Romney Ahead In GOP Presidential Poll

Robert Siegel talks to Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center about the GOP presidential field. Mitt Romney is ahead; and Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are way behind in the public mind. Herman Cain did surprisingly well, with a third of the polled saying they had heard of him.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

As we've heard, Mitt Romney enters the GOP presidential field as the presumed frontrunner, but the field that he is leading is not exactly thrilling the American public. The latest evidence of that is a new poll from the Pew Research Center. And joining us now is Andrew Kohut, the president of Pew.

Hi, Andy.

Mr. ANDREW KOHUT (President, Pew Research Center): Hi, Robert.

SIEGEL: First, Mitt Romney appears to be a unique in the Republican field in that people know him, and they don't dislike him.

Mr. KOHUT: Yeah. We get half of the people that we questioned saying that there's at least some chance they would vote for him, and most people know who he is. In contrast, other well-known Republican names are quite unpopular. Ninety-seven percent have heard of Sarah Palin, but 63 percent say: No way I'm going to vote for her. Similar numbers for Newt Gingrich.

SIEGEL: And Ron Paul?

Mr. KOHUT: And Ron Paul gets about the same thing, 60 percent. I'm not -there's no way I'm going to vote for him.

SIEGEL: Let me ask you briefly about two other Republican contenders. Tim Pawlenty?

Mr. KOHUT: Tim Pawlenty gets reasonable numbers given how limited awareness there is of him. Only 48 percent have heard of him, and he gets 42 percent saying that there's some chance they would vote for him. He seems - there seems to be some potential for movement there.

SIEGEL: And one other candidate: the declared winner of the first Republican primary debate, Herman Cain, talk show host, a former CEO of Godfather's Pizza.

Mr. KOHUT: Just a third of voters and 44 percent of Republicans have heard of him. So the reactions we're getting are among a self-selected segment of the American public.

SIEGEL: But among those people, a large share say I could vote for him.

Mr. KOHUT: A very good response, especially among Republicans, but his profile fits. He's pro-life. He's anti-government. He's a business guy. It works for many Republicans.

SIEGEL: Served in the military too.

Mr. KOHUT: Served in the military.

SIEGEL: You also asked people, of course, about President Obama and how he matches up against an unnamed Republican opponent. He looks pretty strong at this point.

Mr. KOHUT: He's doing pretty well right now. Forty-eight percent said they'd vote for Obama, if the election were being held today, 37 percent said they'd prefer a Republican candidate who we did not name. That's about as strong as he's been. His approval ratings are 52 percent, still a bit of a bounce from the Osama bin Laden killing and a lot better than the 45 percent that he was at when the Democrats lost control of Congress back in '010.

SIEGEL: And you show President Obama with a margin of approval: 42 to 35 percent among independents.

Mr. KOHUT: Yeah. He's doing reasonably well among independents, and he's on the upswing. Of course, the concern for Obama and Democrats is the polls are showing sinking consumer confidence. And the president's approval ratings are very subject to trends in consumer confidence.

SIEGEL: Andy, historically, in the context of recent history, do these numbers look like the re-election years of Jimmy Carter or George H.W. Bush, who lost at this point in their first term, or the re-election years of Bill Clinton or George W. Bush who won re-election?

Mr. KOHUT: Well, Obama is doing really well, but it's very hard to put your money down on a candidate when conditions are so negative and so subject to perhaps even getting worse or more importantly not getting better. Certainly, he is in better shape than Ronald Reagan was in 1983, but the economy began to really pick up steam by the time we got to 1984. And that's going to be what's very essential for the Democrats.

And the Republicans, while they're relatively poorly regarded as a field, only 25 percent say excellent or good group of people. Well, there was another time when we had ratings so low for a field of candidates, and that was back in October of '91 when we asked about the Democrats. Only 20 percent said that was an excellent or good field but...

SIEGEL: Bill Clinton emerged as the next president.

Mr. KOHUT: Bill Clinton emerged as the president in an era in where - or at a time when the public was increasingly concerned about a bad economy.

SIEGEL: Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, thanks once again.

Mr. KOHUT: You're welcome, Robert.

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