Who is more right-wing, Ron Paul or Newt Gingrich? It’s a complicated question with no obvious answer – unless you are a New Hampshire Republican primary voter.
For them, the answer is overwhelmingly clear: Newt Gingrich is the most right-wing available Republican; Ron Paul, the least right-wing.
That is – if you believe today’s new survey from Public Policy Polling.
The headline news in the poll is the horserace standings: Romney leads the way with 31% to 14% for Newt Gingrich, 13% for Paul, 12% for Huckabee, 9% for Palin, 3% for Tim Pawlenty, and 1% for Mitch Daniels.
For those interested in the shape of this important state party, however, the most fascinating news is found below the headline.
Among those who are broadly happy with the current direction of the GOP, Romney leads Gingrich 42-12.
Among those who think the party is currently “too liberal,” Gingrich draws even with Romney, 22-22.
But among those who think the party is “too conservative,” Ron Paul leads Romney 24-22.
Among those who identify with the “tea party,” Paul ranks 5th, at 9%. Among those who say they would be favorably impressed by a candidate endorsed by Sarah Palin, Paul runs weakest. He runs strongest among those least likely to be favorably impressed by a Palin endorsement.
What can this mean?
1) Paul’s weak overall performance in NH suggests that Republicans who regard the party as “too conservative” are currently a small group, so we ought to begin with caution about over-interpreting from a possibly non-representative sample.
2) But if the information does have any validity, it suggests that those voters who want a more liberal GOP are much more concerned with foreign affairs and social issues than with modernizing the GOP’s economic message. If Palin and Gingrich are the right wing of the party and Paul the left, then this is not a party divided over, eg, healthcare policy or the extension of unemployment insurance benefits. Same point is suggested by the lack of enthusiasm for Paul among New Hampshirites who identify with the Tea Party’s anti-debt, anti-tax message. In NH at least, the Tea Party looks more like the Perot Party than the Paul party.
3) Romney has not (yet) offered many specific economic ideas. If Romney leads because of his presumed competence in economic policy, that suggests that Republicans are looking less for new ideas, than for a trusted brand: lower taxes, less regulation, the private economy will sort itself out in time. As yet, and maybe forever, the crash of 2008 has not prompted any rethinking of past economic views among core Republicans in NH.
4) If a candidate is saying something that people want to hear, they have an amazing ability to shut out the parts of the message they don’t want to hear. Those more liberal Republicans who like Paul’s message on foreign policy and drugs seem amazingly able to shut out the parts of Paul’s message that are actually most important to Paul himself.
5) Notice how poorly Mike Huckabee is doing in NH. If Sarah Palin can beat him in Iowa, Huckabee’s road to the nomination suddenly looks very rocky.