To watch the mainstream media, the GOP Presidential field has winnowed down to two candidates: Perry and Romney.  Of course there's the occasional party crasher (Bachmann Surges! Cain Mutiny! Will Christie Run?). But for the most part, the press is zeroing in on the two candidates. 

Questions were raised however after last week's debate when most agreed that Perry had a tough night (or to quote Brit Hume in an uncharacteristic vulgar moment "threw up all over himself").  Some worried about Perry's chances going forward. Was he fading? Was a withdrawal announcement coming? 

However, the polling firm Evolving Strategies (full disclosure: IWF Fellow Sabrina Schaeffer is affiliated with the polling shop) just completed an online quantitative framing experiment on self-identified Republicans and conservatives. Using video clips from last week's GOP debate, respondents watched videos of Romney and Perry interacting on a variety of issues including Social Security, Health Care, and Immigration.

The findings were somewhat surprising — particularly if you're a devotee of the nightly network news.  Evolving Strategies found 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.

In a blog post on Politico this morning, Schaeffer further explained the results saying:

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).

This new polling data is interesting and it clearly shows Perry's still in the race.