NPR logo GOP View Of Mitt Romney's Electability May Get Him Past Rivals In End

Mitt Romney

GOP View Of Mitt Romney's Electability May Get Him Past Rivals In End

Mitt Romney waves after speaking at the Americans for Prosperity conference in Washington, D.C., Friday, Nov. 4, 2011. Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP hide caption

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Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP

Mitt Romney waves after speaking at the Americans for Prosperity conference in Washington, D.C., Friday, Nov. 4, 2011.

Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP

ABC News/Washington Post poll data point released Monday out to one of the more interesting ironies facing Republican voters as the time for really choosing the GOP presidential nominee draws ever nearer.

A third of Republican and GOP-leaning voters, 33 percent, said Romney was the most electable of the choices now before them for the Republican presidential nomination. That was far and away the highest percentage for any of the candidates. Herman Cain came in at 21 percent on the electability question.

Thus, if more Republicans were more like Romney, or at least their perception of him as a politician from the realpolitick school, Romney would likely be in the lead. That's because their candidate preference would be largely based on which one would most likely put Republicans back in the White House.

Unfortunately for Romney, a lot of Republicans aren't operating from pragmatism as much as ideology. That's why only 24 percent said in the same poll that he's their candidate, putting him in a statistical tie with Cain at 23 percent.

The good news for Romney is that some political scientists have found evidence that electability does matter to greater or lesser degrees in presidential primaries. Mark Wattier, a political scientist at Murray State University studied the results of the 2000 Republican presidential primaries and concluded that the notion of electability played a role in gaining the nomination for George W. Bush.

Political scientists Jill Rickershauser of American University who studied at Duke University and John H. Aldrich of Duke said their research which drew on the 2004 Democratic primary found that the candidates' issue positions and voter perceptions of their electability both factored into voters' decisions. They found voters to be strategic in their final decisions, however. In other words, when push came to shove, voters definitely factored in electability.

So while Romney may not be a clear frontrunner in overall support, the fact that he is in electability could very well prove to be decisive once the caucuses and primaries roll around.