Rick Perry may not have hit the ball out of the park during the last debate, but he's doing something right.
At our firm Evolving Strategies, we launched an online quantitative framing experiment in an effort to measure support for both Romney and Perry. Using a Facebook ad, we surveyed self-identified Republicans and conservatives, who are registered and plan to vote in their upcoming primary or caucus. Respondents were divided into three separate treatment groups and one control group. Using video clips from last week's Fox News-sponsored GOP debate, each treatment was an instance in which Romney and Perry interacted on Social Security, Health Care, or Immigration. (The control group did not view a video and only completed the survey).
Our findings suggest that base Republicans are still very uncertain about Romney, and Perry's attacks on Romney on Social Security and health care are effective at moving support away from the Massachusetts governor, even with a poor performance.
Playing off experiments from behavioral economics, we structured a game that is analogous to a real-life primary vote decision. How? We gave each respondent $100 to assign to Perry or Romney – but that's not all. They could also choose to take away $100 from Perry or Romney. And if they were really uncertain, they could choose to let the money go to the default winner of the survey. This allowed us to capture not just who someone will vote for, but why.
42 percent of respondents in the health care treatment group chose to give money to Perry (compared with only 25 percent in the control group). Even though Perry failed to challenge Romney on the specifics of his health care policy, he increased the salience of the "flip flopping" consideration in voter's minds. In the end, respondents were thinking less about Romney's policy specifics than about his character.
Similarly, despite the fact that Romney has been attacking Perry for his views on Social Security as unconstitutional, the Social Security exchange had a backlash effect on Romney. In fact, 28 percent of respondents in the Social Security treatment group chose to take away money from Romney (compared with 13 percent of the control group).
Perry may be off to a rough start, but the road ahead looks even more ominous for Romney.