While Thompson’s favorable name identification was 68 percent, Neumann’s was just 37 percent. Yet Thompson could get to only 40 percent in the ballot test.
The Club for Growth poll also included a series of “message testing” questions, sometimes called “push questions” (which have absolutely nothing in common with “push polls,” which are not polls at all). The questions provided information about the former governor and asked after each one whether respondents would be more or less likely to support him.
The questions included various bits of information about Thompson’s past support for higher taxes and kind words for “Obamacare.”
A second ballot test conducted after the “push questions” showed Thompson’s support had collapsed, with the former governor now trailing Neumann 40 percent to 22 percent.
Push questions in early surveys are of limited value, of course, because they present only one side of the story and focus respondents on just a few issues that might or might not be the crucial issues or factors that determine an election’s outcome.
In this case, however, the results reinforce the conclusion that Thompson’s support is shallow and raise questions about the former governor’s ability to survive a seriously contested primary.
Wisconsin Republicans know Thompson’s name and have a positive impression of him. But they really don’t know why, and when presented with negative information about him — information that isn’t far-fetched and that can be documented — they turn on him quickly.
One veteran GOP operative who is not yet involved in the race but has considerable experience in the Badger State told me that Thompson can be nominated only if “nobody who can put two nickels together runs against him.”
“Even Republican donors who supported Tommy in the past and might support him again are unenthusiastic about him running for the Senate next year,” the operative said. “He is yesterday’s news, and his comments on Obamacare will kill him. Plus, he’s a pre-Internet candidate. He’ll tell groups whatever they want to hear, even if their views are diametrically opposed. You can’t do that these days.”
Not surprisingly, supporters of Thompson disagree. They argue that while some national conservative groups have it in for Thompson, the former governor has plenty of support among state conservative and tea party groups.
One longtime Thompson ally portrayed the former governor as a tax-cutting, job-creating, veto-wielding cutter of spending, citing a litany of specific examples that the campaign could use to remind primary voters of his record.
“We aren’t naive here,” the Thompson ally said. “We know things have changed politically, and we welcome a debate challenging his conservative principles.”
But as a four-term governor, Thompson had to deal with the political realities of the day, and opponents surely will focus on some of the compromises and statements he made along the way. His chances of winning a primary would improve if the conservative vote is fractured among a number of hopefuls.
No matter who wins the GOP primary, Republicans are upbeat about their prospects.