As the race for the Republican presidential nomination shifts into higher gear, a newly released University of New Hampshire poll offers a fresh look at the first primary contest in the 2012 race. What does the poll tell us? Here are five key findings from the new survey:
1. Romney holds big lead, but Bachmann is surging – Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney maintains a commanding lead in the race, garnering 35 percent support among GOP primary voters, almost three times as much as any other candidate. But following her much hailed debate performance in the state, support for congressman Michele Bachmann (R-MN) tripled from 4 percent in early June to 12 percent in the new survey and her favorability numbers doubled from 26 to 52 percent. Perhaps even more impressive, as she has become better known by Republicans, her unfavorable ratings have actually dipped slightly, from 29 to 23 percent from April to the poll ending July 1. Other new candidates have seen an increase in both favorable and unfavorable ratings.
2. Huntsman is more popular, but also more unpopular – Former ambassador Jon Huntsman’s favorable ratings are up 10 points to 19 percent among likely GOP primary voters, but his negative marks are up as well, from 12 in April to 23 percent in the new poll. The mixed welcome from Granite State Republicans is particularly worrisome for Huntsman, who has charted his course to the nomination through New Hampshire. And while there’s still room for growth – a 46 percent plurality continues to have no opinion of him – only 2 percent name him as their top choice if the primary were held today, unchanged from 4 percent in May and 3 percent in early June.
3. Perry and Cain are viewed favorably, but few choose them for nomination – Republicans who offer an opinion on Texas Gov. Rick Perry and businessman Herman Cain view both in an overwhelmingly positive light. New Hampshire Republican likely voters offer a +19 net favorable rating for both candidates; 34 percent favorable vs. 15 percent unfavorable for Perry, and 32 percent favorable vs. 13 percent unfavorable for Cain. Their support is not deep, though: Only 4 percent say they would pick Perry if the primary were held today; 2 percent say they’d vote for Cain.
4. Gingrich’s popularity takes a plunge – More than six in 10 New Hampshire Republican primary voters hold an unfavorable view of former House speaker Newt Gingrich, up from 44 percent in April and a stark change from one year ago, when Gingrich was rated favorably by a 61 to 32 percent margin. Gingrich came under intense fire from Republicans for his criticism of congressman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget plan, and has faced an exodus of his top staffers.
5. Few have settled on a candidate – Perhaps Granite State Republicans are keeping their cards close to their vest, but three-quarters of likely Republican primary voters say they’re still trying to decide who to vote for, while a scant 8 percent are settled on a candidate, highlighting a potential weakness in Romney’s double-digit lead: Fewer than one quarter of Romney supporters say they’ve definitely decided to vote for him, and with six other candidates earning net positive ratings from Republicans in the state, there’s room for other candidates to make a play for current Romney supporters.