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The Inevitability of Mitt Romney

- January 10, 2012

Alex Lundry and I have a new post at Model Politics that repeats a version of our earlier experiment.  We again randomly assigned survey respondents to see information about how likely each Republican candidate is to win the nomination, win the general election, or both.  Just as in our earlier study, this information makes a big difference.

In particular, it helps Romney — the candidate most likely to win the nomination (by a large margin) and who currently polls best against Barack Obama. So as the New Hampshire results and later results convey similar information to voters, expect the Romney bandwagon to grow.

Commentators have consistently underestimated Romney’s appeal within the party.  But as I said in my post yesterday, a lot of people who aren’t currently supporting Romney aren’t necessarily opposed to him.  Lynn Vavreck and I talked to several voters in Iowa who said exactly this: although they supported another candidate — and even a quite consevative candidate like Santorum or Perry — they would vote for Romney in November.  The Model Politics details one of my conversations:

At a Santorum event in Altoona, Iowa, Sides was approached by a man selling a book he had written…a retelling of The Cat in the Hat, starring Barack Obama as “The New Democrat.”  The illustrations resemble the Seussian originals, although the verses differ slightly.  To wit:

I’ll make friends with our enemies.
They’ll do us no harm…
If they see we are weak
We must therefore disarm!

Sides asked the author, Loren Spivack, who he was supporting in the Republican primary.  He said either Santorum or Perry (“definitely one of the Ricks”).  Then Sides asked if he would vote for Romney if Romney were the nominee.  He paused a moment, shrugged, and said “Yeah.”  His tone suggested that there wouldn’t be any other option.

And now further confirmation comes from a new Gallup poll:

bq. Mitt Romney is the now the only candidate that a majority of conservative and moderate/liberal Republicans nationwide see as an “acceptable” GOP nominee for president. Conservative Republicans are more likely to say Romney would be an acceptable nominee than either Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum.

When partisans are choosing a nominee, “acceptability” is what really matters.  At the end of the day, a majority of voters — and I’d guess a large majority — will not insist on a nominee that their ideological clone.  Other considerations matter too, especially viability and electability.

For these reasons, I don’t place much stock in the specific results coming out of New Hampshire tonight.  The size of Romney’s margin of victory is less consequential than the fact that a New Hampshire win only makes his nomination more inevitable.