GOP presidential front-runner Newt Gingrich is extremely susceptible to negative ads and drops behind Mitt Romney when hit with charges he pushed for a health care mandate, took money from Fannie Mae and backed other non-conservative issues, according to a new poll provided exclusively to Washington Whispers.
Gingrich's support is "decimated" when voters are exposed to just one negative ad, said polling firm Evolving Strategies.
"The percentage of respondents picking Gingrich as their first choice in the primary falls more than 15 points, from 42 to 26 percent," they said. [See pictures of the 2012 GOP candidates.]
In the innovative ad testing of voters nationwide, Evolving Strategies found that former Republican front-runner Romney benefits most from voters turned off by the negative Gingrich ads, with his support rising 10 points, a 39 percent increase in his standing.
But, said Sabrina Schaeffer, managing partner of the firm, Romney isn't taking advantage of the public's uncertainty about Gingrich with his current attacks on the former House speaker's temperament.
"His erratic temperament is a part of the 'old negatives' from his speaker days, along with his infidelity. Voters are willing to forgive that because he has appeared different, mellowed in the right ways, on the debate stage," Schaeffer told Whispers.
"Romney should focus on the 'new negatives,' the issue-based attacks on Gingrich from his time out of office; Fannie and Medicare drug expansion lobbying, support for a federal health mandate and cap & trade. These are mostly unknown negatives to most of the public, and they severely undercut the dominant image of Gingrich in the primary voter's mind as the conservative revolutionary who retook the House and pushed Clinton into signing dramatic reforms," she added.
In the survey, Evolving Strategies showed voters current ads about the candidates, one negative and one positive. In addition to gauging voter's impressions, the viewers were asked to write down a negative and positive word for each. In Gingrich's case, the so-called "tag cloud" highlighted words like "liar" and "politician."
In Romney's case, negative and positive ads shown to voters seem to move the needle very little. The pollsters say that voter's views of Romney are "priced in," thus negative ads don't sting as much for him as they do Gingrich, the newest Republican to challenge Romney for the nomination.
"The big winner here is Romney," said the pollsters. "Watching the Romney ads has relatively little impact on the primary ranking. Gingrich rises only slightly when respondents view the two Romney ads, Romney's support is maintained, and Perry's barely moves. Confirming previous experimental results, Romney seems to be the null candidate. Respondents know who he is, good and bad, and he advances when the negatives of other candidates are in the spotlight."
And, she added, despite Romney being the beneficiary of a potential Gingrich fall if attacked, Rick Perry too picked up some steam from voters shown the negative Gingrich ads. "Voters still seem to want an alternative to Romney, leaving an opening for a candidate like Perry to earn a second look as Gingrich fades. And some new polls are showing an uptick for Perry in Iowa," said Schaeffer.
Evolving Solutions noted that if Gingrich wins the nomination, he should expected President Obama's team to go negative and hit his post-speaker roles and contracts.
"Obama will likely focus on these same new negatives, painting him as a corrupt insider who benefited from the seedy lobbying culture of Washington, while also reminding voters of the rabid partisanship Gingrich drove during the 90s," said Schaeffer.