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Diplomacy in Action

Election 2012: Super Tuesday

John Zogby, Pollster and Political Analyst
Washington, DC
March 6, 2012

4:00 P.M., EST


MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the Foreign Press Center. It’s great to have you here. I’d like to remind you to turn off cell phones and other electronic devices that may make some kind of alarm. We are very pleased to have with us today John Zogby, who is a pollster and political pundit. He’ll deliver a few words, and then we’ll take questions from both here in Washington and from our sister office at the Foreign Press Center in New York.

So without further ado, John.

MR. ZOGBY: Thank you. And thank you very much. It always amazes me that you keep inviting me back. (Laughter.) This is Super Tuesday, and Super Tuesday, obviously, because so many states are at play. And let’s just take a look at, first of all, the stage, and then I’ll give you some thoughts, then, as to how I think tonight will play out, and then let me also remind you that this is purely for entertainment purposes only, because we have to see the actual numbers coming in. There’s always time and room for surprises.

But essentially, let’s go across the map and picture it in our minds. We have Massachusetts and Vermont. We have Ohio, which we have to say three times. Our colleague Tim Russert defined “Ohio, Ohio, Ohio.” It’s always a very important state. It is today. We have North Dakota as well, Montana, and Wyoming, and then very importantly, heading back east, we also have Virginia, our neighbor here, Georgia, Tennessee, and Oklahoma, and I hope that adds up to ten.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Idaho.

MR. ZOGBY: Idaho. Okay. Thank you very much. (Laughter.) All right. So let’s see what the polls are showing at this moment in time. In the Romney column, we can safely place Massachusetts and Vermont. Those are important must-wins for him. Virginia is a victory for Romney. He not only leads in the polls, but a number of candidates were not able to place themselves on the ballot. And so it’s just Romney versus Ron Paul, and he’s – it’s assumed that he will win, win big, show that in some way, in terms of spin, he can win in a southern state.

At this point in time, Newt Gingrich, of course, still leads in his home state of Georgia, and in fact, has been building up his lead in Georgia. He has predicted that he would win in Georgia, and it is a must-win for him, although it’s very hard to say where he goes from here with a credible candidacy for president.

In Tennessee and in Oklahoma, at this point in time, Rick Santorum still leads, and actually leads pretty handsomely. There are states where Ron Paul has a chance of winning. One is clearly Alaska, which I did not mention. That’s a caucus state, and if any state is made to order for Ron Paul, it’s that rugged, individualistic, very libertarian state of Alaska. Whether or not Ron Paul needs to win is almost an irrelevant question, but media have been asking about a victory just to show the credibility of his campaign. We all know that Ron Paul is basically building a libertarian movement within the Republican Party and always holds cards close to his vest as to whether he will lead his movement outside of the Republican Party and not himself, but endorse some Libertarian candidate.

Now, Ohio. Right now, there are conflicting polls, but basically saying the same thing, that either Mitt Romney is ahead by two in Ohio or Rick Santorum is ahead by two in Ohio. And I think I’ll just end my comments right now.

What does that mean? It means that actually 11 days ago, Rick Santorum was leading by 17 points in Ohio. And since the Michigan – his Michigan loss, at least in the popular vote, he’s not only been losing points and Romney gaining points, but actually, Romney has been picking up steam quite rapidly. And so to go from a 17-point deficit for Romney to, let’s at least call it a tie, in 10 days is pretty substantial. And let’s call that pretty substantial momentum for Romney.

Now, Ohio and its demographic makeup. Ohio has key cities, of course Cleveland and Toledo, Akron and Dayton. Those are substantial-sized cities. They are what’s left of what we call traditionally blue collar cities. Now the blue collar voter, the old image that we have of the muscular, union blue collar male, not as many of those voters as we used to have. Those cities are changing, have changed to a service economy as well. But we do look at the blue collar prototype because that is the voter, whether still working blue collar manufacturing or has made a change into low to midlevel service economy, that is fundamentally a former Democrat, a Democrat in terms of social and public – or in terms of public policy, in terms of federal spending, in terms of economic policy, but is very conservative in terms of social issues.

So very importantly, and I hope this helps you, when we say the term blue collar, for us pollsters, we think of NASCAR racing fans, we think of households that shop frequently at Walmart. Walmart is an important social phenomenon and commercial phenomenon in this country and we think of traditional values.

To a large degree, there is not a, quote, “Catholic vote” in this country. What there is is a social values vote, and it represents what is blue collar, ethnic, third and fourth generation American, descendants of Italy and Poland and Central and Southern Europe. That’s very important to note because Ohio, then, all comes down to this relatively small blue collar vote. Will they vote their traditional social values, in which case they vote conservative? Or will they vote aggressive stimulus – federal stimulus, state stimulus – in order to stimulate the economy and get back their jobs? This is a fundamental issue in the Republican Primary. We saw this play out to a considerable degree in Michigan just a little bit ago. More importantly, this is the defining issue in Ohio in November.

Will Obama win a larger portion than usual than a Democrat has been able to claim in recent years among this core vote because of the economic stimulus, in particular the bailout of the auto companies, and take credit then for saving the auto companies and hence stabilizing the unemployment rate? Or will Obama be seen as twofold – one, as too much of a social liberal or a radical on issues like gay marriage, now even contraception? Or for that matter – and this is another piece that makes this blue collar vote so complicated – I did not coin this term. But a colleague of mine, Thomas Edsall, one of the great journalists of our time and a columnist for the New York Times these days, has talked about the new haves versus the new have-nots in the United States.

Now usually, when we think in terms of haves versus have-nots, it’s the talk we have been hearing about the 1 percent, very super rich, and the rest of us middle class. That is so not the United States. Americans don’t resent wealth. They resent people who don’t play by the rules. But the new haves versus the new have-nots, the new haves are in, according to Edsall, what are regarded as public employees – teachers, state and government workers, police, firefighters – those who seem to have privileges, benefits, pensions that blue-collars workers, middle class taxpayer Americans who work in the private sector do not have. These aren’t my views, but these are the complications, the nuances, that make an Ohio very unpredictable, that make American elections very, very close, if you – as you’ve seen in the last decade or so.

So what will happen tonight? As I’ve traditionally said before the Foreign Press Association when I’ve done something on Election Day, mid-afternoon, I don’t know. And you’ve heard this exclusively here. Don’t forget – New York, don’t forget that you heard me say this. But let’s say I did, though, okay? Because I can’t resist. There’s a microphone here, and I enjoy it. I think Romney wins Ohio. Okay? You add that together with the other states that he’ll win, and it’s a Romney evening. If he loses Ohio, it is not devastating, but it just postpones his nomination. But if he wins Ohio, his nomination becomes one step even closer.

Here’s how I see things. Right now, I just had a poll out in conjunction with The Washington Times. It was out Monday, and it was out Tuesday. And Romney leads the other Republicans on the basis of three Es. Electability – he is by far considered to be the Republican among Republicans who can defeat Barack Obama. Secondly is the economy. He is the candidate among the candidates in the field who is seen as best handling the economy. And the third E is elitism. He leads substantially among voters earning $100,000 a year or more, but in particular among those earning $200,000 a year or more.

So here are both his opportunities and his problems all wrapped up under the letter E. It’s very hard to see, and voters are telling us on the Republican side that they don’t see, a Santorum nomination. They certainly do not see a Gingrich nomination. And they obviously do not see a Ron Paul nomination. The metaphor that I use is they have test-driven – they’re shopping for a car. Autos are very important in this election. They’re shopping for a car and they’ve taken the candidates for a test drive and they have already decided they’re not going to buy the other three. But they keep wanting to go around the block with this Romneymobile. They’re just not ready. Yes, they’ve decided on Romney, but they’re not ready to make the down payment just yet.

How’s that? Okay? Let’s open it up to questions.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much, John. With that, we will turn to questions. We’ll start here and then we’ll go to any in New York. So right in the front row, and please state your name and your news organization.

QUESTION: Zoltan Mikes, World Business Press Online News Agency, Slovakia. And my question is if – do you expect that after Super Tuesday the pressure on Rick Santorum to give it up in order to have one strong candidate on the Republican side will build up? Is there any constellation of the results that he will really give it up?

And the second question would be about winner takes it all rather than the proportional approach. Do you think that Republicans are happy with their decision to change to this?

MR. ZOGBY: Okay, those are a lot of questions but they’re also very good questions. Okay. First of all, what we don’t see any indication whatsoever from Santorum that he will give up. The wind behind his sails right now is that he represents a wing, a social conservative wing – a very, very social conservative wing – of the Republican Party. He has a podium and he has delegates. He loses the podium if he gives up the nomination.

He also loses the podium, to use his own words, if he decides at this point to become a, quote, “team player,” which you recall he was severely criticized for during one of the debates a couple of weeks ago when he had to explain some of his votes in the Senate. And he said, well, I went against my principles because I was a team player.

And so this is much bigger than Rick Santorum. Right now this is about, I think, four distinct wings of the Republican Party represented by four men. I think that this is a serious fracture within the party. I think it’s a battle over the heart and soul of the Republican Party, and I don’t personally, reading my own and others’ polls, I don’t see how this fracture gets healed.

With that said, it’s larger than Rick Santorum. But let’s also add the fact these are four men who not only represent distinct pieces of the Republican Party, they’re four men who annoy each other very, very much right now. So this is deeply personal.

Okay, yes.

QUESTION: Yeah. (Off-mike.)

MR. ZOGBY: Oh, yeah. The proportional representation enables these candidates right now. We get to a point later down the road where we get to winner-take-all. That’s why it’s very important right now for these candidates, in their view, to stay in so that they can collect delegates. And then if there is an effort in Tampa, which is where the Republican Convention is held, an effort on their part to speak or to negotiate with Romney, they want to be able to speak in prime time and speak their point of view. That will not help the Republican nominee, but it may offer at least some healing.

MODERATOR: Right in the second row.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. My name is Bingru with Hong Kong Phoenix TV. My question is each time when election comes, the candidates played a China card, especially Romney this time. What do you think the entire China card this time will affect the voters’ decision? Thank you.

MR. ZOGBY: That’s another really good question. There is a substantial wing in the Republican Party that is populist and anti-China, that it is the wing of the party that at one point was represented by Pat Buchanan. And interestingly, though blue collar unions, manufacturing unions and their leadership are on the Democratic side, very interestingly this wing of social conservatives are really more substantial within the Republican Party than they are in the Democratic Party.

So is there a China card to play? Yes, most assuredly there is, because it works for certain candidates in the primaries. In the general election, it’s a completely different story. By and large, depending on – my business is a very complicated business. It depends on the values that we seek when we ask questions of the public. The public supports globalization. Young people support globalization. The major Democratic constituencies, with the exception of organized labor’s leadership, support globalization. Look at the leading Democratic constituencies: Hispanics, African Americans, the creative class, young people; those are all globalization constituencies.

On the other side, on the Republican side, is this populist constituency. It is not anywhere near a majority constituency.

MODERATOR: Right back here.

QUESTION: Thank you. Hi, my name is Kathleen Gomes. I work for a Portuguese daily newspaper called Publico. I have a couple of questions. Do you see anyone dropping out of the race tomorrow or tonight, depending on the results? For instance, if Santorum loses Ohio, do you expect him – I mean, will he be able to justify staying on the race after that?

The second question is about the blue collar voters that you mentioned. Were you talking specifically about the blue collar voters in Ohio or the Midwest, because I imagine that the blue collar voters in the South are a little different; they’re not as fiscally Democratic, from what I understand, as the ones you mentioned. Thank you.

MR. ZOGBY: Okay, good point. Let me take the second question first. Yes, they are different. They’re more traditionally conservative in the South. However, let’s also take a step back. This is a good point, I think, to remind you. When we talk about union voters in this country, let’s understand the term. Over 50 percent – it’s now about 55, 56 percent of union voters – are public employees: teachers, police, government workers, and so on. So it’s a smaller and smaller proportion of union voters that are the traditional blue color voters.

But yes, they are more conservative on fiscal issues, although there has been some transplantation among manufacturing workers, as there has been among all the various class and occupational levels in this country. Shifting from Midwest and Northeast down South, you have a transplantation of moderate former Northerners, or in states like North Carolina and Virginia, even Georgia, and so on. But by and large, no, it is a conservative vote.

I don’t see Rick Santorum dropping out. I think by virtue of personality, by virtue of the fact that he has a constituency that listens to him that he has found, that is very intense, I think his constituency would see it as a betrayal at this moment in time. I don’t see his constituency ready to jump on a Romney bandwagon, as much as, frankly, I don’t see the major thrust of Ron Paul’s constituency ever, ever jumping on a Romney bandwagon.

This is almost a gladiator battle, but one guy does have the sword like this over the other guys. We are rich with metaphors today. (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: We’re going to switch right now to New York and our sister office Foreign Press Center there. Please give us your name and your media affiliation.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. My name is Erol Avdovic. I am representing Dnevni Avaz, biggest daily from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Mr. Zogby, good to see you. We are following you even in Bosnia – your polls and everything. My question is how big of the issue will be and when will start actually to play a more bigger issue the foreign policy? When the foreign policy will start to play bigger issue among the Republicans in their campaign, and cetera?

And also as a follow-up to that, today we have heard President Obama talking about those who are beating the war drums, somehow accusing that they are irresponsible when they are bringing to the political arena just not playing with the security issues and cetera. Do you think that with that President Obama diminished the threat of really bringing that issue to the political arena of the Republicans, or they are going to proceed with that irresponsibly, some would say.

MR. ZOGBY: Okay. Stay tuned. This is deep, okay? The fundamental party breakdown between Democrats and Republicans over foreign policy is: What is the future role of the United States in the world? You’ve already seen Mitt Romney lay out his vision.

And frankly, foreign policy is not much of a battle line among the Republicans, because with the exception of Ron Paul, they’re all in basic agreement of what we would call American exceptionalism. America is special, America is – has democratic values, America means liberty and democracy, and it is an evangelical – with a small E – missionary sense to those who subscribe to this view. And for Romney and the other Republicans, if America does not play this role, it is no longer the global leader. If America does not play this role, it’s no longer the United States of America. And hence, Barack Obama represents to them the decline of the United States as the number one global power.

Now, there are some who will read in Obama’s demographic and will say, a-ha, first African American, first Barack Hussein Obama, Muslim – there are those who will read that piece into it. Let’s put that aside, but let’s just say that’s how the Republicans see America’s role in the world. Obama, for a lot of reasons, represents the globalist point of view. And essentially, that is, in Fareed Zakaria’s terms, the recognition that there are other major regional powers that are growing. They need to be recognized for the leadership that they bring, at least regionally. And that secondly, there are limits to this, quote, “empire” of the United States, that the United States cannot be policing and waging war and building bases and expanding, expanding, expanding.

This is really not only the fundamental foreign policy issue of our times. It’s also what separates the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, and the reasoning is simple. I alluded earlier to the question about the China card. That’s a part of it, the recognition that China stands as the replacement of America’s greatness, that China’s gain is at the expense of the United States – that the United States is now dependent, in fact, on China.

On the Democrats’ side, let’s look at the major constituencies that elected Barack Obama. You have Hispanics, and Hispanics are still very much in the immigration phase of their existence here in the United States. But the other thing about Hispanics is that we expect Hispanics to be 11 percent of the total vote in this year’s election. I’ve watched, as a pollster, that figure go from 4 percent in 1992, 5 percent in ‘96 – I’m not going to take you each election – but eight percent in 2004, 9.2 percent in 2008, and now expecting 11 percent. African Americans are particularly in tune – though they are American and though they are urban, African Americans have never bought into the U.S. as an empire role.

Thirdly, are young people. Young people are 18 to 32 years of age, what I call America’s first global citizens. They have a planetary sensibility that no other age cohort has. And they raise their market share of the total vote from, generally, around 17 percent of the total vote to a little over 19 percent of the total vote in 2008. Now, whether or not they’re going to vote with similar intensity we don’t know, but what we do know is that the two most popular candidates among young people are either Barack Obama or Ron Paul. Ron Paul, which is – of whom is not a globalist, but certainly not an imperialist either. This is that fundamental battle.

Now, let’s get specific about Iran. Sure, this is a campaign, and it’s to be expected that Republicans will talk about going to war, about taking a strong position about – against Iran, about the safety and security of Israel. Not so much because of the Jewish vote, but because of the Evangelical vote – the Evangelical vote – which comprises a significant portion of the total Republican vote.

And so foreign policy will be an overriding issue in terms of what’s next for America, the broad vision. But there will be foreign policy issues at the same time – should we be leaving Afghanistan? Are we leaving a mess? Should we bomb or support the bombing of Iran? So this will play – this will be a huge issue.

But you know as well as I do: it’s the economy. By and large, that’s the number-one issue.

MODERATOR: More questions? Yes, please.

QUESTION: Hi, good afternoon, Mr. Zogby. My name is Dagmar Benesova. I’m also from Slovakia and this is also for Czech media. And my question is – I would like to ask you – as you mentioned today, the GOP party is divided inside. How much it could be beneficial for President Obama if tonight will not bring the clear winner? And another question: Is Gingrich – he – as in the past, he showed that he’s a man of surprise. So we do not expect any coming back or supernova jumpback after Super Tuesday, or do we? Thank you very much.

MR. ZOGBY: (Laughter.) Every day that the Republicans do not unite behind a nominee is a good day for Barack Obama, pure and simple. Let’s look at the situation right now that he finds himself in. His job performance ratings are acceptable. They’re in the 48-49 percent category. When he is paired against Romney or – let’s just say Romney for all intents and purposes – he’s leading on average three to five points. Sometimes you’ll see an outlier poll that has Romney ahead by two points.

But point being with unemployment where it is, with the economy where it is, that the incumbent president is viewed favorably by half the voters and is competitive against the Republican, indicates that the Republican Party still has a lot more salesmanship to go. And that’s going to be very difficult until there’s a nominee and somebody can produce some party unity. And frankly – not as a partisan, but as a pollster – I’m a little skeptical on that unity.

Gingrich is a man of surprises. You know Lazarus only rose from the dead once – (laughter) – in the New Testament. Gingrich is like one of those inflatable toys with sand in the bottom and – (laughter) – just keeps coming back. So the honest answer is I doubt it; I don’t see how. But who knows? And he’s very smart, interesting ideas. He’s very comfortable in his own shoes. If you want to know how smart he is, ask him and he’ll tell you. But so long as voters are still asking questions about Mitt Romney – I mean Republican voters, still quite saying, “Gee, you know, I don’t know that I’ve ever quite met anybody like him. I don’t know anybody like Mitt.” Then I guess there can be a surprise, highly unlikely, but there could be.

MODERATOR: Yes, way in the back there.

QUESTION: A follow-up question to what you just said.

MODERATOR: I’m sorry. Where are you from?

QUESTION: Sorry, sorry. I’m Marco Bassets from La Vanguardia, Barcelona, Spain. How important is the Mormon issue?

MR. ZOGBY: Is the --

QUESTION: The Mormon – the Mormon issue in this election.

MR. ZOGBY: It’s very important because it – when we look at those who answer the polling question honestly, will you never vote for a Mormon, it’s almost 30 percent of those who identify themselves as social conservatives. Now, Republicans cannot win without getting a solid vote from social conservatives in the general election. Now, does that never become tempered when it’s a Mormon running against an African American? Stay tuned, the movie isn’t over yet. But at least for now, yeah, I think it’s a problem. And to be honest with you, those are the ones – those are the people who admit that. This is one of those areas that I will say to you as a pollster, when it comes to issues like race, you don’t always get – you may get a more socially acceptable answer than what really lies in peoples’ hearts and minds.

MODERATOR: Okay. Yes. Right there. Wait for the microphone, if you would.

QUESTION: Hi there. My name is Veronika Oleksyn, I write for an Austrian newspaper. And I’ve been reading about how a Romney vote in Tennessee could have a lot of symbolic value, and I’m wondering how realistic is that and what are your thoughts on that. Thank you.

MR. ZOGBY: It’s realistic because it’s competitive in Tennessee. Tennessee is one of those states that on one hand it has a very high percentage, like South Carolina, of social conservative votes. It’s also a state that has benefited from migration in from the Midwest because of the auto plants and because of, well, world-class cities like Nashville, for example, and Memphis and so on.

Right now, I can only tell you that Santorum leads, is maintaining his lead. Now, should Romney win Tennessee, I think it’s even more than symbolic. It’s extremely significant because it means he can go deeper into the South.

MODERATOR: Okay. And then after this we’ll have time for one more question.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you. Betty Lin of the World Journal. What does it take for Obama to win Ohio? And also, for people who are from non-religious countries, it’s really hard to understand how or why religion plays such a big role in this country. And so can you explain that in plain language? And like George Bush had to say that the greatest philosopher was God, and --

MR. ZOGBY: Jesus.

QUESTION: Oh, Jesus. Okay. (Laughter.) Well, I – okay. So is this country getting more and more conservative and religious?

MR. ZOGBY: You find it hard to explain. Imagine being from New York and I have to answer your question. Wow. There has always been this part of America’s character. America in many ways is founded by those who were religiously persecuted, among other things, and it’s part of our makeup, and it’s part of our what we would call secular religion, that being free to worship is as much of a religion as what you worship.

But in that sense, we’ve always had this strain. What we’re seeing today is really not new. You go back into American history and there were evangelical movements in the 1770s. Part of it was the American Revolution, but a part of it was also tarring and feathering people who were viewed as non-spiritual or witches. It continues into the 1830s and ‘40s – don’t worry, I’m not going to take you on this long ride, believe me – but it continues. Some of it was against slavery and for women’s rights, and some of it was very traditional and anti-Irish and anti-immigrant.

And so every generation we have this fundamental battle between the two distinct Americas: one urban, cosmopolitan; one rural and traditional, let’s call it. In this instance, I think add to that the fact that there’s so much change going on – we haven’t even gotten into that – that’s another story for another time – so much technological change, so much creative destruction, that there are numbers of people who are looking for comfort, looking for answers, looking for some stability amidst so much change.

But frankly, what happened last week with Rush Limbaugh and so on – that was a total shock. To me as a pollster, I watch this stuff for a living. Every single day, yes there is a conservative strain, but things have moved forward. Ninety-nine percent of women who are sexually active use birth control. Ninety-eight percent of sexually active Catholic women use birth control. Where’s the political base here? And if I might add, just on a personal note, here’s a guy who’s married four times and never had any kids. I’m not going to go any further down that road. Draw your own conclusion, if you will.

But I have no idea how to answer your question. How’s that? I’m sorry. (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: We’ll segue into the last question. Yes. Right back there.

QUESTION: Carla Turner, Canadian Broadcasting. I just wanted to sort of overall get your – so it sounds like you’re saying that these four are going to drag this out for – how long? Convention?

MR. ZOGBY: Oh, I think they could very well take it to the convention. A lot of it is dependent on whether or not Fox News decides, hey, Santorum, for example, you’re not going to win anywhere, we’re not going to cover you anymore. There are not going to be any debates. But we live in an age of new and social media and ways to reach people without Fox, which is – Fox is now a traditional medium. So yeah, my gut instinct tells me that they probably play this out as long as they possibly can. They have delegates, they have proportional representation of delegates up to a point, and they have their constituencies; they want a voice at the convention.

And then somebody’s got to be able to explain to men who play by different rules – I mean, Gingrich – for Gingrich this is all – this is as much personal as it is political. This – for Santorum, this is as much about being a 1950s Catholic and making sure that he’s representing Evangelicals and pre-Vatican II Catholics. And for Ron Paul, Ron Paul just is not a team player period. And even if Ron Paul were to say tomorrow – I don’t mean this facetiously at all – but if Ron Paul were to say, “I endorse Mitt Romney and I hope the Republican wins,” I don’t think he takes one person with him from his base.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much, John, for joining us today. We really appreciate it. And thank you, as well, for joining us. And that concludes our event.

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