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. RodRoderick

    lol – you can't even mention the name of the one true candidate without being censored. goodbye cnn. I've had enough.

    December 3, 2011 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  2. bill

    this is true – the republican field is terrifing this time around. i think i'll just vote for the president and see if republicans are any better in 2016 or after. it's ok to be a republican and vote for a democratic president. these are not the times for more exprimentation with wild radical ideas and personalities

    December 3, 2011 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  3. m.a. plunkett

    I think it's surprising and a little arrogant that these so-called "focus groups" believe that they have a hand in choosing the various candidates for President. Last time I checked, I thought the voters chose.

    Silly me!

    December 3, 2011 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  4. Doug

    I apologize to Kevin and Gloria. I just read that you were the writers.

    December 3, 2011 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  5. mtthinker

    Actually there is a good one (really only one) in the bunch. John Huntsman has knowledge, experience, great ideas, and is not afraid to tell the truth. He just does not get any coverage, probably because he is not a train wreck. Look him up online, the media will not enlighten you.

    December 3, 2011 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  6. joe

    You don't say? I guess we're all supposed to be without sin, without faults. If one person on here can say they are without sin.....THEN WHY AREN'T YOU RUNNING FOR PRESIDENCY?

    December 3, 2011 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  7. chris

    There's a big difference between changing one's opinion/position on an issue because of a change in understanding, etc – and simply changing it to fit the political mood. I wish voters would cosider this more often. I'm no fan of Newt, but some of his flip flops sound like an evolution in his thought process. We all should be challanging ourselves on what we "know."

    December 3, 2011 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  8. SAMM

    All GOP candidates agree in lockstep with the Senate Republicans blocking the payroll tax cut extension/expansion. Romney himself said in response to it, "I'm not looking to put money in people's pocket."

    Really? With the biggest tax cuts ever for the wealthy in 2001, and this current attempt to effectively raise taxes on the average, hardworking American and American family–in the middle of the worst times since the Great Depression especially–he is clearly looking to put money in SOMEBODY'S pocket. It's just not the "people", as he said.

    This is the problem with him, all the GOP candidates, and the GOP itself, imo. They are unsympathetic, removed, capitalist/free market extremists, and have little to no regard for the very people they are there to serve. If America has any sanity left (after electing Bush twice), this party as it currently stands could never win a general election, because it would be middle-class suicide.

    December 3, 2011 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  9. BinVA

    In the night sky we see the stars steadily glowing with a pleasant light. Then, when a star reaches the end of its "life" there is a huge blast of dangerous light and radiation, a nova or supernova, leaving behind a basically inert, dark relic. That is what we're seeing here in the USA with the GOP. A once credible political force is exploding in a dangerous blast of ultra-right-wing insanity led by religious conservatives and frustrated Tea Party activists. Despite my generally, but not always, favouring the positions of the Democratic Party I do not view this development positively. We need the progressive view of the Democrats to keep us looking to move our country forward in an ever changing world but we also need the tempering influence of what used to be the GOP to avoid our rushing off too far too fast. With the demise of a credible conservative tempering influence I fear a runaway Democratic Party as much as I fear the current extremism of the GOP.

    December 3, 2011 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  10. DTD in New Mexico

    And just when you thought the GOP Circus of Clowns could not get any more bizarre, the Repubs announce Carnival-Barker-In-Chief Donald Trump as moderator for the next GOP debate debacle.
    HA! HA! HA! – Best reality TV entertainment of them all!

    December 3, 2011 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  11. Justin

    CTRL+F "Huntsman"

    Not Found.


    December 3, 2011 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  12. GOPDisillusioned

    All the money in the world. Top drawer intelligence base. Think tanks, pundits, talk shows, focus groups, pollsters. Millions in the populace to draw from. This group of clowns is the best the GOP and our country can come up with?

    Can you say: 4 more years for Barack. Sure..... I knew you could!

    December 3, 2011 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  13. Jill Scott

    What a joke. Newt Gingrich is perceived as a father???? This father LEFT HIS YOUNG CHILDREN and wife to run off with another women. He did this while his wife was sick and he brought divorce papers for her to sign – in FRONT of their children. And he pulled the same stunt to his 2nd wife. His 3rd wife, Callista – who spent 6 years sneaking around in hotel rooms with Newtie while he was married to his 2nd wife, is NOT First Lady material. She's a crazy looking, stupid sounding First Tramp.

    President Obama already won the election. Baggers have rejected Romeny and he was the only shot.

    December 3, 2011 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  14. Jeb

    Newt – Served his wife with divorce papers while she was in the hospital with cancer so that he could run off with his secretary. Forced to resign in shame from Congress by his own party for ethics violations. Made 1.6 million as a lobbyist for Freddie Mac.

    Romney – Chronic flip flopper who's record is a TOTAL contradiction to everything he pretends to stand for today.

    December 3, 2011 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  15. Anonymous

    CNN. . . cheerleaders for the DNC. Both CNN and MSNBC (brothers in bias) are going to be very depressed in December, 2012 when Barrack is laid waste even more so than Jimmy Carter. Barry is a loser with the American people. His listless administration has failed further driven down by his ideology which has also been rejected by the common folks.

    December 3, 2011 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  16. Kevin

    Interesting...not one mention of Ron Paul who will shock the world and win the Iowa caucus.

    December 3, 2011 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  17. Unbelievable!!!!

    Wow, the news media asked 12 people about the presidential race and the 12 people said the same thing that's been all over the media for weeks!!! This is shocking!!! If only I could get a rare look into this mysterious, enigmatic process!!!!

    December 3, 2011 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  18. DCE

    Go Home Herman!

    December 3, 2011 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  19. jack squatt

    A bigger focus group finds a lot of faults with the Democrat frontrunner.

    December 3, 2011 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  20. jon

    Gingrich wants your kids to drop out of school to become a janitor.

    December 3, 2011 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  21. Jacques C. Sprenger

    Wow, what a rude awakening for the front-runners, Romney and Newton; people, Republicans that is, are looking for the Reagan-type candidate and they say they can't find one; you want character and good morals, what's wrong with Huntsman? You want foreign policy expertise, again Huntsman. He has no major flaws and should be the front runner. Why not? Dark horse maybe, as Gingrich and Romney destroy themselves? Huntsman hasn't taken millions from Freddy Mac, only to disparage them later. Huntsman is no Washington insider, a plus. He took a job with Obama for the country, not for the President. Any questions?

    December 3, 2011 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  22. Dave

    Unbelievable. A focus group of TWELVE people from ONE region of ONE state conducted by an opposing political party poster is the lead story on can't decide what is more disgusting, the bias or the LAZINESS!!!

    December 3, 2011 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  23. TB

    Is anyone really surprised? The party of no is worthy only of that response from the voters of America...NO!

    December 3, 2011 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  24. ru serious

    ...this is crazy, we have a weak ineffective president, GOP could easily win but there is no viable candidate. Other than Huntsman who cannot get through the primaries because of the Pitchfork wing of the party, not one of these guys is particularly appealing to Independents, who will call this election. Guess we're going to be stuck with Obama for another 4 years, just great.

    December 3, 2011 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  25. Gabbo

    Ultimately, the choice will be between the GOP nominee and King Barry, which is as clear and straightforward as it gets. No way Obama wins a second term – it will be a landslide.... and he'll take the Senate with him.

    December 3, 2011 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
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