Big Four Still Lead GOP in 2012, Second Choices Interesting

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 30, 2010   |   7:26PM   |   Washington, DC

Every poll over the last several months of Republican voters and their opinion on who should become the nominee to take on pro-abortion President Barack Obama has had the same four potential candidates leading the field.

In a new poll the Public Policy Polling firm released today, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Mike Huckabee top the list.

They received 21 percent, 19 percent, 18 percent and 16 percent respectively while Ron Paul and Tim Pawlenty lead the second tier with 5% each followed by John Thune at three percent and Mitch Daniels at three percent.

But what the polling firm did differently in this new poll is ask GOP voters their second choice for a nominee, assuming their first choice decides against throwing their hat in the ring. The results are interesting and they show Palin and Huckabee stand to benefit the most depending on which of the four candidates decides against competing in the 2012 presidential election.

-If Newt Gingrich doesn’t run, the biggest beneficiary would be Mike Huckabee. 31% of Gingrich supporters say Huckabee is their second choice, followed by 27% who say it’s Mitt Romney and 19% who say it’s Sarah Palin.

-If Mike Huckabee doesn’t run the biggest beneficiary would be Sarah Palin. 34% of Huckabee supporters say Palin is the second choice, with Gingrich and Romney well back at 19% and 17% respectively.

-If Sarah Palin doesn’t run the biggest beneficiary would be Mike Huckabee. 24% of Palin supporters say he is their second choice, followed by 20% who say Gingrich and 12% who say Romney.

-If Mitt Romney doesn’t run the biggest beneficiary, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, would be Sarah Palin. 27% of Romney supporters say she is their second choice, followed by 23% who say Huckabee and 14% who say Gingrich.

Huckabee and Palin are seen as the candidates favored most by social conservatives and Gingrich and Romney are supposedly favored more by moderate Republicans and fiscal conservatives — but the PPP results in the second choice question don’t play out that way.

Palin supporters clearly don’t like Mitt Romney and they favor Huckabee the best — not a surprise given their focus on pro-life issues and the fact that Huckabee’s soft-sell presentation of himself appeals to Republican women, the “mama grizzlies” who are solidly behind the former Alaska governor currently.

But Romney supporters like Palin the best, which is at odds with the notion form some that Romney has the statute and intellectual heft to face Obama in the general election while Palin doesn’t. Perhaps their reasoning, given that Gingrich does so poorly with Romney supporters, is that if Romney doesn’t get the nomination his supporters would rather see a gamechanger like Palin who could be the first woman nominee of a major party to seek the presidency. Whatever the reason, Romney is a sure bet to run so the attitude of his supporters as to their second choice likely won’t come into play.

The move of Huckabee supporters to Palin and away from the “establishment” candidates makes plenty of sense and that the evangelicals who support Huckabee don’t particularly care for Romney, a Mormon, ought to be noted. It makes it so if either Palin or Huckabee decide not to run, and the other does, that candidate becomes the instant odds-on favorite to capture most of the evangelical and values voters vote.

Gingrich toyed with the idea of running in 2008 but seems more serious this year about a campaign and his advisors say they would be surprised if he doesn’t seek the nomination. It’s not surprising to see backers of the former history professor shy away from Palin, who some say has the least command of the issues heading into the 2012 campaign.

The math shows 77 percent of Gingrich backers support one of the other three, while 70 percent of Huckabee backers, 56 percent of Palin backers and 64 percent of Romney backers do as well. That probably makes Palin the most anti-establishment candidate of the three and, should she not run, that paves the way for another candidate like Tim Pawlenty or Mike Pence to grab the mantle of the Palin voters who want to see someone new on the national stage.

PP also polled how supporters of one of the top four candidates felt about the other leading potential hopefuls.

-Huckabee voters give Palin a 64/27 favorability, Gingrich a 53/23 one, and Romney a 59/26 one. That makes the net favorability for the other candidates an average +33.

-Palin voters give Huckabee a 52/19 favorability, Gingrich a 42/38 one, and Romney a 40/35 one. That makes the net favorability for the other candidates an average +14.

-Gingrich voters give Huckabee a 78/11 favorability, Palin a 67/14 one, and Romney a 61/26 one. That makes the net favorability for the other candidates an average +52.

-Romney voters give Huckabee a 46/25 favorability, Palin a 46/36 one, and Gingrich a 41/42 one. That makes the net favorability for the other candidates an average +10.

These numbers support the notion that Palin voters don’t care for any of the other three who have been in the national spotlight, especially Romney, and want someone new from out of right field whereas, if Gingrich or Huckabee don’t run, their decisions don’t open the door as much for a Pawlenty, Pence, or another newer candidate.

Interestingly, Huckabee has the highest net favorability ratings from supporters of the other candidates while Gingrich and Romney both have high negatives with Republican supporters. Surely these figures have to play a role in his decision whether or not to seek the nomination.

Romney’s high negatives should be noted as one-quarter to one-third of Republican voters have an unfavorable view of him — which could cause turnout issues if he becomes the nominee or could pave the way for an alternative like Pawlenty to find support. Gingrich’s even higher negatives among other voters likely means he will have a tough time getting the nomination even if other candidates drop out or don’t run. Republican voters will look elsewhere for an alternative to their favorite instead of moving in Gingrich’s direction.