NH poll shows Romney with 23-point lead over Palin

It will be more than a year before New Hampshire voters trudge to the polls for the first primary in the nation, but the New Hampshire Journal feels it’s just the right time to take the Granite State temperature on the Republican field.  As expected, Mitt Romney from neighboring Massachusetts takes the early lead in the poll, but perhaps the extent of that lead will provide a mild surprise.  Romney leads Sarah Palin by 23 points, and Mike Huckabee is the only other candidate in double digits:

Former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney holds a commanding lead in New Hampshire in the early stages of the race for the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination, according to a new survey commissioned by NH Journal and conducted by Magellan Strategies. The survey is the first statewide survey of Granite State Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in 2011.

Romney leads former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin by 23 points, with Romney earning 39% and Palin earning 16%. Mike Huckabee (10%), Newt Gingrich (8%), Texas Congressman Ron Paul (7%), former MN Gov. Tim Pawlenty (4%), Rick Santorum (3%) and MS Gov. Haley Barbour (1%) all trail significantly behind. Romney finished second to Sen. john McCain in the 2008 New Hampshire Republican Presidential primary.

Palin, however, has a strong base of popularity in New Hampshire, which indicates that she has room to grow if she chooses to run:

Despite her ballot position, Palin is very popular with Republican voters. 59% view her favorably while 31% have an unfavorable view of her. More Independents (50%) have a favorable view of her than and unfavorable view (41%). This data reflects Independent voters who say they are likely to vote in the Republican presidential primary.

Two-thirds of the respondents in this poll are independents, who can vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary (but not in both).  All of the independent respondents in this poll stated that they will vote in the GOP primary, which makes sense, as Barack Obama will likely not face a serious primary challenger in 2012.  That means the action will be with the Republicans, and the importance of the independent vote will increase accordingly.

Will that water down conservative impact on the choice in New Hampshire?  In NHJ’s model, at least, the answer appears to be no.  Eighty-one percent of all respondents described themselves as “conservative,” and 54% as “very conservative.”  Sixty percent described themselves as conservatives on social issues “such as same sex marriage and abortion,” and 46% as “very conservative.”

Again, this is very early, but New Hampshire will get a lot of attention in the next year.  Romney was expected to win in NH in 2008 but ended up losing to John McCain, and the nomination slipped away from him.  Palin has yet to publicly state her interest in the race, but if she does decide to run this year, we’ll know it when Palin starts spending time in the Granite State.  Mike Huckabee’s positives in the state are almost as high as Palin’s (55/27), but he is probably counting more on Iowa than New Hampshire.  Everyone else is in serious dark-horse territory, but then again, we probably haven’t seen all of the Republican candidates yet, either.

Update: Two corrections; first, the lead is 23 points, not 26 as I originally wrote, and Romney came up short in 2008, not “last year”.  Caffeine shortage strikes again!