As I mentioned earlier, Public Policy Polling [pdf] released an August iteration of their 2012 presidential trial heats today. [Pop on over and check out the results in FHQ's first post, but in this space I want to get a better look under the hood.] Some still have issues with these polls, but as I've maintained, I like the information (even three years in advance), but don't operate under the illusion that these polls are not without their caveats. In addition, then, to the typical grains of salt these poll should be taken with there are other considerations as well.
Last month it was the fact that Obama swept the South against all four prospective Republican candidates in the PPP poll. With the region question absent this month, the subject of my ire is the education question. Over one-third of the 909 respondents in the survey are identified as having some after-college graduate or professional training. That's a lot! It is however, interesting for a couple of reasons.
First, in terms of the highest level of education achieved, the Census shows 28.7% of the US population as having a bachelor's degree or more (as of March 2007). Keep in mind, that that figure rolls in those who have a bachelor's degree and it still comes in below this PPP sample. Well, the Census figure is dealing with the total population and the PPP poll is looking at voters. Let's be fair. The 2008 presidential election exit polls indicate that 17% of voters had a least some amount of education beyond college. That's half of what PPP has represented in this sample.
The second part of this is that of that 17% in the exit polls with some post-graduate education, 58% supported Obama. It is eye-opening, then that Obama seems to have a decreased level of support overall in this poll versus last month's results. Either Obama is slipping with this group (interesting in and of itself) or something is up with the internals of this poll. After all, if a third of the respondents are from a group the president won by a 3:2 ratio, then he should do better, not worse, in the poll overall. Of course, this education variable is new to the survey this month, so we don't have any means of comparison. It is something to keep in mind, though, as we look at the poll and the overall trends over time.
Let's go through these alphabetically starting with Newt Gingrich. The former Speaker of the House has been in a holding pattern vis a vis the president throughout the summer. Along with Sarah Palin, Gingrich is the only other candidate with a negative approval differential. He and the former Alaska governor and vice presidential nominee both carry differentials of -9, though, more respondents are unsure on Gingrich than on Palin.
Though Huckabee's share increased in August over July, the trendline to track is Obama's. The president has steadily tracked downward against Huckabee in not only the PPP polls, but incorporating the other polls that have conducted trial heats on the 2012 race as well. The former Arkansas governor is the most favorable (+17) of the four prospective Republican candidates and does the best of all four among former McCain voters in the sample (84%, Gingrich: 80%, Palin: 77%, Romney: 79%). Huckabee's dilemma is that he has yet to translate that into any notable financial gains for his HuckPAC. He trails both Romney and Palin in that regard. That can certainly be made up, but folks aren't opening their checkbooks for him yet. That Huckabee is within three points is noteworthy; there's no doubt about that.
As for Sarah Palin, the former McCain running mate slipped versus last month's PPP poll, but certainly fares better than in the Marist poll released earlier in the week. I want to focus on race with Palin. I've already noted the continued gender gap issue she has; lagging behind the other Republicans among women against Obama (Gingrich: -17*, Huckabee: -5*, Palin: -28*, Romney: -14*). This continues to be a curious phenomenon, but isn't anything we haven't seen in past polls.
The main question facing the Republican Party after the 2008 election, though, was race-based: How could the party appeal to the growing (especially Hispanic) segment of the population? Sure, that's melted into the background to some extent since the Democrats in the capital are helping them out in regards to 2010 and 2012 via their avenues of policy pursuit (And yes, there are plenty of media and messaging effects rolled into that as well.). Long term, though, it is a concern for the GOP. Well, which of the four Republican candidates included in this August poll does the best with Hispanics or who puts the party in the best position to potentially woo those voters? It isn't Palin. In fact, the former Alaska governor is the least favorable candidate among Hispanics (50% unfavorable) and her 17 point deficit against Obama with Hispanics is at the bottom (though it isn't as troubling on the surface as her approval deficit among Hispanics compared to the other candidates). Huckabee leads the way among Hispanics and offer Republicans the best opportunity to at making inroads with the group.
Mitt Romney continues to look good on paper as a 2012 candidate. Financially, his Free and Strong America PAC is doing well and he typically fares well in the 2012 primary polls. As Tom Jensen at PPP pointed out today, though, Romney's issue is that he is the least popular of the four Republicans (Only 52% of Republicans approve of Romney. Gingrich: 56%, Huckabee: 66%, Palin: 72%). Additionally that has been an increasing trend over the course of the last few polls. That isn't the greatest sign for the former Massachusetts governor, but this trend does not seem to have stretched into some of the other polls, especially the primary polls. It is something to keeps tabs on, however.
* The equation is simple the male differential against Obama minus the female differential against the president. If Tim Pawlenty, for instance, was +5 among men against Obama and -12 among women, the Minnesota governor would have a -7 gender gap.
PPP Poll: 2012 Trial Heats (Obama v. Gingrich/Huckabee/Palin/Romney) August Edition
State of the Race: Virginia Governor (8/19/09)
State of the Race: New Jersey Governor (8/19/09)