Rick Perry’s Texas swagger and conservative ideals are memorable, and not just as they relate to former President George W. Bush.
Perry’s been on the attack culturally as well: an embrace of the evangelical image and disbelief in evolution, an even stronger rejection of global warming than many Republicans, and a penchant for quotes that sound like they could be on the back of a rusted Chevy truck. Add in his antagonistic approach to the most historically popular government program the US has even seen, and it seems like a few voters are souring on the Perry candidacy.
Classically, anything but support for Social Security will get a presidential candidate a wary look from most voters, no matter if conservatives have captured a major part of the political conversation in America. And new polls show Perry finding out how stringent that principle is, and fast.
Earlier in the week a national survey from Public Policy Polling (D) showed two things about Perry’s statements on Social Security. First, although the GOP base is more likely to be sympathetic to an overhaul of the system, conservatives still support the program, a line Perry must walk as he both courts all primary voters and the tea party wing who is essential to getting the nomination. But second, as all election seasons go, Perry must find a way to pivot to the more moderate general electorate. And the latest numbers show that these voters are much less forgiving on the Social Security issue, which is already dragging him down in a matchup with President Obama.
Gallup released new data on Friday that shows self-identified independents and even some GOP voters are cool to Perry’s statement that Social Security is a “ponzi sceme”: 32 percent of independents said Perry’s characterization make them less likely to vote for him, and 19 percent of GOP voters said the same. Their polling also showed that a plurality of both populations said this postion on the popular program will hurt Perry’s chances in the general election, essentially reaffirming the decades old adage that it’s the Third Rail of American politics.
PPP isn’t the only polling organization to find that the issue is hurting Perry in an national matchup with Obama. In polling done at the very end of August, Rasmussen found Perry leading among likely voters with 43 percent to the President’s 40, a statistical dead heat. On Friday Rasmussen released a much different result: Perry’s support in their poll fell to 39 percent, while Obama has moved up six points to 46, outside the margin and therefore a lead for the President.
The polling has shown that Perry’s rise to the front of the GOP pack has not been a flavor of the month situation. He’s entrenched himself with key conservative and tea party constituencies, and has built a lead in state polling of first primary/caucus states like Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina. The Texas Gov. has also shown his credibility as a hard right conservative on social issues as well, something inherent to his southern Republican status and form fitting to the GOP mold.
But this latest run of tepid support for his statements on Social Security has called into question his electability against Obama. That’s why its made such good fodder for previous frontrunner Mitt Romney: it’s a win for him to push back against Perry for support within the GOP primary, but supporting Social Security also makes him much more appealing in the general election.
So it seems that getting to know Rick Perry has forked: he’s shown his conservative chops and captured some lightning in the GOP race, but he’s doing so at the risks of poisoning his prospects in a general — if he can get there. And it’s only September… of 2011.
Kyle is the Editor of TPM Media’s PollTracker. He graduated from Beloit College (WI) and began working in politics before getting an M.A. in magazine journalism from New York University, where he interned at TPM and the website of The New Yorker.