PRINCETON, NJ -- Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has the highest net favorable score among Republicans nationwide in a field of potential GOP candidates for 2012, while former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is the most recognized. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are also widely recognized by Republicans, and have favorability numbers similar to Palin's.
These results are based on a Gallup poll conducted Jan. 4-5 among 923 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. Gallup's net favorable measure is based on the difference between strongly favorable opinions and strongly unfavorable opinions, calculated only among the group of respondents who recognize each candidate.
Taken as a whole, these data represent the lay of the land at this juncture as the GOP candidates begin to maneuver through the complex process of mounting a challenge for their party's presidential nomination.
The accompanying graph provides a visual representation of the recognition rate and the net favorable score for each of 13 potential GOP candidates included in the survey. A cluster of four candidates -- Huckabee, Romney, Gingrich, and Palin -- is located in the upper right-hand quadrant of the graph. These are the clear leaders in terms of both recognition and image at this time. Texas Rep. Ron Paul is less well known than these four, but still better known than all other candidates measured. No other candidate is strongly differentiated from the rest, and a number have significant name identification deficits as 2011 begins.
- Five of the potential candidates are relatively well known among Republicans nationwide, with name identification at 70% or higher. Former GOP vice presidential candidate Palin is the most recognized of those tested, with a near-universal recognition of 95% among Republicans. Huckabee, Gingrich, and Romney are each recognized by between 84% and 87% of Republicans, while Paul is recognized by 73%. Four of these candidates were involved in the 2008 Republican presidential primaries, and the fifth, Gingrich, was a well-known speaker of the House in the 1990s and has been a highly visible commentator and pundit in the years since.
- The eight remaining candidates have much lower name identification among Republicans. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty have name identification around the 40% level. The other five candidates are even less well known, with name identification ranging from 26% for Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels to 14% for former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson. Indiana Rep. Mike Pence is recognized by 22% of Republicans, former Utah Gov. John Huntsman by 21%, and South Dakota Sen. John Thune by 20%.
- As would be expected, Republicans who recognize a given candidate are more likely to have favorable than unfavorable opinions of that candidate. But when given the opportunity to say if these feelings are "strongly" favorable rather than just favorable, a majority of those with positive opinions choose the more moderate position for each candidate. Similarly, negative reactions are more likely to be just unfavorable rather than strongly unfavorable. (For complete data, see page 2.) This suggests that currently, no potential candidate is generating strongly emotional responses from Republicans nationwide.
- Overall, Huckabee (+30) has the highest net favorable score -- strongly favorable responses minus strongly unfavorable responses among those who recognize him -- of any of these 13 potential candidates. Palin has a relatively high percentage of strongly favorable opinions among those who recognize her, at 30%, but also the highest strongly unfavorable opinions of any candidates included in the research (8%), for a net favorable score of 22. Gingrich (24) and Romney (23) have net favorable scores similar to Palin's. All but one of the remaining candidates have net favorable scores from 11 to 19, with Pence and Huntsman at the top end of that range, and Daniels at the lower end. Johnson, who has the lowest name identification score among Republicans, also has the lowest net favorable score, at 0.
The first actual votes in the Republican nomination process will be cast more than a year from now. Despite this, many potential Republican candidates are already hard at work making appearances, putting together campaign teams, raising money, and generally gathering momentum for a run at the GOP nomination and the right to oppose President Obama's presumed bid for re-election in November 2012.
At this point, five potential candidates have a decided name identification advantage among nationwide Republicans, largely because they ran for president in 2008 (Romney, Huckabee, and Paul), were actually on the 2008 GOP ticket (Palin), or were highly visible Republican federal officeholders (Gingrich). All of the others tested in this research begin the campaign process with significant name identification deficits. Presumably, one goal for this latter group of candidates during the coming year -- should they decide to pursue the nomination seriously -- will be to gain name recognition among GOP voters across the country and particularly in key primary states.
Huckabee generates the most positive net favorable reaction of any of the potential candidates tested. Palin and Gingrich generate levels of strongly positive reactions that are similar to Huckabee's, but also generate more strongly negative reactions, pulling down their overall net favorable scores. Romney has slightly lower strongly favorable opinions, but receives fewer strongly negative opinions than either Palin or Gingrich.
No candidate at this early point in the campaign can claim to generate strong reactions from rank-and-file Republicans. This suggests that one objective for these politicians during the coming year will be to create higher levels of enthusiasm if not emotion for their candidacies.
Gallup's net favorable measure in essence controls for the candidates' recognition levels and provides an indication of the potential appeal of a candidate if he or she were to become better known. At this point, none of the less well-known candidates tested in this research appears to have unusual potential based on this measure, meaning that none is generating unusually strong positive reactions among the smaller group of Republicans who know them.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 4-5, 2011, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 923 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling.
For results based on the total sample of Republicans, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each daily sample includes a minimum quota of 200 cell phone respondents and 800 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, cell phone-only status, cell phone-mostly status, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.