormon naivete values applied to our laws and government priograms. I also fear Mitt's corporate experience will not translate to government employees well – as a private corporate head people respond when you speak. Government doesn't act that way..

    There are a number of things to say about Newt and his dastardly deeds, but it's enough to say he's too slimey to be the president. I feel he's even more slimey than Nixon, Clinton, and both of the Bushes combined together. Lord save us from the Republican candidates...

    December 2, 2011 11:11 pm at 11:11 pm |
  13. Christian Faith

    Some Republicans want the type of [perfect] uber-conservative candidate that simply does not exist, and many of them have become ideological purists with intractable standards of qualification that few if any mortals can achieve, with the exception of bringing Ronald Reagan back from the dead. And even today, Ronald Reagan would be too liberal for some of them, since he agreed to raise taxes in 1982, 1983, and 1986.

    December 2, 2011 11:11 pm at 11:11 pm |
  14. RAMBLE

    So, your view is Obama's the man. Then, don't report any focus group on him. And worse, don't even do one. What a miserable excuse for a "news organization".

    December 2, 2011 11:13 pm at 11:13 pm |
  15. Dan S.

    Ron Paul isn't "wishy-washy" or a flip flopper! He sticks to his guns, and doesn't deliver prefabbed answers like all the rest. Better than Gingrich, better than Romney! More coverage of Ron Paul, someone who actually cares about the well being of the U.S.A.!

    December 2, 2011 11:13 pm at 11:13 pm |
  16. Vic in VA

    I'm not a Republican or a Democrat, but I do plan on voting for Obama in 2012. Why? Because he's not crazy like the batch of those running on the GOP side. But seriously, I think Obama deserves reelection because he's a voice of reason among a herd of self-serving cats in Congress. Like his policies or not, he's not the radical the right tried to label him to be, nor is he a screaming liberal. We have a dedicated, newly seasoned, rational person as head of State. He's also a devoted family man. Obama deserves reelection primarily because of his foreign policy decisions, namely going after OBL, Libya, and beginning to end the war in Iraq. Domestically, he's done more than most in less than 3 years with 100% opposition from the other party. Whether you agree or not with the stimulus, saving the auto industry and banks, and health care reform, these were major accomplishments. Obama must show his vision of where he wants to take the country in his next term. Improving the economy is going to take time no matter who is in the Oval office. We're going through a structural shift, so buckle up and hang on! And we all need to do our part to help, too. No President can do it alone.

    December 2, 2011 11:14 pm at 11:14 pm |
  17. Frank

    We haven't seen anything yet. Wait until the election and we'll see the problems all voters have with the GOP and its truly clownish crew of candidates. Any finalist will still be a clown.

    December 2, 2011 11:15 pm at 11:15 pm |
  18. Optical Weenie

    You interviewed 12 people? How stupid is that.

    December 2, 2011 11:15 pm at 11:15 pm |
  19. Anonymous

    I'ts as mall group of 12 people but In essence they are correct both Romney and Gingrich would not be good enough to beat Obama. I stick by my predicition of Huntsman being the winner. I wish the focus group had been asked what they thought of him!?

    December 2, 2011 11:16 pm at 11:16 pm |
  20. Rick McDaniel

    Independents have major problems with Romney as well.

    December 2, 2011 11:17 pm at 11:17 pm |
  21. jbird

    It has been revealed that one of Newt's organizations located at "K Street" complex, defaulted on the office rent, ran away in the night, and took the keys with them. This is the caliber of agency being run by Newt.

    December 2, 2011 11:20 pm at 11:20 pm |
  22. Michelle

    This "study" was conducted by a Democratic pollster. That says all.

    December 2, 2011 11:22 pm at 11:22 pm |
  23. LegendRx

    "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." And you know this man! Obama 2012 period.

    December 2, 2011 11:23 pm at 11:23 pm |
  24. ThinkAgain

    The GOP would have better luck if all of their economic, military and foreign policies weren't all PROVEN FAILURES. Then they'd be able to attract rational, thinking people.

    As long as the GOP insists on electing candidates based on knee-jerk reactions to wedge issues and not on policies that actually work or make sense, they are going to have this kind of line-up of bozos representing them.

    December 2, 2011 11:28 pm at 11:28 pm |
  25. CatHerder

    What a freak show. Is this really the best Republicans have to offer? A bunch of raving lunatics trying to out-crazy each other? I'm dumbfounded anyone takes them seriously. I remember when Republicans used to actually have values and intelligence, and even if you didn't agree with them you could respect them. Boy, are those days OVER! What I can't figure out is if they're as stupid as they sound, or if that's just their plan to manipulate the stupid to vote for them. I don't know which is scarier.

    December 2, 2011 11:30 pm at 11:30 pm |
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