A new Harvard and St. Anselm poll shows former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney ahead of his nearest competitor by 18 percentage points in New Hampshire, the first primary state, and it reveals support for Texas Gov. Rick Perry dropping precipitously.
Romney was favored by 38 percent of likely Granite State voters in the Republican primary, ahead of second-place Herman Cain, the former the Godfather's Pizza executive, who got 20 percent. Libertarian Rep. Ron Paul placed third with 13 percent, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich came in fourth with 5 percent, and Perry and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman tied for fifth place with 4 percent each.
The poll results were especially dismal for Perry, who just a few weeks ago was tied with Romney for front-runner status, but whose fortunes have declined with a string of weak debate performances. The results also confirmed other recent surveys showing Cain gaining strength, although he was once dismissed at having no chance in the Republican primary field.
Huntsman has made New Hampshire the focus of his campaign, saying he must win there to be competitive, but the poll shows him making little traction despite repeated visits to the state's towns and hamlets. The survey also confirmed the downward spiral of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann since winning the Iowa GOP straw poll in August, although she has not targeted New Hampshire as intensely as Huntsman. Bachmann got just 3 percent support from likely GOP voters.
The candidate ballot test appears far from settled, according to the survey-takers. Only 10 percent of likely primary voters say that they are "definitely" voting for Romney, while 6 percent say the same about Cain. Just 14 percent report they are "very satisfied" with the field of candidates. However, the likely primary voters appear confident that Romney can beat President Obama in a general election matchup, with 72 percent saying Romney would win and 20 percent saying Obama would win.
The survey was conducted for the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. It was conducted from Oct. 2 to Oct. 6 and consisted of telephone interviews with likely Republican primary voters. It has a 4.4 percent margin of error.