WASHINGTON -- When Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney squared off on immigration in a televised debate two weeks ago, some conservatives argued that in advocating "humane" treatment for long-time undocumented immigrants, Gingrich had severely wounded his candidacy.
Yet the latest Power Outsider survey conducted by The Huffington Post and Patch suggests that, if anything, influential local Republicans in the early caucus and primary states are rallying to Gingrich's side of the immigration argument. A majority of the local insiders said Gingrich would do a better job than Romney on immigration, and just as many choose Gingrich's position on immigration over Romney's when presented the ideas without their names attached.
The Power Outsiders poll is an ongoing effort to reach out to local Republican activists, party officials and officeholders in the early primary and caucus states to observe the critical "invisible primary," usually a strong leading indicator of voters' preferences in presidential nomination contests. This week we interviewed 183 Power Outsiders: 50 in Iowa, 61 in New Hampshire, 61 in South Carolina and 12 in Florida.
When asked to choose the candidate that would do the best job handling illegal immigration, Gingrich holds a narrow lead over the rest of the field, just as he did when we asked the same question four weeks ago. Twenty-four percent of respondents said they supported Gingrich, with 16 percent and 15 percent supporting Romney and Rick Perry, respectively. Ron Paul garnered 11 percent of the vote, and Michele Bachmann had the support of 10 percent, while the other candidates polled in single digits.
When HuffPost asked respondents to choose between Gingrich and Romney on immigration, however, the former speaker holds a much bigger lead (52 to 27 percent). That advantage is even larger among our Power Outsiders in Iowa (60 to 28 percent) and South Carolina (61 to 16 percent). Though Romney has more support in New Hampshire, the state's Power Outsiders divide almost evenly (38 percent Romney and 36 percent Gingrich).
Just as important, these local Republican activists side with Gingrich on the substance of his immigration argument. When asked to choose between giving undocumented immigrants who have been here 25 years or more a "path to legal status" or giving such immigrants "no special pathway to citizenship or permanent residency," they choose the Gingrich proposal -- the path to legal status -- by a 53 to 33 percent margin.
One puzzling aspect of the results is that when we tested these positions separately, both the Romney position and the more-hardline approach of deportation advocated by Michele Bachmann generate more agreement. A large majority (60 percent) agrees with the Gingrich proposal, but far more agree with the Romney and Bachman positions (68 and 76 percent respectively).
Why the apparent contradiction in the results? Statistically, the answer is clear: A very large number -- 40 percent -- agrees with both the Gingrich and Romney positions. When asked to choose between the two, those who agree with both statements side with the Gingrich proposal by a huge margin (78 to 8 percent).
So what is happening here? The modest differences between the Gingrich and Romney positions on immigration may not be obvious even to these well-informed local Republican insiders. Keep in mind that we did not attach the candidates' names to their positions.
It is also quite possible that Gingrich's position "simply carries the day," as George Washington University political scientist John Sides tells The Huffington Post via email, "even among those who also agree with Romney's position." Sides adds that a preference for the Gingrich position "would be consistent with Nate Silver's finding that GOP voters are certainly not unified behind the most punitive measures; many support a position similar to Gingrich's."
Some may also feel slightly personal greater agreement with the harder Romney line, but as practical politicians also understand that "this Hispanic vote is very important," as one New Hampshire respondent put it on a final open-ended question. Or they simply see immigration as a big challenge. When offered the opportunity to explain their answers, a number of the Power Outsiders describe immigration variously as a "challenging topic," an "extremely difficult issue [that] will require great leadership" or an issue "too serious an issue to demagogue."
Like any measurement of public opinion, these results are just a snapshot. Views of Newt Gingrich and his position on immigration are likely to change, particularly if they come under repeated assault in the upcoming candidate debates. For now, however, Gingrich's stand on immigration does not appear to be hurting his cause with local Republican insiders.
The HuffPost-Patch Power Outsiders
Our surveys are not a scientific random sample of any larger population but rather an effort to listen to a swath of influential, local Republican activists, party leaders and elected officials in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida. All of the individuals listed below have agreed to participate in the surveys, although not all responded to this week's questions. Interviews were conducted between Dec. 2 and Dec. 7, 2011.
Cory Adams (Story County GOP chair), Leah Adams (Co-Chair, Johnson County Republican Women), Jim Aipperspach (Republican activist), Chad Airhart (Dallas Co. recorder), Skye Alison (Insurance Sales), Roger Anderson (Member, Johnson County GOP Executive Committee), Jeff Angelo (former republican office holder), Shane Blanchard (Waukee City Council), Carmine Boal (Former Congresswoman, now works for governor), Steve Boal (CFO, Accu-Mold), Robert Brownell (Polk County supervisor), Irene Chalmers-Neubauer (Republican precinct captain), Jacob Chapman (President, Dallas County Young Republicans), Andy Christenson (Active Republican), Arleigh Clemens (Co-Chair Johnson County Republicans), Chris Colter (Running for City Council), Creighton Cox (Local politician), Jeremy Davis (Councilman), Tyler DeHaan (Dallas County Young Republicans), Debra Derksen (PR person for Johnson County GOP), Paula Dierenfeld (Johnston Mayor), Mike Elam (Organizer, Dallas County GOP), Jill Ellsworth (Polk County Republicans), Paul Fell (Santorum supporter), Gregory Forbes (story county republican), Amanda Freel (State House Repub Staff), Kathy French (Local politician's wife, active Republican), Paul French (Local politician), Steve Gaer (West Des Moines mayor), Natalie Ginty (Chairwoman, Iowa Federation of College Republicans), E.J. (Polk County Supervisor), Tim Hagle (Iowa University Associate Professor, Political Science), Rick Hermann (Sales Manager, WeatherTech Automotive), Gregory Hudson (blogger), Libby Jacobs (former state representative), Dusty Juhl (Story county central committee), William Keettel (Former head, Johnson County Republicans), Gary Kirke (investor/developer), Kevin Koester (Congressman), Mary Kramer (former state senator), Marilyn Krocheski (Republican Party noteable), Elizabeth Kuennen (story county republican), Jon McAvoy (Head of Dallas County Republicans), Isaiah McGee (Owner, McGee strategies), Chris McLinden (Axis Human Capital, Businessman), Cynthia Michel (Precinct Captain), Randy Munson (Ankeny Chamber of Commerce President), Matt Nolan (Independent Republican, active in community), Mike Nolan (Republican Party noteable), Jacqui Norman (Romney leadership volunteer), Scott Raecker (State Legislator), Ben Rittgers (Story County Republican), Will Rogers (Active Republican, businessman), Jim Sandager (West Des Moines city councilman), Rick Sanders (Republican Supervisor), Connie Schmett (Active Republican), Charles Schneider (West Des Moines city councilman), Mike St. Clair (Lobbyist), 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), Deb Thornton (Worked in Republican administrations), Darrow Uhlenhopp (story county republican), Robert White (story county republican), Jack Whitver (State senator), James Wilson (GOP/independant), Eric Woolson (Republican strategist), Randy Yontz (Director Leadership Institute), Paul Zietlow (Co-founder, West Side Conservative Club)
Eric Anderson (Former State Rep/Chair Bow Board of Selectmen), Gary Azarian (State Rep.-Windham), David Bates (State Rep.-Windham), Kathy Benuck (BCTV Host/Blogger), D.J. Bettencourt (State Rep., Maj. Leader), Diane Bitter (Rye Republican activist), Travis Blais (Windham GOP Chair), Bill Boyd (Town Councilor), Steve Brennan (Business owner), Bruce Breton (Selectman), 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), Margaret Crisler (Windham GOP), 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), 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), Steve Landry (Small business owner), Tom Linehan (GOP Activist), Phil LoChiatto (Selectman), Eduardo Lopez-Reyes (Republican Liberty Caucus, National Vice Chair), Marie Lopez-Reyes (Small business owner), 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), Donna Mauro (State Rep.-Windham), Harry McClard (Freelance writer), Patrick McDougall (Budget Committee), Charles McMahon (State Rep.-Windham), Bill Modis (Vice Chair of Amherst Republicans), Maureen Mooney (Past State Rep), Keith Murphy (State Rep - Bedford), Rich Okerman (State Rep.-Windham), 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), Dan St. Hilaire (Executive councilor), Brandon Stauber (Small business owner/recent Exeter transplant), 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 (State Rep.-Windham), Raymond White (State Sen. - Bedford), Alan Williams (North Hampton resident, former Exeter selectman), 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), Bill Banning, Sr. (Vice-chair, Lexington County Council), Bob Barnwell (Richland Co. GOP Spring Valley), Joseph Bates, Jr. (Committeeman/ Richland Co. GOP Dutch Fork), Eric Bedingfield (State Rep/Congressional Staffer), Rick Beltram (Former Spartanburg GOP Chair, Self-quoter), 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), Earl Capps (Blogger), Ed Carter (Small business owner), Ben Coakley (Investment advisor), Edward Cousar (Executive Director, Black Republican PAC), M. Todd Cullum (Lexington County Council member), Rep. Joe Daning (Statehouse rep.), Smokey Davis (Lexington County Council member), Dana Eiser (Lowcountry 9.12 president), Linda Eiser (9/12 conservative), Scott Farmer (Richland County GOP Committeeman), 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), 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), Jim Lee (S.C. Senate candidate), 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), Deborah Myers (Political activist), Brent Nelsen (Professor of Political Science/former candidate for Supt. of Education), Don Nye (Bank employee), Allen Olson (Former Chairman of Columbia TEA Party), Walt Owens (University Professor), 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), Barbara Pulicicchio (Political activist), Rick Quinn (S.C. Rep. Dist. 69), 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), Lanneau Siegling (State Executive Committeeman), Billy Simons (Conservative activist), Garry Smith (State Rep), 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), Jennifer Willis (County Councilwoman/ V.P. One Tree Hill), Henry Wilson (2011 delegate, S.C. Republican Convention), Cheryl Woods-Flowers (Former mayor, Republican official), James David Woodard (Professor of Political Science, Clemson University)
Ed Blommel (Candidate for Pasco Tax Collector), Guyann Bracken-Fay (Liberty School member), Kathy Brown (FishHawk Republican Club member, 912 activist), Sharon Calvert (Tampa Tea Party organizer), Courtney Clem (FishHawk Republican Club Secretary, college student), Kelly Clem-Rickon (FishHawk Republican Club VP), John B Conneely (Delegate to the Presidency 5 convention and straw vote in Orlando), Anne Corona (West Pasco Republican Club President), John Costig (Brandon912 Leader), Deborah Cox Roush (Hillsborough County Republican Party chair), Vic Crawford (Brandon912 member), Clif Curry (Brandon Republican Club member), Scott Cutler (Brandon912 member), State Sen. Mike Fasano (Senator), Stacy Feiler (Activist; Liberty Tree Consulting), Coni Ferguson (912 member), Gym Fish, Sandra Graves (Co-vice president of the Republican Club of Pasco), Steve Graves (Co-vice president of the Republican Club of Pasco), Julia Hassler (Club Politico President), Al Higginbotham (Hillsborough County Commission Chair), Joanne Hurley (Pasco school board chair), David Jolley, Susan Kiser (Registered Republican voter), Shari Kotsch (West Pasco Republican), Diana Mattox (Central Pasco Republican), Rachel O' Connor (Pasco county commission candidate), Wayne Pickard (912 member), State Rep. Richard Corcoran (State Rep), David Rowan (Central Pasco Republican), Christopher Shalosky (Fishhawk Republican Club President), Sid Talsma (Central Pasco Republican), Jenah Victor, Todd Wall (Central Pasco Republian), Sam Ward (Central Pasco Republican), Gene Webb, Patrick Weightman (Central Pasco Republican), Shirley Wood (Pinecrest912 leader)