(Photo: Reuters / Molly Riley)
Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney are statistically tied for the lead in a new poll in Iowa. The news represents more of a blow to Tim Pawlenty than Romney, however.
The Romney campaign had already decided to not campaign in Iowa and instead focus their energies on New Hampshire, the first state to hold a primary election. Romney, who received 23 percent of the vote, has also decided to skip the Iowa straw poll in August.
Romney won the Iowa straw poll in 2007, but ended up losing the state to Mike Huckabee in the January 2008 caucus. His decision to bypass Iowa this time indicates that he believes his previous decision to spend resources there was a strategic error.
Pawlenty, on the other hand, will focus on Iowa and has already started campaigning there. He recently bought radio ads, including Christian radio, in Iowa that will run after the poll was conducted. Social conservatives comprise an important voting bloc in Iowa. Pawlenty, an evangelical Christian, will need their support to post a big win in Iowa.
A recent poll conducted by the National Association of Evangelicals showed Pawlenty as the preferred candidate among leaders in their organization. This support among evangelical leaders has not translated into grassroots support in Iowa, however, with only six percent of respondents saying they would vote for him. Pawlenty's pastor is Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.
The poll is good timing for Bachmann, also an evangelical Christian, who will start campaigning in Iowa this week. Twenty-two percent of respondents said they would vote for Bachmann if the caucus were held today.
Bachmann has also shown gains in national polls, even leading in a recent Zogby poll, after a strong performance in the June 13 Republican debate in New Hampshire hosted by CNN. Bachmann also has strong support in the Tea Party Movement, another important voting bloc in Iowa.
There is still room for the candidates who scored poorly to improve, the poll indicates. Sixty-nine percent of likely caucus-goers said that they are open to changing their mind before the February 6, 2012, first in the nation, caucus. Also, 14 percent of all respondents said that they were not sure who they would vote for. The rest of the declared candidates each received the support of 10 percent or less of respondents.
The poll also indicated that voters are mostly concerned about where the candidates stand on economic issues. When asked whether it is more important for the next president to be a fiscal conservative or a social conservative, 62 percent indicated fiscal conservative while 20 percent indicated social conservative (18 percent said something else was more important or they were not sure).
Eighty-six percent of respondents said that there is at least one candidate who could beat President Barack Obama in the general election.
The poll, conducted by the Des Moines Register, used telephone interviews from June 19 to June 22 with 1,831 respondents. The margin of error is ±4.9%.