A new poll of South Carolina Republicans out today shows former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney running ahead in the 2012 presidential primary, a strong showing for Romney in a key early primary state.
Among all registered Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, Huckabee leads with 18 percent, just ahead of Romney, who earns 16 percent. Real estate mogul Donald Trump is third with 10 percent, while former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is fourth with 9 percent and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich finishes fifth at 8 percent. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has said repeatedly that he will not run for president, is sixth with 6 percent.
Bringing up the rear were Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. (4 percent), Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex. (3 percent), businessman Herman Cain (2 percent) and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who announced Monday he would not run for president, earned just 2 percent of the vote.
Among voters who say they are definitely planning to vote in the primary, Huckabee (19 percent) maintains that slight lead over Romney (17 percent), with Trump (11 percent), Gingrich (8 percent) and Palin (8 percent) trailing behind.
The poll was conducted April 17-23 by Rock Hill, S.C.-based Winthrop University. The Winthrop poll is nearly identical to a survey of likely Republican primary voters released Monday from Manchester, N.H.-based American Research Group, conducted April 18-23, that showed Huckabee (20 percent) leading Romney (18 percent), Trump (13 percent), Palin (10 percent) and Gingrich (9 percent).
Winthrop conducted a poll of southern states in Feb., finding Romney back in fifth place across the region. The sample sizes for each state were too small to analyze results at the individual state level, but we wrote in this space
that the poll could portend trouble in the Palmetto State's primary. Romney finished fourth in South Carolina in 2008.
The new Winthrop poll represents a much stronger showing for Romney. He trails only Huckabee, who may not seek the presidency. In third place is Trump, a brash New Yorker who, if he does indeed mount a bid, might find South Carolina less receptive to his unique style.
"The names that were big in 2008 are on the tips of everyone's tongue," said Dr. Scott Huffmon
, who conducted the poll.
Huffmon also said that Romney's stronger performance in South Carolina versus the region as a whole should not be surprising after Romney campaigned in the state in 2008.
"We would expect Romney to do better in this state [than in other southern states]," said Huffmon. "South Carolinians saw more of him than [voters] in Georgia and Alabama."
Twenty-one percent of Republicans in South Carolina expect Romney to win the Republican nomination for president, higher than any other candidate or possible candidate. But nearly half, 47 percent, of Republicans are unsure when asked who they think will be the nominee, underscoring the unsettled nature of the field.
A majority of Republicans, 54 percent, has a favorable impression of Romney, and only 17 percent view him unfavorably. Huckabee leads the favorability contest, sporting a split of 60 percent favorable and 11 percent unfavorable. Gingrich (45/23) and Palin (48/32) all have higher unfavorability numbers.
There are many second- and third-tier candidates with whom South Carolina Republicans are less familiar: 51 percent haven't heard enough about Bachmann; 66 percent don't know enough about Pawlenty and 63 percent haven't heard enough about former Sen. Rick Santorum
Romney still has weaknesses, to be sure, from the Massachusetts health care law to his religion. In an interview earlier this year, Huffmon recalled receiving a Christmas card in 2007 alleging to be from Romney that quoted the Book of Mormon, in support of polygamy. A majority of Republicans in the poll says it is more important to select a presidential candidates who matches their beliefs; only 32 percent say it is more important to choose a candidate who can beat President Obama
The poll comes less than two weeks before a planned Fox News-sponsored debate to be held in Greenville, S.C. But despite the fact that he meets some of the qualifications set by Fox and the state GOP, Romney is not expected to participate in the debate. Gingrich, Paul, Pawlenty, former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer
and Santorum are expected to participate
The Winthrop poll surveyed 589 registered Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, for a margin of error of +/- 4.0 percent. For the sample of definite Republican primary voters, there were 463 respondents, for a margin of error of 4.6 percent.