Michele Bachmann's momentum continues to build and she's taken first place by the smallest of margins on PPP's newest national Presidential poll. 21% of Republican primary voters say she's their top choice to 20% for Mitt Romney, 12% for Rick Perry, 11% for Herman Cain, 9% for Ron Paul, 7% for Newt Gingrich, 5% for Tim Pawlenty, and 3% for Jon Huntsman.
Bachmann's rise has been fueled by her appeal to voters on the far right- and their skepticism about Romney. Romney has the lead with centrist Republicans (23-17) and with those defining themselves as only somewhat right of center (24-17). But among 'very conservative' voters only 48% have a positive opinion of Romney to 34% who view him negatively, weak numbers, and Bachmann's capitalizing on that with a 26-15 lead over Romney, who's in third place with that group of voters.
Oddly enough one of the best things that could happen to Romney right now is the late entry of Sarah Palin into the race. In a ballot test including her as a candidate he leads the way with 20% to 16% for Bachmann, 12% for Palin, and 11% for Perry. 44% of Palin's voters say they would vote for Bachmann if Palin didn't run, compared to only 6% who say they would otherwise vote for Romney. So basically a Palin candidacy would take a large bite out of Bachmann's support with virtually no impact on Romney.
Republicans don't want Palin to run though. Just 29% think she should enter the race at this point to 53% opposed to that idea. It's not that GOP voters don't like Palin- 57% have a favorable opinion of her to 32% with a negative one, the best favorability spread of anyone we tested on this poll. But even among those voters who see her in a positive light only 45% think she should make a White House bid. There just continues to be a significant disconnect between Republicans liking Palin and thinking she should be President.
There's been a fair amount of speculation that this contest could end up as a two race between Romney and one of the more conservative candidates in the field, the strongest of whom at this point is looking like Bachmann. In such a scenario Bachmann would lead Romney 44-41. Bachmann would win the support of Cain voters (57-35), Paul backers (43-31), and Perry's (57-30) while Romney would get the voters of Gingrich supporters (43-29), Huntsman ones (79-10), and Pawlenty's (43-32).
The fact that 57% of Perry's supporters would otherwise prefer Bachmann to only 30% who would go for Romney suggests that his entrance into the race would have the potential to stifle Bachmann's momentum. Perry's 12% debut in our polling is a very strong entrance given how little exposure he's had so far on the national stage. Other than Bachmann he has to be seen as the biggest winner on this poll.
The losers this time around are the duo of Pawlenty and Huntsman. Pawlenty appeared to be finally getting some momentum after Mike Huckabee declined to make the race and did as well as 13% in a national poll we conducted in late May. Since then though he's declined to 9% and now 5% over the course of our last two surveys- not a good trajectory. Meanwhile Huntsman's official entry to the race hasn't done anything for him- he's still stuck at the same 2-3% level of support that he's shown in most of our polling both at the national and state levels.
These numbers also show potential signs of trouble ahead for Romney. Only 17% of Republican voters say they'd be willing to vote for someone who had supported an individual health insurance mandate at the state level, compared to 66% who say they would not be willing to support such a candidate. The funny thing about that is Romney's getting 17% right now with that latter group of voters and his favorability with them is 49/33. Your average primary voter isn't tuned in enough to the race right now to know the specifics of Romney's record.
The biggest question for his campaign is what's going to happen once Romney's opponents inevitably do make folks aware of his record- will that really be a sort of litmus test/deal breaker for GOP voters or will they forgive Romney for that because of his greater attributes and far superior electability? These numbers show the potential for big trouble down the road for Romney but there are also reasons to think he'll be able to overcome that.
Full results here