Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has widened his lead among the field of Republican presidential hopefuls ahead of the first Republican debate in New Hampshire Monday night, according to a new Gallup poll. He has the support of 24 percent of Republicans surveyed from June 8 to 11, a significant jump from the 17 percent he garnered just two weeks earlier.
The jump represents an increasingly wide lead over the voters’ second choice, Sarah Palin. The former Alaska governor, who has not announced intentions to run in the 2012 race, gained just 1 percent of support between the two polls, coming in with 16 percent of Republican votes in the June update. If Palin chose not to run at all, Gallup determined Romney's lead would grow even wider. In the May poll, with Palin excluded, he had 19 percent support from Republicans. That grew to 27 percent in the June poll that left her out, with candidate Herman Cain coming in second with only 10 percent.
But Romney has already caught a lucky break with the exit of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and business mogul Donald Trump, who both announced just before the May poll that they would not run. Voters who favored those candidates appear to have thrown their support to Romney, who grew his lead while Palin’s support – and the support of every other candidate, for that matter – remained mostly flat. The only other candidate to see a significant increase between the two polls was former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who saw his support rise from 2 to 6 percent.
The core of Romney’s base appears to be among voters who are older and have graduated from college, though he holds leads over Palin, Cain and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, among all subgroups. And though some have worried about Romney’s Mormon background affecting his popularity, he performed well among respondents who attend church weekly, with 25 percent support among that group and a 15-point lead over Palin, the next most popular candidate with regular churchgoers.
Gallup notes that those groups have historically voted at higher rates in elections, which could help Romney with primaries and caucuses. But the polling organization warned that he still holds a weak lead compared to other front-runners in recent history and does not have as high a positive intensity score as Cain and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.
The USA Today/Gallup poll was based on landline and cellular telephone interviews conducted June 8-11, 2011, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 851 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.