WASHINGTON -- Rick Perry may have impressed politically engaged Republican activists in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, but Mitt Romney impresses them even more. Romney is someone with "presidential" stature who can win the general election -- that's the message of the latest Power Outsiders poll conducted by The Huffington Post and Patch.
This week, our HuffPost-Patch Power Outsiders poll of 159 political activists, party officials and officeholders in the early primary and caucus states focuses on former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. The poll does not survey all Republican voters, but rather attempts to listen in on the "invisible primary" underway among influential local activists and political insiders that has historically driven the outcome of party nomination campaigns. This week, we heard from 34 Power Outsiders in Iowa, 58 in New Hampshire and 67 in South Carolina.
We first asked respondents to use one word to describe their impression of Romney. The majority of answers (59 percent) were positive. The most frequently used positive words, as presented in the word cloud below, were "presidential," "experienced," "polished," "competent" and "smooth."
More than a quarter of the words used to describe Romney (28 percent) were unambiguously negative. The most frequently used negative words were "RINO" (an acronym for the phrase "Republican in name only"), "flip-flopper," "plastic" and "slick."
The breakdown of positive and negative judgments of Romney looks roughly comparable to what we found last week when our survey focused on Texas Governor Rick Perry. The percentage of positive words used to describe Perry was similar (58 percent), but the share of negative words was slightly smaller for Perry (24 percent) than for Romney (28 percent).
But beware making too much of these comparisons; our coding may have missed hidden meaning in ambiguous words we classified as "neutral" that may have had either a positive or negative connotation for the respondent. These include words like "businessman" for Romney and "Texan" for Perry.
More specific probes reveal an even more favorable reaction to Romney. More than four out of five respondents describe Romney as someone who "takes stands on issues you agree with" (80 percent). Even more say he "would make a good president" (86 percent)" and "can beat Barack Obama in the general election" (89 percent).
We can add greater context by comparing these results to the reactions to Rick Perry we gathered last week. Romney gets a higher positive rating than Perry on all three questions, but especially on electability (89 percent for Romney versus 76 percent for Perry).
Perhaps most telling are the differences in intensity of opinion. When it comes to taking stands on issues they agree with, more of these influential Republicans feel strongly about applying that label to Perry (35 percent) than Romney (27 percent). On the question of who would make a good president, however, more feel strongly about applying that label to Romney (42 percent) than to Perry (32 percent). The comparison is much closer on the electability question -- 49 percent feel strongly that Romney can beat Obama, 47 percent feel strongly that way about Perry.
The difficult choice facing these influential Republicans comes into sharper focus when we look at the differences among individual respondents interviewed both weeks (of the 159 we spoke with this week, 125 were interviewed last week as well). Most have positive impressions of both Romney and Perry. On the one-word description, for example, 37 percent use unambiguously positive words to describe both Romney and Perry, 27 percent describe Romney positively but Perry negatively, 23 percent describe Perry positively but Romney negatively, and the rest are either negative (9 percent) or neutral (4 percent) about both.
Romney has a slightly bigger advantage on electability, but most of these locally influential Republicans still see both candidates as viable choices. Nearly half (45 percent) of those we interviewed for both surveys rate Romney and Perry exactly the same in terms of their ability to beat Obama, and most of these (42 percent of the total) think either candidate can beat Obama. Slightly more rate Romney more positively than Perry on electability (34 percent) than rate Perry more positively than Romney (21 percent). Most of that difference, however, is accounted for by those who feel "strongly" that Romney can beat Obama, but are only "somewhat" convinced that Perry can do the same.
Our surveys of local Republican activists in the early primary and caucus states yield snapshots of two candidates who have made positive impressions. Mitt Romney is widely seen as prepared and "presidential," while many conservatives give Perry the edge on issues they care about. Most see both as viable candidates for the general election, though as of the last two weeks, Romney has a slight edge on electability.
The HuffPost-Patch Power Outsiders
Our surveys are not a scientific random sample of any larger population but rather an effort listen to a wide swathe of influential, local Republican activists, party leaders and elected officials in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. All of the individuals listed below have agreed to participate in the Power Outsiders surveys, although not all responded to this week's questions. This week's interviews were conducted between Sept. 9-13, 2011.
Skye Alison (Insurance Sales), Cory Adams (Story County GOP chair), Leah Adams (Co-Chair, Johnson County Republican Women), Chad Airhart (Dallas Co. recorder), Roger Anderson (Member, Johnson County GOP Executive Committee), Shane Blanchard (Waukee City Council), Carmine Boal (Former Congresswoman, now works for governor), Steve Boal (CFO, Accu-Mold), Irene Chalmers-Neubauer (Republican precinct captain), Mike St. Clair (Lobbyist), Arleigh Clemens (Co-Chair Johnson County Republicans), Jeremy Davis (Councilman), Tyler DeHaan (IT Services), Debra Derksen (PR person for Johnson County GOP), Mike Elam (Organizer, Dallas County GOP), Paul Fell (Santorum supporter), Amanda Freel (State House Repub Staff), Natalie Ginty (Chairwoman, Iowa Federation of College Republicans), Rick Hermann (Sales Manager, WeatherTech Automotive), William Keettel (Former head, Johnson County Republicans), Kevin Koester (Congressman), Marilyn Krocheski, Jon McAvoy (Head of Dallas County Republicans), Isaiah McGee (Owner, McGee strategies), Chris McLinden (Axis Human Capital, Businessman), Cynthia Michel (Precinct Captain), Mike Nolan (Republican Party noteable), Rick Sanders (Republican Supervisor), Chad Steenhoek (Member, Strong America Now), Wade Steenhoek (Ankeny City Council), Ronald Stenstrom (Romney Supporter), Karen Svede (Former statewide candidate), Rob Taylor (Running for Iowa House Seat), Mike Thayer (Editor/Publisher Coralville Courier), Deb Thornton (Worked in Republican administrations), Robert Wennerholm (Precinct Captain), Randy Yontz (Director Leadership Institute)
Eric Anderson (Former State Rep/Chair Bow Board of Selectmen), Gary Azarian (State Rep.), David Bates (Rep- Windham), Kathy Benuck (BCTV Host/Blogger), D.J. Bettencourt (State Rep., Maj. Leader), Diane Bitter (Rye Republican activist), Bill Boyd (Town Councilor), Russell Bridle (Former Hampton Fire Department captain/State Rep.), Ed Brooks (Former ME selectman, town councilor), Chris Buck (Republican activist), Chris Buda (Merrimack GOP Chair), Jamie Burnett (Consultant), John Cebrowski (State Rep. - Bedford), Chris Christiansen (State Rep), Mark Cookson (Alderman-at-large), Tim Copeland (State rep.), Jim Costello (American Government teacher), Juanita Dangel (Secretary Hillsborough County GOP), Gary Daniels (State Rep), Ed Declercq (Planning Board), Jerry Delemus (Republican activist), Shari Demers (Activist), Julie DiCarlo (Small business owner), Ron DiCarlo (Small business owner), Bob Duffy (Nashua GOP City Committee), Bob Elliott (State Rep.), Gary Ellmer (Chairman, Porsmouth Republican Committee), Frank Ferraro (Exeter Selectman), Laura Foote (Activist), Mauri Foster (Retired), Sheila Francoeur (Seacoast Republican Women member), Michael Gallagher (Nashua Republican City Committee, running for Alderman), Bianca Garcia (Former Salem GOP Victory Office mgr), David Garcia (Salem Town GOP Chair), John Graham (State Rep. - Bedford), Brian Griset (Member of local political committee), Lisa Hansen (Romney supporter), Peter Hansen (State Rep), Pat Hargreaves (Selectman), Jeff Hatch (Salem Romney Town Chair), Ken Hawkins (State Rep - Bedford), Dan St. Hilaire (Executive councilor), Dick Hinch (Current State Rep), Jennifer Horn (Republican activist), David Hurst (New Hampshire Young Republicans chairman), Zac Johnson (Technical writer), Ken Jones (Member of Amherst Republicans), Gary Krupp (Member of the School Budget Committee), Michael Lambert (Resident), Steve Landry (Small business owner), Tom Linehan (GOP Activist), Eduardo Lopez-Reyes (Software engineer), Marie Lopez-Reyes (Sales), Di Lothrop (Nashua GOP City Committee), Stephen E. Ludwick (Chairman, Supervisors of the Checklist, Ward 9), Jim Luther (State Senator), John Lyons (Lawyer), Kris MacNeil (Former State Senate candidate), Joel Maiola (Former Judd Gregg Chief of Staff), Andrew Manuse (State Rep - Derry), George Markwell (School Board Member), Harry McClard (Freelance writer), Patrick McDougall (Budget Committee), Charles McMahon (Rep- Windham), Bill Modis (Vice Chair of Amherst Republicans), Maureen Mooney (Past State Rep), Keith Murphy (State Rep - Bedford), Tasha Olsen (Republican activist), Rick Paige (Loan officer), Michele Peckham (State Rep. - N. Hampton), Amy Perkins (State Rep. - Seabrook), Lawrence Perkins (State Rep. - Seabrook), Kathryn Peterson (community activist), Lenette Peterson (State Rep), Pam Price (former state rep), Lee Quandt (State rep.), Matt Quandt (Exeter Selectman/State Rep.), Tom Rath (Consultant), Fred Rice (State Rep. - Hampton), Jim Rubens (Former Republican State Sen.), Pete Silva (Rep - Nashua), William Smith (Conservative Blogger), Brandon Stauber (Small business owner/recent Exeter transplant), Sen. Nancy Stiles (State Senator - Hampton), Kathy Stroud (State Rep), Chris Tremblay (Activist), Pam Tucker (Deputy House Speaker), Mark Vincent (Chair of Amherst Republicans), Jim Waddell (State Rep. - Hampton), Tom Walker (Conservative Republican), Robert Washburn (Former City Councilor), Kevin Waterhouse (Rep- Windham), Raymond White (State Sen. - Bedford), J. Christopher Williams (Pres. Nashua CC), Tony Zore (Tea Party member)
Aubry Alexander (Charleston City Council - District 9), Thomas Alexander (State Senator), Dean Allen (Tea Party Activist), Charm Altman (President Sea Island Republican Women), Patrick L. Arnold (Campaign and fundraising consultant), Todd Atwater (S.C. Rep. Dist. 87), Rep. Nathan Ballentine (SC House Dist. 71), Bob Barnwell (Richland Co. GOP Spring Valley), Joseph Bates, Jr. (Committeeman/ Richland Co. GOP Dutch Fork ), Eric Bedingfield (State Rep/Congressional Staffer), Lin Bennett (Chair, Charleston County GOP), Rich Bolen (Chair, Lexington County GOP), Andrew Boucher (Business consultant and political advisor), Phillip Bowers (Chairman, Pickens County Republican Party), Dan Bracken (President/ The Auction Co. & Real Estate Inc.), Edward Britt (Engineer), Joe Bustos (Former town councilman), Jay Byars (Dorchester County councilman), "Bob Call (Berkeley County Councilman), "Tim Callanan (Berkeley County GOP Chairman), Mike Campbell (Son of former Gov. Carroll Campbell; co-chairman of Huntsman's S.C. effort), Ed Carter (Small business owner), M. Todd Cullum (Lexington County Council member), Rep. Joe Daning (Statehouse rep.), Smokey Davis (Lexington County Council member), Carroll S. Duncan (Dorchester GOP Chair), Dana Eiser (Lowcountry 9.12 president), Linda Eiser (9/12 conservative), Linda Estep (wife of Pastor at First Baptist Church of Columbia), Chip Felkel (Political Consultant), "Will Folks (Editor, fitsnews.com; spokesman for former Gov. Mark Sanford), "Leland Glen (Author), Chris Godbey (Political Consultant), Susan Grady (Republican activist), Randy Halfacre (Mayor of Lexington), Dan Hamilton (State Representative), Carla Hardee (President, Dutch Fork Chapter of the S.C. Federation of Republican Women), Larry Hargett (Dorchester County Council chairman), Val Hutchinson (Richland County Council), Johnny Jeffcoat (Town of Lexington Economic and Community Catalyst; Lexington County Council member), Jim Jerow (Georgetown GOP Chair), Debbie Jones (9.12 Board Member), Joanne Jones (Republican activist), Grayson Kelly (Fundraiser), James Kinard (Banker, Chair, Lexington County Council), Todd Kincannon (Lawyer/former executive director of SC Republican Party), Bob Kouvolo (President/ MaxPt), Mickey Lindler (Chairwoman for Republicans of Lexington and Richland Counties), Chris Mann (City Councilman), Karen Martin (Organizer/Spartanburg Tea Party), Larry Martin (State Senator), Taft Matney (Conservative Political Consultant), James Metts (Lexington County Sheriff), Matt Moore (Executive Director for SC GOP), Susan Morris (Nonprofit executive director), Mike Murphee (Charleston Tea Party chairman), Brent Nelsen (Professor of Political Science/former candidate for Supt. of Education), Don Nye (Bank employee), Allen Olson (Chairman / Columbia TEA Party), Randy Page (President,South Carolinians for Responsible Government), Gregory Pearce (Richland Co. Councilman), Kathy Perry (Charleston County Republican Women), Adam Piper (SC GOP 3rd Vice Chairman & political director for Huntsman campaign), Zach Pippin (GOP Media Consultant), Tony Pope (Insurance agent), Barbara Pulicicchio (Political activist), Rick Quinn (S.C. Rep. Dist. 69), Dennis Raines (Mayoral Candidate), Jeff Reuer (Vice Chair Goose Creek 9-12), DeLinda Ridings (SC GOP State Secretary / Huntsman campaign), Robby Robbins (Lawyer), Emily Rudolph (Sea Island Republican Women), LaDonna Ryggs (Spartanburg GOP Chair), "Michael Sally (Hanahan City Councilman), "Dennis Saylor (Chair, Aiken GOP), Bill Severns (Rep. for Beaufort Republican Men), Katrina Shealy (Candidate for SC Senate from Lexington), Lanneau Siegling (State Executive Committeeman), Billy Simons (Conservative activist), Garry Smith (State Rep), Bill Banning, Sr. (Vice-chair, Lexington County Council), John Steinberger (Fair Tax activist), Mary Ann Taylor (Charleston County Republican Women/Charleston County School Board), MacLain R. "Mac" Toole (S.C. Rep., Dist. 88), Frank Townsend (Lexington County Council member), September Wellborn (State GOP Delegate), Knox White (Mayor of Greenville), Jennifer Willis (County Councilwoman/ V.P. One Tree Hill), Henry Wilson (2011 delegate, S.C. Republican Convention), James David Woodard (Professor of Political Science, Clemson University), Cheryl Woods-Flowers (Former mayor, Republican official)