THE STUMP JANUARY 13, 2012
My colleague Tim Noah, a Twitter neophyte like myself, noted in a tweet earlier this week an interesting tidbit in the New Hampshire exit polls that many others have overlooked. Mitt Romney did substantially better among the 40 percent of voters who described themselves as "angry" toward the Obama administration than he did among the electorate as a whole -- he got 46 percent of the angries, and only 39 percent of voters overall.
This figure only further confirms something I've been arguing since the Iowa caucuses -- that pundits are wrong to generalize Romney's supporters as the more "moderate" Republican primary voters in opposition to the more "extreme" or "angry" voters supporting his seemingly more conservative rivals such as Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul. Ezra Klein was one of many to assess the race in this vein this week, taking some assurance from the fact that Romney is, "of the Republicans running for president, the least extreme in his policy proposals, and also the most likely to capture the nomination. If Huntsman counts as a moderate, then so does Romney -- and so, in their presidential preferences so far, do a plurality of Republican primary voters. They have, after all, not only backed Romney, but they have decisively rejected Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann, the candidates aimed most squarely at Tea Party wing of the GOP."
Sure, Romney's proposals are more moderate than those of the others -- unlike Paul, he's not proposing to abolish five federal departments or allow Americans to use new currencies in competition with the dollar, and unlike Rick Santorum he is not talking openly about a social conservative vision for rebuilding the American family. But this doesn't mean that the voters supporting Romney are necessarily "moderate." As I reported in this post from Iowa, it is at Romney events that I have found voters who are most caustic and even vitriolic toward Barack Obama. They are voters who are not necessarily evangelical or "tea party," and so would not be rated as conservative or extreme in a pollster's survey. But they really, really loathe Obama and just want to get him the heck out of the White House, which leads them to support the Republican who they figure has the money and profile to get the job done: Mitt Romney. Whereas a Santorum supporter will go on at length about how they like this or that element of Santorum's family values shtick or his case for revitalizing American manufacturing, you tend to get a far more brusque and expedient reply from Romney voters: he'll get rid of Obama. It's an appeal that Romney is doing his best to encourage, with his hard-edged talk about Obama's socialist, Euro-style plans for America and the need to "reclaim" the country from him. And it's something that the political press ought to be more mindful of before they reflexively put Romney and his supporters in the moderate box.
Follow me on twitter at @AlecMacGillis