Major news outlets have deemed the competition for the Republican nomination contest a two-man race, including The Daily Beast (A Two Man Race: Perry and Romney), The National Journal (Despite Bachmann’s Success, The Real GOP Race is Now Perry Vs. Romney), Newsmax (Experts: Perry Surge Creates Two-Man Race on Eve of Debate), Redstate.com (Perry vs. Romney), and The Los Angeles Times (McManus: A Two-man GOP Race?).
This early framing of the contest as a two-man race may effectively end Michele Bachmann’s candidacy, despite her winning the Ames Straw Poll (knocking Tim Pawlenty out of the race) and polls showing that she, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, and Ron Paul have considerably more support than other candidates. Also, according to this Gallup poll, Bachmann and Perry generate more positive intensity than Romney.
CNN Reporter Roland Martin’s blood is boiling at journalists for prematurely framing the nomination as a two-man race: “Our actions are utterly shameful when we choose to negate every other candidate solely because we have determined that they can’t be elected… coverage is slanted toward those who we think stand the best chance at winning, thereby depriving any other candidate the opportunity to put their message forward.”
According to the Gallup poll below, Bachmann’s support increased slightly in July and August, while Romney support fell with Perry’s entrance into the race.
An August 24, 2011 PPP poll shows a closer race with Perry at 33%, Romney at 20%, and Bachmann at 16% support amongst Republicans. Aside from differences in polling methods and numbers, it is important to note that were are five months away from the first primary election, and these numbers will shift, perhaps dramatically. Perry is still enjoying a Honeymoon period, and the race will likely get tighter as voters find out more about him and his record. John McCain, the winner of the 2008 Republican nomination, trailed in national polls until the end of December in 2007, so discounting candidates this far in advance can artificially and anti-democratically limit choice.
The two-man race framing was evident during the third Republican debate last week at the Reagan Library where Perry and Romney were asked more questions than the other candidates and given more opportunities to respond to each another, especially at the start of the debate when they verbally sparred back and forth while the other candidates stood idly by.
I propose that the ease with which Bachmann’s candidacy has been discarded by the press has something to do with her being a woman. I witnessed something similar happen to Elizabeth Dole during the 2000 Republican nomination contest. Despite running a strong second in the polls, enjoying high favorability ratings (75% favorable impression compared to 69% for George W. Bush in March, 1999), and beating Al Gore in a hypothetical head-to-head contest, Dole was never considered a “real” candidate because she was a woman. Relentlessly biased press coverage contributed greatly to her failed candidacy, as noted in this research and by her campaign manager (and later White House Press Secretary) Ari Fleisher. Hillary Clinton’s 2008 candidacy was also hindered by blatant and subtle sexism in press coverage, as documented in several studies, including this one.
In the back of the minds of many pundits and reporters, Bachmann has never been a serious contender because she is a woman, and this two-man framing all but ensures that she will not be.