GOP focus group shows increasing approval for primary field

SMU researchers Dan Schill and Rita Kirk dial-tested likely primary voters during the CNN Republican debate June 14.

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Rochester, NH (CNN) — They squinted and stared, laughed and frowned and furiously twisted little gray knobs, giving political analysts a critical early look into the minds of Republican voters.

And what did researchers see there? An energized party fairly champing at the bit for the coming presidential election.

That was the scene inside the beautiful, century-old Rochester Opera House as 21 likely Republican voters watched the debate and took part in a dial test set up by Southern Methodist University.

Using handheld "perception analyzers" calibrated to register immediate reactions, members of the randomly selected group reacted to the debate as it happened. Second by second, they moved their dials to the right or to the left, indicating a positive or negative response to what they were hearing and seeing.

Southern Methodist University professors Dan Schill and Rita Kirk tracked the average response of the group to each moment of the two-hour debate, and said for starters, each candidate produced strong moments.

For instance, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's highest rating of the night came when he pressed for energy independence.

"It's time for us to have a president who really cares about finally getting America on track for energy security," the former Massachusetts governor said, and the tracking lines rose right along with his voice.

Former Godfather's Pizza mogul Herman Cain made the dials spin in his favor when he was asked about Muslim influence in the government.

"I do not believe in sharia law in American courts. I believe in American laws in American courts, period." The crowd in the debate hall roared and the lines in Rochester rose.

Rep. Ron Paul of Texas pushed the lines up by lighting into imminent domain laws.

"Property and free society should be owned by the people, and it shouldn't be regulated to death by the governments, whether it's Washington, D.C., or local governments."

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich drew the focus group's favor by criticizing the United States' involvement in Libya.

At no point did the response graph dip into negative territory; perhaps not surprising in a group of 13 Republicans and 8 Republican-leaning independents. Still, it is notable that every statement received a favorable response, especially when President Obama's policies were in the crosshairs.

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