Mitt Romney's still the clear early front runner to take the Republican primary in New Hampshire next year but for the first time in our polling of the race PPP finds someone within single digits of him...Donald Trump.
If Trump actually run 21% of New Hampshire GOP voters say they'd vote for him, compared to 27% for Romney. The key to Trump's relatively strong showing? He does well with birthers and Tea Partiers, two groups he has seemed to actively court with his public comments of late. 42% of primary voters firmly say they do not believe Barack Obama was born in the United States to 35% who believe that he was and 23% who aren't sure. Trump leads Romney 22-21 with the birther crowd, but Romney holds the overall lead because he's up by a much wider margin with the folks who dismiss the birther theory.
Trump also leads Romney 23-21 with the Republican primary voters who consider themselves to be Tea Party members but that's only 30% of the electorate and Romney's up by a good margin with the folks who don't identify with that movement.
If you take Trump out of the picture Romney maintains the customary wide lead he has shown in most polling of the state. On the standard Republican primary question we ask in every state Romney gets 31% to 15% for Mike Huckabee, 13% for Newt Gingrich, 10% for Sarah Palin and Ron Paul, 4% for Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty, and 2% for Haley Barbour.
We also asked about three other permutations of the race in which 1) Palin didn't run, 2) Huckabee didn't run, and 3) neither Huckabee nor Palin ran to get some idea of whether their supporters would consolidate around a single candidate and make that person a threat to Romney. That did not prove to be the case though. With Huckabee out of the picture Romney's lead just widens with him at 37% to 14% for Gingrich and Palin and 13% for Paul. It's a similar story with Palin out of the mix- Romney's support climbs to 35% with Huckabee at 14% and Paul and Gingrich at 13%. And even with both Huckabee and Palin out Romney leads with 40% to 18% for Paul and 17% for Gingrich.
There is one huge warning sign for Romney in this poll despite the leads he posts in every permutation though: 61% of primary voters say they would not be willing to vote for someone who supported a bill at the state level mandating that people have health insurance. In 5 of the 6 horse race questions we asked Romney still leads with those voters, suggesting that most Republicans who follow politics and the 2012 race only casually are not really aware of 'Romneycare.' It's safe to say they'll be well aware of it 9 months from now, and it's going to be interesting to see if Romney can sustain his support once he's been endlessly bashed over the head with it.
Your winners in this poll:
1) Romney- signs of vulnerability down the road notwithstanding you can't argue with leading every possible match up and by double digits in most cases.
2) Trump- it has to drive the people who've been running or at least laying the groundwork for a run for months nuts that he can just spout off some birther rhetoric and earn the best New Hampshire poll support anyone other than Romney's shown to date.
3) Paul- his favorability numbers are better than Gingrich, Huckabee, and Palin's and he has a double digit level of support in almost every match up we looked at, including a second place finish over Gingrich when you take Huckabee and Palin out of the mix.
Your losers in this poll:
1) Huckabee- these numbers give little indication that he's been able to build much on his weak 11% showing in the state in 2008, or that he would be particularly competitive with Romney even if Palin sat it out. His favorability is under 50% and not even that far above water at 48/36.
2) Palin- the fact that the best she can muster is a tie with Paul doesn't bode well for her prospects in the state if she ends up making a bad. Even if you take Huckabee out of the mix she still runs 23 points behind Romney, and her favorability of 51% is nothing to write home about.
3) Gingrich- his only real shot would seem to be if Palin and Huckabee don't run and their supporters unify around him against Romney. That's not happening at this point though- he only gains 4 points from 13% to 17% with them out of the mix while Romney actually sees a 9 point bump from 31% to 40%. And his favorability is weak as well at 45/36.
Bottom line in New Hampshire- Romney remains your favorite but there are some cracks there and the Donald could make things very, very interesting.
Full results here