For the first time in PPP's national polling for the 2012 Republican nomination there's a clear leader: Mike Huckabee. Huckabee's at 24% to 14% for Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney, 11% for Newt Gingrich, 8% for Tim Pawlenty, 7% for Ron Paul, 4% for Mitch Daniels, and 1% for John Thune.
This month's numbers are indicative of an ongoing problem for Romney: conservative voters just don't like him nearly as much as they do the rest of the leading Republican contenders. Only 55% have a favorable opinion of him. Gingrich is 10 points better at 65% favorability, and Palin and Huckabee are each almost 20 points higher at 74% and 73% respectively. Our state by state polling has indicated that the Republican electorate in most places is going to be more conservative leaning than it was in 2008 so this is somewhere Romney's really going to have to step it up if he's going to be viable for the nomination.
The worst news for Palin in this poll might be that she has the highest favorability number of any of the Republicans tested at 65%- but still only 14% say that she's their first choice for President. Her problem is not that GOP voters don't like her because they most certainly do. They just don't think she's Presidential material. She's not like a lot of Presidential contenders who start out far behind but have a lot of room to grow as they become better known- she's pretty much maxed out on people's awareness of her.
Huckabee is obviously the big winner in this poll. He's ahead with both moderates and conservatives, showing an ability to unify two wings of the party that have become increasingly polarized from each other with the rise of the Tea Party movement. That's important not just for snagging the nomination but also for Republican prospects of winning the general- they can't do it without a candidate who is able to hold the entire base in line.
The other winner in this month's poll is Pawlenty. 8% is certainly the best he's done in one of our national polls and it's a sign that he could be starting to gain some traction. His record strong standing is part of why Romney's polling so poorly this month, as we've consistently found that they tap into a similar centrist base. A strong Pawlenty candidacy is good news for Democrats because anything that divides the already diluted Republican moderate vote can only make it more likely the GOP nominates someone too far to the right to be viable in the general election.
Huckabee's definitely having the best 2011 of the potential Republican contenders so far, continuing to lead in all of the Iowa polls and improving his standing in the national ones. Of course who knows if he's even going to run...and if he doesn't that could breathe some life into Palin's prospects since they share a similar base of admirers.
Full results here