Americans strongly disagree with the statements Rick Perry made about Social Security in last week's Republican Presidential debate, and Barack Obama has nearly doubled his lead over Perry nationally in the span of just 3 weeks.
Only 20% of voters agree with Perry that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme to 70% who dissent from that statement. Democrats (4/87) and independents (20/69) are pretty universal in their disagreement with Perry and even Republicans (39/49) don't stand with him on this one. When it comes to the possibility of actually ending Social Security voters are even more unanimous- 82% oppose taking that step to only 10% who would be supportive of it. If Perry ends up as the Republican nominee and Democrats can effectively convince the electorate that he does want to end Social Security it could be an extremely damaging issue for him.
In fact it appears that Perry's rhetoric on Social Security could already be causing him problems. When PPP did a national poll three weeks ago Barack Obama led Perry by only 6 points at 49-43. Now that gap has widened to 11 points at 52-41. The main movement has come with Democratic voters. On the previous poll Obama had only a 68 point lead with the party base at 81-13 but now it's 80 points at 89-9. We know there are a lot of Democratic voters disenchanted with Obama right now but if the GOP puts forward someone like Perry who's willing to go after one of the Holy Grails of the party's orthodoxy like Social Security it might scare those voters back into the fold.
In addition to his horse race numbers taking a wrong turn Perry's favorability numbers are worse than they were 3 weeks ago as well. Only 30% of voters have a positive opinion of him to 50% with a negative one. That's down from an already not so stellar 33/47 spread. Republicans certainly like him but with independents (23/51) and Democrats (9/74) favor is virtually nonexistent.
Mitt Romney continues to look like the considerably more electable GOP contender. He trails Obama by only 4 points at 49-45. You can see the difference between Romney and Perry's general election viability at this point particularly with independents. While Perry's favorability with them is just 23/51 as mentioned above, Romney's is 44/39. And where Perry trails Obama by 10 points with them, Romney actually holds a 2 point advantage. Romney also consolidates the GOP vote better than Perry (87% as opposed to 82%) and wins over slightly more Democrats (11% to Perry's 9%). If Republican voters really value having a candidate who can beat Obama, as they claim to, Romney's their guy at this point.
The best indication of Perry's weakness might be that he polls only one point better against Obama than Newt Gingrich, who trails the President by an almost identical 53-41 margin. Michele Bachmann is the weakest of the potential Republican foes we polled with a 14 point deficit to Obama at 53-39.
Just for the heck of it we asked voters who they would choose in a rematch between Obama and John McCain and the President actually hasn't seen that much slippage, leading by 5 points at 51-46, only a couple points off his 7 point margin of victory in 2008. That's less an indication that voters are happy with Obama than it is that McCain has pretty much destroyed his brand. Only 36% of voters have a favorable opinion of him to 54% with a negative one. 23% of Democrats have a positive view which is actually a perfectly healthy amount of crossover support...but with Republicans he's at only 48/44 and that's what drags down his numbers overall.
Update: One very interesting crosstab I missed in the original write up of this poll. With seniors Romney leads Obama by 4, but Obama leads Perry by 5. No one's going to be more concerned about the Social Security issue than them, and it's safe to say a Republican can't get elected to the White House next year without doing very well with that voting group.
Full results here