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In Their Own Words: Behind Republican Voters’ Views of Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich

After a total of 17 campaign debates, numerous public appearances and many months of campaigning, the Republican candidates have had ample opportunity to make both positive and negative impressions with Republican voters. In PRRI’s December Religion & Politics Tracking Survey, we asked Republicans who had favorable and unfavorable impressions of Mitt Romney and New Gingrich to tell us in their own words why they had a favorable or unfavorable view of each candidate.

Views of Mitt Romney

More than 6-in-10 (63%) Republican voters reported having a favorable impression of Romney while roughly 1-in-4 (24%) GOP voters have an unfavorable view of him. Among the reasons most commonly cited by those who had a favorable view of Romney were the candidate’s honesty, moral character and religious values (37 mentions). Responses such as “Because of his religious beliefs and high moral values” or “The family values of his religion, and how he interacts with his family” or “He is a family man” were typical. Nearly as many cited his business or political experience (33 mentions)—although his business background was mentioned more frequently than his political experience. A significant number of Republican voters reported that they could not provide a reason for having a favorable opinion of Romney (30 mentions). Responses like: “That’s hard to say” or “Not sure I know yet” or “I don’t have an answer for that” were typical. Fewer GOP voters mentioned Romney’s political views (16 mentions) or his electability (17 mentions).

Among Republican voters with an unfavorable view of Romney the most frequently mentioned reason was the belief that he was not consistently conservative (15 mentions). Answers like “He is not conservative enough” or “His history of changing his views on the issues” were common. Fewer Republican voters reported that he was not trustworthy (11 mentions) or reported having a religious or personal objection (9 mentions). Relatively few Republican voters mentioned Romney’s role in passing health care as Governor of Massachusetts (6 mentions) as a reason for holding an unfavorable view.

View of Newt Gingrich

Six-in-ten (60%) Republican voters have a favorable view of Newt Gingrich while less than 3-in-10 (28%) GOP voters view him unfavorably. Republican voters who have a favorable view of Gingrich most frequently cited his leadership experience (39 mentions). Responses like: “His previous record in Congress” or “I like the fact that he’s got a lot of experience” or “The experience that he has had in Washington” were typical. Nearly as many Republican voters said his political views (36 mentions) or his intelligence and knowledge (33 mentions) were the reasons they had a favorable impression of him. Fewer Republican voters mentioned his honesty (13 mentions) or his electability (7 mentions).

One of Gingrich’s greatest assets—his experience—is also a source of weakness. Among Republicans with an unfavorable view of Gingrich, the most frequently cited reason was also his past political experience (17 mentions). Answers, such as: “He’s been in politics too long” or “I think because he has been [in] Washington too long” were common. Equal numbers of Republicans mentioned his political views [12 mentions] or negative personal qualities, such as arrogance, selfishness or dishonesty (12 mentions). Relatively few Republican voters reported reasons having to do with Gingrich’s personal life or morality (7 mentions).

Source: Public Religion Research Institute, PRRI Religion and Politics Tracking Survey, December 2011 (N=1,012). Figures represent individual responses and not percentages.