PRINCETON, NJ -- Republicans and Republican-leaning independents have no clear favorite for the party's 2012 presidential nominee at this point, with Mike Huckabee (18%), Mitt Romney (16%), and Sarah Palin (16%) in a statistical tie for the lead. They are the only candidates in the crowded field of potential candidates who register double-digit support. Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, and former Utah Gov. and current Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman were included for the first time and received 4% and 1%, respectively.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who maintains he does not plan to run for president, is still volunteered by 1% of respondents, as is Indiana Congressman Mike Pence. Pence's name was included as an explicit option in previous Gallup surveys but he recently announced he would not be a candidate for president in 2012. South Dakota Sen. John Thune, who announced on Tuesday he would not enter the race, also gets 1% of the vote.
The results are based on interviews conducted Feb. 18-20, with 1,326 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents on the Gallup Daily survey. Gallup had previously asked Republicans for their 2012 nomination preferences in November and September.
Those earlier polls also showed a top tier consisting of Romney, Palin, and Huckabee, though Huckabee trailed Romney (by a statistically significant margin) and Palin in the September poll. Huckabee's support has increased in each of the subsequent updates, and his total six-point gain since September is the largest for any of the candidates to date.
Most of the other candidates are now within one or two percentage points of their September and November estimates. Two exceptions are Romney, whose current 16% is a bit lower (though still within the margin of error) than his 19% readings last year, and Newt Gingrich, whose current 9% of the vote is down from 13% in November but the same as September.
As is usually the case in early nomination polls, the top candidates tend to be the best known. Huckabee, Romney, and Ron Paul all sought the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, Palin was the party's vice presidential nominee that year, and Gingrich was the speaker of the House from 1995-1999. So far, none of the lesser-known candidates, including some current and former state governors, has broken out of the low single digits.
There aren't wide differences among the top competitors among different subgroups of Republicans, though Huckabee fares slightly better among core Republican identifiers than among Republican-leaning independents, among conservatives than among liberals or moderates, and among frequent than among less frequent churchgoers, and among Southerners.
Palin has greater appeal to college nongraduates than college graduates and to lower- and middle-income Republicans than upper-income Republicans. To date, there is not a pronounced gender gap in Palin's support.
Older Republicans are significantly more likely than younger Republicans to support Romney.
Preferences for the leading candidates are generally similar among Tea Party supporters and nonsupporters.
Gallup's polling on Republicans' preferences for their party's 2012 presidential nominee clearly underscores that there is no early front-runner. This is a departure from what Gallup has found for the GOP nomination since 1972, when state primaries became the main way of selecting the nominee. Previously, a particular candidate held a strong lead at the outset of the Gallup's Republican nomination polling, and that candidate usually led for most of the nominating campaign and eventually won the nomination. The only exception to that general pattern was in 2008. Rudy Giuliani led in early preference polls that year, but his lead began to dwindle in late 2007 and he performed poorly in the initial primaries and caucuses. The current wide-open nature of the 2012 GOP race to date suggests a competitive and perhaps dynamic race ahead.
Although many of the potential 2012 candidates have campaigned in key early primary and caucus states, the most prominent ones have yet to officially declare their candidacies. The field should begin to take shape in the coming months leading up to the first candidate debates this spring.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Feb. 18-20, 2011, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 1,326 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 ±3 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.