Gallup’s new poll of Republican and Republican-leading independents offers a few mild surprises, but one of them isn’t the lack of a breakaway frontrunner. Unlike most cycles, Republican voters haven’t set their hearts on an early favorite, a result that every pollster has found. Also unsurprising is the presence of 2008 runner-up Mike Huckabee narrowly in the lead, ahead of Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin:
Mike Huckabee tops a large list of potential GOP presidential candidates in current support for the party’s 2012 nomination, with 19% of Republicans saying they are most likely to back him. This gives Huckabee a slight edge over Mitt Romney (15%). Sarah Palin is now at 12% after receiving 16% support in three prior Gallup polls. Newt Gingrich is the only other potential candidate who registers double-digit support. Sixteen percent of Republicans currently have no preference.
What might be surprising is that Huckabee has gained strength over the last seven months. In September of last year, Huckabee came in third behind Romney and Palin. Both have lost four points in subsequent polling, Palin’s all in the last month, while Huckabee picked up seven points in steady steps. Everyone else has remained more or less in position, although Newt Gingrich’s brief bump to 13% in November dissipated almost immediately.
Even more interesting is what happens when various potential candidates are removed from consideration. Without Huckabee, four other candidates all rise, including Ron Paul slightly from 6% to 8%; Gingrich picks up three points, Palin picks up five, and Romney four. Without Huckabee and Palin, Romney adds seven points to go to 22%, and Gingrich picks up six to 16%, while almost all other candidates get a slight bump upward with none getting to double digits.
When Palin is taken out of the picture, though, almost all of the benefit is felt by Huckabee, who gets four more points to 23%. Romney only gets a single point, Gingrich gets two, and both Paul and Michele Bachmann add one. That’s an unexpected result; one might expect Palin supporters to break a little more seriously towards Bachmann, who shares her Tea Party credibility, or maybe Mitch Daniels, who doesn’t benefit at all.
Huckabee has not decided whether he’ll run at all, and currently doesn’t have a formal organization in the field. His perch at Fox gives him a wide reach, though, and it might be paying off for Huckabee as he contemplates his options.