Reactions to GOP Field Leave Much To Be Desired

Jun 3, 2011
Originally published on June 7, 2011 5:38 pm

If you are feeling a bit underwhelmed by the current field of Republican candidates for president, you need not feel alone.

A new poll from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press finds that only one American in four has a good or excellent impression of the prospective challengers to President Obama – whose own poll numbers suggest he is vulnerable in 2012.

On NPR's "All Things Considered" Thursday, Pew Research Center President Andrew Kohut noted that the Democrats' candidates drew similar responses 20 years ago in the run-up to the 1992 election. Yet Democrat Bill Clinton emerged from the primaries to defeat the incumbent Republican president, George H.W. Bush.

In a separate survey done with The Washington Post, Pew allowed respondents to choose among terms to describe the existing GOP field. The most popular was "unimpressed."

Easily the best performer in the new Pew study was Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts who made his second bid for the White House official in New Hampshire Thursday.

Romney's name was recognized by 82%, and among those who said they knew his name, slightly more than half (51%) said there was at least some chance they would vote for him (44% said there was no chance of their doing so).

Two candidates had higher name recognition than Romney, but prompted far more negative responses. The best known was former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican nominee for president who has yet to announce her intentions for 2012. Palin was recognized by 97% of those surveyed, but 63% of those respondents said there was no chance they would vote for her.

Similarly, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was recognized by 86%, but 63% of those said they would not vote for him.

Also recognized by most in the survey (71%) was Ron Paul, who has run for president as a Libertarian (1988) and as a Republican (2008) and been a member of Congress for more than 20 years. But Paul, like Palin and Gingrich, registered primarily negative responses. Three out of five who knew his name said there was no chance he would win their votes.

Michelle Bachmann, a Minnesota congresswoman often seen as an alternative to Palin, registed 54% name recognition. Of these, 40% said there was at least some chance they would vote for her, 51% said there was not.

Also named in the survey, but recognized by fewer than half, were former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (48%), former Sen. Rick Santorum (41%), businessman Herman Cain (33%), former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (32%) and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (20%).

Among those who had heard of Cain, an Atlanta pizza executive and motivational speaker, nearly half (48%) said there was at least some chance they would vote for him.

The survey was conducted May 25-30 among 1,509 adults (including 1,227 registered voters). The results found that 48% would like to see the president re-elected while 37% would prefer a Republican.

The "word cloud" terminology survey was conducted May 26-29 among 1,000 adults by Pew and The Washington Post.

A plurality of those surveyed (37%) used a negative word, 22% said "good" or "interesting" or anothyer positive word and 18% chose a neutral term.

Republicans and Republican-leaners were not much different from independents in their choice of terms. They chose mostly negative terms for the field, with "unimpressed" the most often chosen.

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