Poll: Cain tops 3-way race with Romney, Gingrich

Republican presidential candidates former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and businessman Herman Cain pose before a Republican presidential debate at Oakland University in Auburn Hills, Mich., Nov. 9, 2011. AP Photo/Paul Sancya

CBS News Poll analysis by the CBS News Polling Unit: Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Fred Backus and Anthony Salvanto.

In the Republican race for the presidential nomination, Newt Gingrich's support continues to slowly grow, and he is now tied with Mitt Romney for second place, while Herman Cain just edges both of them out for the top spot. Both Cain and Romney have lost support since late October.

In a new CBS News Poll, 61 percent of Republican primary voters say the sexual harassment accusations against Cain won't make any difference in their vote, but 30 percent say the charges make them less likely to back him, and that rises to 38 percent among women. Cain has lost support among women since last month - from 28 percent in October to 15 percent now. He has lost ground with conservatives and Tea Party supporters as well.

But the race could still change; seven in 10 Republican primary voters say it is still too early to say for sure which candidate they will support.

The field of Republican candidates now has three candidates within striking distance of each other at the top of the list: with 18 percent, Herman Cain is in the top spot, followed by Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich with 15% each. Support for both Cain and Romney has declined since late last month, and Gingrich is the only one of the top three whose support is steadily - if slowly - on the upswing.

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Cain has lost support among women since late October. Then, he led among women, garnering 28 percent of their support. Now, his support among women is just 15 percent. He has also lost ground with conservatives, from 30 percent to 23 percent now. And there has been some movement among Tea Party supporters as well; their support for Cain has declined from 32 percent to 19 percent. Romney has lost support among men, while Gingrich's support among that group has increased eight points.

Six in 10 Republican primary voters say the charges of sexual harassment against Cain make no difference to their vote. Still, 30 percent say the charges make them less likely to support him.

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Of self-identified Tea Party supporters 71 percent say the allegations make no difference, as do 67 percent of conservatives. This poll was being conducted as new, and more specific, allegations arose against Cain.

Among women, 38 percent say they are less likely to support Cain because of the allegations against him. Fifty-seven percent say that will make no difference in their vote. Just 23 percent of men say they are less likely to vote for Cain because of the harassment allegations.

Is Cain losing ground among GOP women?

Voters, overall, are following the story. Most say they have heard something about the harassment allegations, including 59 percent of Republican primary voters who have heard a lot.

Among Republican voters who have heard or read a lot about it, a majority still says the allegations won't impact their vote.

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This poll was conducted by telephone from November 6-10, 2011 among 1,182 adults nationwide. 1,029 interviews were conducted with registered voters and 382 with voters who said they plan to vote in a Republican primary. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones.

The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The margin of error for the sample of registered voters could be plus or minus three points and five points for the sample of Republican primary voters. The error for subgroups may be higher. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

  • CBS News Staff

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