Mitt Romney continues to be the early favorite to win the Republican race in Nevada next year, as he did in 2008. But his support in the state is on the decline, suggesting he may not be able to take a repeat victory for granted.
Romney's at 24% to 16% for Donald Trump, 11% for Newt Gingrich, 10% for Mike Huckabee, 8% for Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty, 7% for Michele Bachmann, and 5% for Ron Paul.
This is the fourth look we've taken at the GOP contest in Nevada and Romney's support there has been on a steady decline. Last July he was at 34% in the state and he maintained that 34% standing in an October poll of Republican voters. But in January he dropped to 31% and now he's at this 24% level. It's no coincidence that Romney's loss of support coincides with Pawlenty vaulting from 1% in January to now 8% in the Nevada polling. The two appeal to a similar type of voter and generally any time we've seen Pawlenty gain we've seen a corresponding Romney fall.
The emergence of Trump as a serious GOP contender seems to be having a very adverse effect on Palin and Gingrich's support levels in the state. Palin has dropped 11 points from her 19% January standing to her current 8% level of support. And Gingrich has dropped 7 points from his 18% January standing to his current 11% level of support.
Romney may not be quite as strong as he has been in some of our previous polling of the state but he's benefiting from support across the ideological spectrum of the GOP. He's up 10 points on Trump with moderates, 9 with 'somewhat conservative' voters, and even 9% with 'very conservative' voters, a bloc that Romney has struggled with in many states.
Romney's even holding off Trump with the birther base that has been so important to Trump's support in a lot of our other polling. 43% of Nevada Republicans think Barack Obama was not born in the United States and with those folks Romney gets 25% to Trump's 19%. To give you an idea of how important this movement is/was to Trump's bid he's at only 6% with GOP voters who think Obama was born in the country, putting him in last place of the Republicans we tested.
Romney's lead grows in various permutations of the Nevada race where Palin and/or Trump and/or Huckabee don't end up running. In a Trump free field Romney's up by 12 with 29% to 17% for Gingrich and 12% for Palin. In a Huckabee and Trump free field Romney's up by 15 with 33% to 18% for Gingrich, 14% for Palin, and 11% for Bachmann. In a Palin and Trump free field Romney is also up 15 with 31% to 16% for Gingrich, 15% for Huckabee, 11% for Bachmann, and 10% for Pawlenty. And in a field without Huckabee, Palin, or Trump Romney's advantage is 17 points at 38% to 21% for Gingrich, 14% for Bachmann, and 10% for Paul.
Romney continues to lead in Nevada but as we've found in our other early state polling there's still a giant elephant in the room that has the potential to derail him: only 7% of Republican voters in the state say they'd be willing to support a candidate who had backed a state level health insurance mandate compared to 69% who say they would be unwilling to vote for someone with that in their past. Voters don't necessarily make their choices based on a single issue like this but it has the potential to hurt Romney a lot as the race heats up.
Full results here