Five key trends in Washington Post polling will be tested in tonight’s debate, spanning Cain’s momentum and the tea party to immigration and jobs.
Note: You can follow @postpolls or the hashtag #econdebate on Twitter throughout the day and during tonight’s debate for real time poll nuggets as candidates discuss the economy and jobs. Also, here’s the rundown on where and when you can watch the debate.
1. Can Cain capitalize? A 55 percent majority of Herman Cain’s supporters back him “strongly” in Post-ABC polls, far and away the most intense support for any candidate in the Republican field. By comparison, 34 percent of Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s supporters do so strongly, and 24 percent of Romney backers say the same. Cain owes his spot in the top tier to solid debate performances: Seven in 10 Republicans who have watched recent debates say the more they hear from Cain, the more they like him (enter cool graphic!).
2. Can Perry recover? Unlike Cain, a 56 percent majority of Republicans (and GOP leaning independents) who watched recent debates say the more they hear about Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the less they like him. About half as many, 29 percent, say their fondness toward Perry grows as they learn more.
3. Who can appeal to the Tea Party and make it stick? Three different candidates have led among Republicans who strongly support the tea party in as many Post-ABC polls since July. First, Michele Bachmann held 28 percent support; she’s down to 9 percent among this group. Next up to bat, Rick Perry earned 45 percent among strong tea party backers; he’s dropped to 10 percent. The most recent favorite, of course, is Herman Cain, who earned 30 percent support among this group in the latest Post-ABC poll. The up and down swings among avid tea party Republicans indicate they’re still on the lookout for a standard bearer. Will Rick Santorum get his turn next?
4. Which way on immigration? Perry took a pounding in recent debates for his support of in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants in Texas colleges and universities. A Post-ABC poll this month finds that solid majorities of Americans — and even larger majorities of Republicans — oppose such a measure. But while Romney has singled out Perry for attacks on the issue, he may also be on the wrong side of public opinion on immigration issues. A new Post-Bloomberg poll finds almost six in 10 adults and two thirds of Republicans are against a proposal to increase the number of visas for highly skilled foreign workers, a measure outlined in Romney’s 59-point jobs proposal (p. 128).
5. Where are the jobs? A slight majority of Americans support President Obama’s proposed jobs plan, he’s opened up a 15 point edge over congressional Republicans on trust to create jobs and owns a 20 point advantage in caring about the economic interests of the middle class in the most recent Post-ABC poll.
Republican contenders are sure to criticize Obama’s jobs record, standing on solid ground given that six in 10 Americans disapprove of Obama’s handling of jobs. But Republicans have some work to do in softening the perception that they are biased toward the wealthy. Fully seven in 10 see congressional Republicans as more concerned about the wealthy than Obama.