Like everyone following these sorts of things, FHQ, too, saw the Gallup numbers on the 2012 Republican nomination yesterday. Sadly, we've been so caught up in the weeds of the formation of the 2012 presidential primary calendar that we've nary had time to examine some if any of the polling that has come out recently -- much less for 2011. Our usual line on this polling is that we like the information, but we're hard-pressed to see a way in which it matters very much relative to the outcome of the nomination (or the general election for that matter). But I, like Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight, was drawn more toward the Herman Cain's standing than the much-ballyhooed Palin numbers. But Silver's post and an earlier Jonathan Bernstein post on Palin kept knocking around in my head.
Look, the party decides these things -- more often than not. At the very least, the party filters the decision before it gets to the rank and file members voting in presidential primaries and caucuses. We are at the point in this cycle where we are beginning to get a feel for this among other things. Once again, we are learning that there are passionate voices out there; passionate voices among some faction of the rank and file that are lining up behind various candidates. But as Bernstein points out, the winner of either party's nomination is not a factional candidate, but one who can build a coalition. And this in a nutshell is the party establishment versus the mass public withint that party. The former is interested in the coalition builder with the general election in mind while the latter can be or is primarily focused on someone who reflects them. Sometimes those interests overlap (see Bush 2000), but sometimes they do not (see McCain 2008).
2012 is shaping up more like 2008 than 2000 from the vantage point of May 2011. In other words, there are competing interests between the party elite and the rank and file. And given the discontent with the idea of Romney as a frontrunner within some Republican circles, the argument could be made that there are competing interests within the Republican Party establishment as well.
That said, FHQ is partial to the Romney and anti-Romney narrative that has been making the rounds these last few months; that the race for the Republican nomination will come down to Romney and someone else. But I don't think that's Herman Cain. I'm more apt to side with Tim Pawlenty despite the fact that Cain edge the former Minnesota governor out in this latest Gallup poll.
Passion vs. Establishment.
Herman Cain has something of a passionate following, but Pawlenty has a higher ceiling in terms of attaining the status of anti-Romney and better yet, coalition builder. How can we best assess this, though? Nothing, and I mean nothing, picks up on hollow passion behind a candidacy better than Google Trends. And if you follow the isolated 2007 search trends of the top GOP candidates for the 2008 nomination, you'll see that an argument can be made that the tool also picks up on hollow poll leaders as well (see that Giuliani line -- in green). What do we really see in those numbers? Well, you see McCain trail off across 2007, Fred Thompson searches spike over the summer, and Huckabee and Romney gaining as Iowa approaches. If you look closely enough you'll also see McCain on the rise right before the new year, but also Ron Paul searches rocketing upward.
[Click to Enlarge]
Rick Perry could be the new Fred Thompson, but I think Herman Cain finds some territory somewhere between what Thompson was and that passionate Ron Paul faction. In between, mind you, but closer to Paul. The search trends thus far kind of bear this out. The establishment, coalition-building candidates are laying low while the passion builds behind factional candidates. If you look at the trends graphic above you can see that Romney and Pawlenty are in that low-lying area while candidates like Cain and Paul and even the uproar around Gingrich finds much bigger swings -- much bigger spikes. Yes, Pawlenty got something out of his announcement on Monday and if you back the trendline up, Romney's exploratory committee announcement elicited a similar bump for the former Massachusetts governor. But note that both are more modest than the factional candidate jumps (and their average position overall).
No, this isn't a definitive examination on the state of the race for the Republican nomination, but it does give us a glimpse into the position of these two types of candidates and a comparison to 2008. Does Cain have a chance? Sure. That case is easier to make than the case that he has absolutely zero chance of winning. But Cain is nothing more than a factional candidate, and even if you argue that he isn't, he is not as solid a coalition-building candidate as some of the alternatives; namely Pawlenty.
NOTE: Incidentally, if you want to mess around with the various five candidate combinations on the 2012 GOP Candidate Emergence Tracker, you can do so here. Just click on "edit" in blue and change the search parameters. [Yes, Mitch Daniels will be removed as a default option soon enough. Also, I can't wait to see what kind of bump Palin gets out of this bus tour announcement.]