ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
I'm joined now in the studio by Andrew Kohut, who's the president of the Pew Research Center, and Matthew Continetti, the contributing editor to the Weekly Standard. Good to see both of you.
ANDREW KOHUT: Good to be here.
SIEGEL: And, Andy, let's begin with you. You've had a chance to look at early entry poll results. Let me say here, by the way, the caucuses only began in Iowa about 40 minutes ago, tonight's caucuses. And as we've heard, people are listening to speeches, then they get a chance to vote – so we really haven't had any votes counted yet in this, we don't see any results. But we do have some entrance poll results.
KOHUT: Yeah, we have the results of about 700 interviews, half of the interviews that the entrance pollsters will be collecting tonight. But what we see for these two front-running candidates, are really dramatically different patterns of support.
SIEGEL: The two candidates being Mitt Romney and Ron Paul.
KOHUT: Yes. For Ron Paul, he's running very well among younger voters, less affluent voters, first time voters, independents, people who describe themselves as moderates, but also very well among people who say they're truly looking for the true conservative. That's Ron Paul's strengths. Romney, on the other hand, is doing better with older voters, not younger voters, people earning more than $100,000 a year, regular Republicans, but not Tea Party Republicans. And his strongest strain here is he's doing very well among people who say the most important thing is the candidate who can beat Obama.
SIEGEL: It's been a strong Romney argument and it seems to be holding up in the caucuses today.
KOHUT: Right. We see some support here for Santorum, as well. His constituencies are less well-defined, except he's doing well among evangelicals, among the very conservative and people who are looking for someone with strong moral character.
SIEGEL: Let's turn to Matt Continetti. You've had a chance to look at these entrance polls, as well. What's caught your attention?
MATTHEW CONTINETTI: Well, a few oppositions have struck my eye. One is this that Andy mentions between electability and authenticity. If you want the candidate from the Republican perspective who you think has the best chance of beating Obama, you're gonna support Romney. Now, if you wanted someone who's the more authentic person or conservative, in your view as a Republican, where you've cycled through all these various changes over the course of the year, it seems like most people now, at least in Iowa, ending up with Ron Paul.
Another divergence that I think is interesting is between those who consider the economy the most important issue, jobs the most important issue, based on these early entrance polls, well, they of course, unsurprisingly, are backing Romney. Whereas, if you think the deficit and the debt are the most important issue, among these Iowa Republicans, they're going for Ron Paul, who raises that issue more than anyone else.
A final divergence between the Republicans and the independents, and the Republicans backing Mitt Romney, independents overwhelmingly going for Ron Paul. And, you know, that sets my eye looking to New Hampshire, too, where, of course, you have often a lot of independents and Democrats voting in the New Hampshire primary, as well.
SIEGEL: I should point out, one number that struck me was that almost half the people, when asked in the entrance poll, have you been to a caucus before, almost half said no. And Ron Paul did very well among those people. Whether that number will hold up later, I don't know Andy.
KOHUT: Yeah, it's 41% of people in this first entrance poll. That's a very substantial injection of new blood into this process if it holds up.
SIEGEL: Matt Continetti, one pretty strong divergence between Mitt Romney and Ron Paul is how the, if there is one, the Republican establishment views these two candidates remarkably differently.
CONTINETTI: Absolutely. With, you know, that invisible primary that's been going on for the course of the year with the party establishment, the party financiers basically rattling behind Mitt Romney. But then, of course, we just went through an electoral cycle in 2010 where we saw, again and again, Tea Party upsets, conservative insurgents bucking the establishment and voting for the people that they think have the more direct challenge to big government. And I think we're seeing that here with Ron Paul. If it happened in Alaska, or of course Kentucky, with Ron Paul's son in 2010, why couldn't it happen in 2012 with Ron Paul himself.
SIEGEL: If indeed Ron Paul and Mitt Romney continue to run ahead throughout the evening and Santorum does reasonably well, who at the bottom end of the pack here should be really worried tonight?
CONTINETTI: I have my eye on Michele Bachmann. You know, it must be very disappointing, even heartbreaking for Michele Bachmann, after winning the Ames straw poll in August, really coming out as the daughter of Iowa, she's had a steady drop to the bottom. And if she doesn't punch one of those three tickets out of Iowa, I think her campaign's days may be numbered.
KOHUT: Things aren't looking very good in this early poll for former Speaker Newt Gingrich, either. And he's not only not polling well in absolute numbers, there's not one group that stands out as liking Gingrich more than the rest. I mean his – the numbers are very flat for him, very flat for him.
SIEGEL: And we should add here that the Iowa caucuses are, at best, an imperfect forecaster of what happens down the road and Republicans pick a candidate.
KOHUT: And very often, unlike what happens next week in New Hampshire.
SIEGEL: Which has a much better record – and unlike the results that we see in New Hampshire. Andy Kohut of the Pew Research Center, and Matt Continetti, contributing editor at the Weekly Standard, as the Republicans begin their presidential selection season with tonight's caucuses in Iowa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.