WASHINGTON -- While the attention of political junkies may be focused on broader polls of likely caucus-goers in Iowa, Mitt Romney has been steadily gaining ground among a narrow but critical group: local Republican activists and officeholders in Iowa and other early caucus and primary states.
On the eve of the Iowa caucuses, the latest Power Outsiders survey conducted by The Huffington Post and Patch shows that such support for Romney grew steadily in December. Perhaps just as importantly, these highly attentive political activists believe Romney is poised to win Iowa.
The Power Outsiders poll is an ongoing effort to reach out to local Republican activists, party officials and officeholders to observe the "invisible primary," generally a strong leading indicator in presidential nomination contests. This week, we interviewed 179 power outsiders: 47 in Iowa, 59 in New Hampshire, 60 in South Carolina and 13 in Florida.
Since we found considerable uncertainty among these activists in early December, with only about one-third having publicly endorsed a candidate, we have opted to track their preferences in the weeks leading to the early primaries.
Four weeks ago, the respondents were divided principally between Romney and Newt Gingrich. But Romney has steadily gained backers during the last four weeks, rising from 26 percent to 37 percent support, while Gingrich's support dropped from 27 to 20 percent. Meanwhile, support for Rick Santorum doubled, from 6 to 13 percent.
If we narrow our focus to the 151 respondents who participated in both this week and four weeks ago, we see that most -- 71 percent -- have continued to support the same candidate they supported in early December. Romney, however, clearly gained most among those who shifted their preference, boosting his support from 27 to 36 percent of those interviewed both times.
Perhaps the best news for Romney is that his current support among the 47 local activists we interviewed in Iowa (40 percent) is nearly as high as among those we interviewed in New Hampshire (42 percent). Our sample size is small, but Romney's support from the party actors in Iowa has remained stable throughout the last two weeks.
These local Republican activists have also grown more certain about their choices, with 75 percent now saying they will definitely support their first choice, up from 61 percent two weeks ago. Still, one in four say on a follow-up question that they may still change their mind about which candidate they will support (18 percent), remain completely undecided (6 percent) or are unsure how certain they are (3 percent).
Another good sign for Romney is that overall, his support is the most solid among the party actors we interviewed, with 88 percent saying they will definitely support him. Certainty varies between 65 and 70 percent for Michele Bachmann, Gingrich, Romney and Santorum.
But the survey does yield some encouraging news for Santorum. He is the leading second choice overall (20 percent) and in Iowa (26 percent). He is also the second choice of 39 percent of those currently supporting Gingrich, Perry or Bachmann. Romney is the second choice of 21 percent of current Gingrich, Perry or Bachmann supporters.
The most intriguing finding in this week's survey is that Romney dominates in all of the states when it comes to expectations about who will win the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday. Nearly half of the full sample of power outsiders (48 percent), and a greater proportion of those interviewed in Iowa (57 percent), believe Romney will win. Twenty-six percent overall, and 19 percent in Iowa, believe Ron Paul will win. And despite news coverage of polls showing an apparent surge of support toward Santorum, only 8 percent of the full sample and 6 percent of the power outsiders in Iowa believe Santorum will likely finish first there.
We also asked our respondents to guess at the percentage of the vote that each candidate will receive in Iowa (using a web form that assisted them in choosing answers that totaled to 100 percent). While about half believe Romney will win, most appear to think the result will be close, with an average guess of 24.3 percent for Romney, 23.1 for Paul, 16.6 percent for Santorum and 15.4 percent for Gingrich.
These responses bear a strong similarity, on average, to the current poll averages reported by websites like Pollster, Real Clear Politics and FiveThirtyEight over the last few days. Power outsiders are highly attentive political activists, so it should not come as a surprise that they have seen the latest polls, but it is intriguing that for all the discussion of a Santorum surge, few in either Iowa or the other states expect the surge to propel the former Pennsylvania senator to victory.
What makes this result intriguing is research by economist David Rothschild showing that answers to the question, "Who do you think will win the upcoming election?" have had considerable success in predicting election winners. At a recent briefing for reporters hosted by Gallup, Rothschild speculated that the expectation question is a successful predictor because it carries "the information that a person has about just themselves" but it is also provides "some information about their social network" -- how individuals believe others they know will vote.
Rothschild argues that these sorts of questions are comparatively more accurate in predicting primary elections, where preelection polls have a harder time determining who will actually turn out to vote -- particularly in Iowa, where turnout is generally low.
"If local party actors in Iowa are expecting Romney to win the caucuses overwhelmingly," Rothschild writes via email, "I would consider that an extremely powerful indicator that Romney is very likely to win the caucuses."
The political science that inspired the Power Outsiders survey argues that the preferences of local party "actors" like the power outsiders may help to influence the choices of rank-and-file voters. If those same activists have a good sense of how the ordinary rank and file they know will vote, especially in Iowa, then Mitt Romney has another reason to be encouraged about his chances in Iowa on Tuesday.
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. 30. 2011 and Jan. 2, 2012.
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), 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 notable), 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 notable), 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/independent), 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), 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), 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 adviser), 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), 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), Dixie Eklund (Palm Harbor Republican), State Sen. Mike Fasano (Senator), Stacy Feiler (Activist; Liberty Tree Consulting), Coni Ferguson (912 member), Susan Freebern (Lakeland Republican), 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), Linda Holcombe (St. Petersburg Republican), Joanne Hurley (Pasco school board chair), 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), Ginger Price (South Tampa Republican), State Rep. Richard Corcoran (State Rep), Doc Riley (Thonotosassa Republican), David Rowan (Central Pasco Republican), Christopher Shalosky (Fishhawk Republican Club President), Sid Talsma (Central Pasco Republican), Todd Wall (Central Pasco Republican), Sam Ward (Central Pasco Republican), Gene Webb, Patrick Weightman (Central Pasco Republican), Shirley Wood (Pinecrest912 leader)