New poll shows no Republican front-runner in Iowa

Public Policy Polling’s new Iowa survey indicates a wide-open race among Republican presidential candidates with Mike Huckabee out of the running. PPP surveyed 481 Iowa Republicans from May 27 through May 30. Given a choice between Representative Michele Bachmann, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, Representative Ron Paul, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, 21 percent of respondents expressed a preference for Romney as the GOP presidential nominee. Cain and Palin tied for second with 15 percent, followed by Gingrich (12 percent), Bachmann (11 percent), Pawlenty (10 percent), Paul and "someone else/undecided" (8 percent), and Huntsman (0 percent).

Asked to choose a candidate if Palin did not run for president, respondents favored Romney (26 percent), Cain (16 percent), Gingrich (15 percent), Bachmann (14 percent), Paul (11 percent), Pawlenty (10 percent) and Huntsman (1 percent).

I don’t know why PPP didn’t include former Senator Rick Santorum on these lists, since Santorum has hired staff and made several Iowa visits during the past year. The full polling memo (pdf) includes favorability numbers for Santorum and a bunch of other Republicans who have been mentioned as possible presidential candidates.

I wouldn’t put too much stock in a poll taken seven or eight months before the Iowa caucuses, especially a survey over Memorial Day weekend, when many potential respondents would not be at home. Still, Cain has to be thrilled to be making inroads with Iowa Republicans. This poll will make it difficult for Romney to avoid participating in the Iowa GOP’s August straw poll fundraiser. The results must be disappointing for Pawlenty and Gingrich, who have spent time and energy in Iowa recently and have high-profile Republican endorsers here. Tom Jensen of PPP saw a silver lining for Pawlenty, though:

Romney’s leading in Iowa based on his strength with centrist and center right Republican voters. With moderates he’s at 34% to 16% for Palin, 13% for Paul, and 11% for Gingrich. With ‘somewhat conservative’ voters he’s at 24% to 15% for Pawlenty, 13% for Palin, and 12% for Gingrich and Cain. His strength with those two groups outweighs his continuing weakness with the furthest right group of voters in the state, which constitute the largest segment of the Republican electorate at 41%. With those ‘very conservative’ folks Romney can muster only a fourth place finish at 13%. Cain and Palin tie for the lead with that group of voters at 19% followed by Bachmann at 15%. […]

Pawlenty doesn’t poll the strongest head to head among Romney among ‘very conservative’ voters- he leads by 17 compared to a 21 point lead for Palin and a 24 point advantage for Bachmann with that group. But with center right voters- those calling themselves ‘somewhat conservative’- Romney leads Pawlenty by just a single point while he has a 19 point advantage over Palin and a 22 point lead over Bachmann with that group. What that says to me is that many Republicans are looking for someone more conservative than Romney but someone who isn’t bound to get creamed in the general election the way Palin, Bachmann, and Cain probably would. That’s very good news for Pawlenty if it ever plays itself out in real life.

Jensen also noted that non-candidates Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, or Paul Ryan posted better favorability numbers in this poll than any of the declared Republican presidential candidates.

Share any thoughts about the GOP presidential race in this thread.

UPDATE: PPP replied to my question about not including Santorum in this survey. A maximum of eight candidates can be tested in this automated poll; adding Santorum would have meant removing Huntsman, about whom “there’s much more national interest.” Since Huntsman hasn’t been in Iowa while Santorum has spent time here and hired staff, I would have liked to see whether Santorum is gaining ground like Cain.

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