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. rplat

    Where were all these critical "focus groups" when Obama was campaigning. Obviously CNN is in a serious "dumpster diving" mode with the Republican candidates. Fortunately, we understand the goals of the "mainstream" media.

    December 3, 2011 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  2. SAMM

    Fixed headline: "Focus group shows that Republican frontrunners are all clowns".

    December 3, 2011 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  3. Ron

    What ABOUT RON PAUL!? The only true candidate...

    December 3, 2011 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  4. MJ

    Sue Graham, 'we have a group of people here that may not be able to win this election." Even Republican voter's are solely focused on "Winning" the election. Who are these people?

    December 3, 2011 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  5. Johnson

    I am one Independent who would never vote for Romney. None of the many Romneys as they say. I'd go with Newt.

    December 3, 2011 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  6. Melvin Kelmer

    Is CNN serious? 12 people in a "focus" group setting a nationwide news story? Heck, I could find 12 people who would say they are Republican who say they love Obama and think all of the Republican presidential candidates suck air! CNN has such an agenda to kill any support of Republicans to get Obama elected again. Where is CNN's journalistic ethics to present fair and balanced news? It doesn't exist! 12 people......fascinating!

    December 3, 2011 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  7. Ranterdon

    Maybe you should have included Frank Luntz and his focus groups results in this article..but they say exactly the opposite of theses clearly partisan talking points which CNN seems to think are important...I am not really sure who you at CNN think you are convincing...Independants...well I am one of those and it's not working on me because I do my own homework and analysis and completely disagree with the premise of this article...IMHO it's time for honest reporting thats not biased like CNN seems to think it should be.

    December 3, 2011 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  8. RES

    The right-wing should be embarrassed with this lineup. That a cain and newt are even considered is an insult to the nation. Now the party of no and bias has become a joke! They continue to insult our president and this is all they got.

    December 3, 2011 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  9. Hokiehi

    Everyone at the focus group: white, middle-age, above average income. Haha. Just an observation, but it made me giggle on the inside.

    December 3, 2011 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  10. vic , nashville ,tn

    We never thought GOP primary will end up like this. 2007 November we seen many yard sign this year so far we didn’t see any
    What local republicans are talking “congress gridlock is hurting 2012 candidates”
    “We don’t have strong presidential candidate it may hurt congress majority”
    “Because of tea party we missed good candidates”
    Republicans are so sober now

    December 3, 2011 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  11. John Smith

    12 voters???? That's it?

    This is what goes for front page news on CNN these days?

    December 3, 2011 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  12. commonsense

    It is the Republicans own fault. They have done such a good job tearing each other down they should just accept the fact they won't win.

    December 3, 2011 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  13. Glades2

    I don't like any of them – Newt's a politican from the ground up, and the others, well... – but, I'd like to see the loser of the 2008 Presidential election run again – I've heard several people say they'd vote for him – I'd vote for him, too...

    December 3, 2011 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  14. SoWhat

    Let me guess ...... the LOVE Obama!

    December 3, 2011 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  15. rpaulwmson

    Not mentioned is the Grinches biggest liability-he was basically fired as Speaker of the House, fined $300,000 for Ethics violations (worst in the history of the US,), and performed so poorly he did not even run for reelection. That is a major failure in both leadership and ethics.

    December 3, 2011 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  16. NH Grandma

    Is this suppose to be some new revelation? Most of us knew this without needing a focus group.

    December 3, 2011 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  17. Craig

    Wow – a story about how the GOP should not care about any of its candidates, so we get lulled into not showing up to vote. What a coincidence coming from CNN of all places. If I were running for president, I'd wish I had the press as my running mate, like Obama does.

    December 3, 2011 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  18. heliocracy

    Sue Graham is correct. But when they complain about flip-flops, I think they're just continuing to send the message that has hampered the Republican party with moderates and extreme inflexibility that comes across as "our way or the highway." There must be compromise to move forward.

    December 3, 2011 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  19. Granite Sentry

    This is the kind of final selection you get when you historically, repeatedly allow the liberal national media to define your slate of acceptable candidates. It's to the point now where we get only the quislings who will suck up to the Left or the far, far, far, far Right who leave themselves open to charges of lunacy. Our best candidates spend their careers on the sidelines. And don't forget that the Right by definition isn't as interested as the Left in churning out high-polish government service candidates. granitesentrydotcom

    December 3, 2011 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  20. liberty

    How can you have this discuss with talking about Ron Paul? CNN why are you so afraid of him? Your blackout is backfiring!

    December 3, 2011 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  21. Michael

    Sounds like the last GOP candidate with a clue is Ron Paul. Come on media – step up the coverage!

    December 3, 2011 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  22. Portland tony

    Just what is a flip-flop....does it mean changing you mind after gaining more facts on a particular issue? Does it mean altering your opinion for political gain? If you were converted to Christianity from say atheism, are you flip-flopping on morality? I personally have changed my opinion on a lot of issues since college. Having children has certainly changed my ideas on how I should behave personally around them. So to me, changing ones mind is a good thing, yet it's criticized if a politician does it......Hmmmm?

    December 3, 2011 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  23. Ken

    But I am sure the group does not have an issue with obam!

    December 3, 2011 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  24. Cooperate

    Duh... they are part of the GOP obstructionist machine....

    December 3, 2011 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  25. D

    Again...the media completely ignored Dr. Paul even though he is now in an undisputed 3rd place. No we need to talk about Herman and Perry, who are in 5th and 7th. (rollseyes)

    December 3, 2011 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
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