Yes, we built it; can we repair it? Pt. 3

The troubling case of Rick Perry

Rick Perry ran for the GOP presidential nomination for 2012.  He was considered a heavy favorite at the time.  His gubernatorial record in Texas and his Texan drawl endeared him to a large number of Republican voters.  Perry announced his candidacy on August 11, 2011.  He led the national polls for the Republican primary beginning August 15th and didn’t relinquish the lead until the week of September 25.  Mitt Romney then took the lead.  Romney, for the most part, held the lead going forward outside of about two weeks in February.

Just two weeks after Perry announced his candidacy, Public Policy Polling (PPP) found that he had 33% of the GOP support for the nomination.  He had taken a fairly sizable lead over Romney (13 points).  As they note in their write-up, in a race of the top tier -Perry, Romney, and Michele Bachmann- Perry would win 41-29-19.  His net favorability rating at that point in the race was a staggering +47.  His biggest support was from those who defined themselves as very conservative.  He was the first choice of 40% of those voters.

Even as late as September 14, Perry still had a significant lead on Romney by 13 points although his total had slipped to 31% of the GOP electorate.  He enjoyed virtually the same level of support from the very conservative portion of the GOP electorate (39% in this poll).  His momentum had somewhat stalled but his vote total of the GOP electorate remained steady after a month of leading the polls.  He had maintained about 30% of the GOP electorate if you look at the Real Clear Politics averages.  Not insignificantly, this poll would have included a debate from September 7, 2011 where Perry and the state of Texas were cheered for their use of the death penalty.

He would maintain about 30% for the next two weeks.  Then a Fox News poll that was conducted from 09/25 – 09/27 saw him slip all the way down to 19%, trailing Romney by 4 points.  Perry would not lead another poll during the cycle.  For the next month, he would stay between 6-19% of the GOP electorate.  So what happened during that time that saw him fall so precipitously?  My explanation is that there was this debate performance.

PPP published this chart after seeing Perry’s performance fall so much during the month of September:

A similar story happened in West Virginia.  PPP noted that Perry’s net favorability dropped 37 points in North Carolina and 30 points in West Virginia.  Nationally, we had something similar.  Perry dropped 17 points in one month from 31% to 14%.  His biggest drop was with those who identify as very conservative.  Nationally, he went from 39% to 20% with them.

So what happened?  The popular idea is that Perry had his famous oops moment.  But that actually came much later.  What did happen near the end of September was only one debate:

Perry was booed for having tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants.  Would that be enough to sink Perry so far in the polls?  It’s possible, although his debate performance was not the best prompting some consternation among Republican pundits.  The next performance was much better but his poll numbers never recovered.  He couldn’t get above 14% after October 11.  The next debate was November 9.  This was the infamous oops moment.  This is the one that hurt his campaign worse than usual, right?  The next batch of polls before November 22 don’t show much of a difference in his numbers.  He reaches a high mark of 14% immediately after the debate and CNN has him at 12% for their next two polls.

The evidence doesn’t seem to back the idea that Perry’s “oops” moment cost him the nomination.  Based on the polling numbers, it looks like what cost him was his compassion and his justification for enforcing the Texas DREAM Act.