Focus Group #1 run by Frank Luntz (results generally shared on various Fox News programs):
While the Luntz Focus group showed Mike Huckabee making the strongest impression (full write-up here at The Politico) , it is still telling that Romney was the only other candidate to hold or improve his support.
"At the session’s start, only one participant picked Huckabee as the candidate he or she wanted to win. Nine chose former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, eight were for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, five were for the absent Fred Thompson, two were for McCain, and the remaining candidates were picked by one or none.
But when it was over, Huckabee had 14 votes, compared with 10 for Romney, three for Giuliani, one for Fred Thompson and one for Rep. Duncan Hunter of California."
So Mitt remained strong from 9/29 to 10/29 despite a huge "love factor" for the Huckster who soared from 1/29 to 14/29 (but can Mike translate these good debate performances into actual masses of supporters . . . hasn't happened so far despite great debate performances throughout the process).
But those results are really bad for Rudy who went from 8/29 to 3/29 and Fred Thompson who went from 5/29 to 1/29. Even McCain went from 2/29 to 0/29 . . .
These strong findings for Huckabee are similar to the outpouring of favorability for Romney following his NH debate performance (which many pundits claimed was his worst performance . . .) See some details about that in the YouTube's below:
In the next below be sure to watch starting at 4:00 where Luntz says that Romney is "almost like a Rockstar" and went from 7 out of 29 support at the start to "the low to mid 20s/29" support at the end. He also explains why he thinks Romney is so effective:
This brings up that there may be something odd about how Luntz does his pre-/ post- debate support polling. I remember the recent S.C. Democratic debate where Obama had far over 50% of the group's support by the end. I know Luntz lets his participants have sufficient time to voice their opinions and who they liked (he generally shows clips of these). Maybe he has them make a final vote after this banter, where support is more likely to consolidate around one person? Who knows, but it's an interesting trend (and good for headlines), that one candidate seem to dominate in each of his recent focus groups.
FOCUS GROUP #2-----by Presentation Testing (MessageJury.com):
AUGUST 5 GOP DEBATE: Pre- vs. Post-Debate Dial Test “Candidate Comfort Scale”: “How comfortable would you be with each candidate as your President, on a scale from zero to 10?”
Candidate Pre-debate score Post-debate score Change Brownback 5.7 5.6 -0.1 Giuliani 5.1 6.6 +1.5 Huckabee 5.8 6.2 +0.4 Hunter 3.1 5.0 +1.9 McCain 4.3 6.6 +2.3 Paul 2.2 2.0 -0.2 Romney 7.1 7.8 +0.7 Tancredo 4.7 4.9 +0.2 T. Thompson 4.4 5.0 +0.6
Although it is always mathmatically/statistically difficult to maintain/increase a lead when you start out far in front, Romney almost did that, starting out with an overall 1.3 pt lead (over Huckabee) and ending with a 1.2 pt lead (over Giuliani and McCain.) In contrast to Luntz's findings, Huckabee didn't seem to impress these folks all that much.
The bottom line from this firm?:
Sometimes dial test results can be ambiguous, but today there was no question: Our “message jury” started off in favor of Romney, and the debate did nothing to soften their comfort level with him. In these two clips below, he showed two sides of his appeal. The first clip, featuring one of the highest scoring parts of the debate, demonstrated his direct appeal to three core GOP constituencies:
And this other clip showed he can deliver a partisan zinger (although one of our participants noted Romney had it at the ready):
Several other real-time dial testing videos of Romney and others are available at their website. (Actually, if you scroll down you can find stuff from the S.C. Democratic debate . . . and it's interesting to find that no Democrat candidate scored higher on the post-debate "comfort scale" than Romney at 7.8 . . . which is the same score as Obama and Edwards, and bested Hillary. Hard to draw any conclusions between different groups/studies, but still interesting)
The Des Moines Register also reported a little different twist on this same group of 9. After saying how McCain gained some support and that Huckabee had some good moments they reported:
When it came time to pick a winner of the debate, however, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had the most votes. Some participants said his cool demeanor and articulate speaking set him apart. It's also a contrast from President Bush, who is notorious for his public speaking flubs, a few said.
"I just think we're more vulnerable right now. People are looking for a change, and I think people are bailing out, and if we have somebody who is well-spoken, that will do well for us," said Dorothy Pisarski, a test group participant.
David Yepsen, a moderator along with George, had this to say in his post-debate column:
Most of the Republican presidential candidates used Sunday's ABC-TV debate at Drake University to court the votes of social conservatives in Saturday's straw poll of Iowa GOP activists in Ames.
With that as a yardstick, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney came out on top. He leads in public opinion polls of Iowa Republicans and is expected to win the straw poll. Nothing that happened Sunday knocked him off that course.
He turned in his usual polished, executive-like debate performance. He also got off one of the best one-liners of the day when he attacked Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama. Romney said: "In one week, he went from saying he's going to sit down, you know, for tea, with our enemies, but then he's going to bomb our allies. I mean, he's gone from Jane Fonda to Dr. Strangelove in one week."
Findings like these show why Romney has been hit early and often throughout and before his campaign. Believe me, all the major campaigns on both sides (and I'm sure some "lesser campaigns" on the GOP side), and major groups like MoveOn.org, the DNC (for evidence that Romney's target #1 for the DNC see here), etc . . . are all running there own focus groups in correlation with these debates. I'm sure they also tag these focus groups to watch different campaign commercials, major political speeches/townhalls by different candidates, etc . . . While I can't claim to be privy to the results of all these groups, it is well known to folks that Romney keeps building support and favorability with the more exposure he gets. In short, it is becoming conventional wisdom that Romney "wears well" on audiences, voters, viewers, etc . . . I'm pretty convinced that these groups have known for some time who they need to worry about and have been working overtime to "brand" him negatively. All the negativity against Romney makes a little more sense now, eh?
This is all a lede in to the Ames Straw Poll. The expectations game will be working against Romney as well . . . according to this recent survey of 30 key Iowa GOP activists (via Real Clear Politics), Romney should win it handily. Now he's got to deliver . . . and it's all up to us, his supporters. I'll be there and I hope every other Iowan Romney supporter will make it as well! See you there!