Monday, June 20, 2011

Are Texans Opposed to a Perry Presidential Bid?

Blogging at The Atlantic, Eileen Smith has a post entitled "12 Things Texans Know About Gov. Rick Perry That You Should, Too." The very first thing is that, "few Texans would vote for him."
As people have been saying, Perry's not exactly popular in his home state (but, as he told Neil Cavuto last week, "a prophet is generally not loved in their hometown."). An independent poll released June 16 showed that only 9 percent of likely Republican voters in Texas would support him for president.
The independent poll in question was run by the Texas Lyceum, which is a fine public service organization. It surveyed 707 Texans between May 24 and May 31 of this year. The "Perry only polls 9%" bit comes from this question:
If the 2012 Republican primary for president were held today, which of the following possible candidates would you vote for, or haven’t you thought much about it?*
Likely Voters (n=147):
16% Mitt Romney.
14% Sarah Palin.
10% Ron Paul.
9% Rick Perry.
8% Herman Cain.
7% Tim Pawlenty.
4% Newt Gingrich.
4% Rick Santorum.
4% Michelle Bachman.
1% Mitch Daniels.
0% Jon Huntsman.
22% Haven’t thought much about it.
The headline is only 9% of Texas would vote for Gov. Perry for president, but the fact of the matter is that in a survey that included only 147 likely Republican primary voters in Texas, 9% of respondents named Gov. Perry as their preferred candidate well before the current Perry for President buzz reached its current pitch and when Perry was (as he remains) an undeclared candidate for president.

Two things about this should give you serious pause. First, the sample size of 147 likely voters is incredibly small. One hundred forty-seven interviews out of a several hundred thousand person primary electorate means a margin of error north of 8%. There is no way to distinguish the level of support offered to Governor Perry from nearly any other candidate covered by the survey with great statistical confidence. Second, "haven't thought much about it" is the modal response. Even taking the poll at face value suggests plenty of room for a candidate to move up in the polls or appear from outside the list and still be competitive for or win the Republican primary in Texas.

The right way to read this poll is not to read it. The primary is too far away, the sample size is too small, the field of serious Republican candidates has yet to solidify, and Governor Perry has yet to announce whether or not he is running in the first place. Asking a few doze people about his candidacy last month is not likely to yield much worthwhile insight into Perry's standing against the current field of Republican presidential candidates.

If you must read it, saying "only 9 percent of Texans would support him for president" is a pretty silly way to do it. By that rational, there is not a single Republican candidate that more than 16% of Texans would support. You could write the same headline about any member of the GOP field. Instead, the best reading of the limited data is that the Texas Republican primary is wide open, in general, and that there is plenty of room for Governor Perry to develop and solidify a base of support in his home state should he decide to enter the race.

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