Rick Perry's led the Republican field in every Southern state that we've polled since he entered the Presidential race...until now. Mitt Romney continues to lead the way in Florida with 30% to 24% for Perry, 10% for Gingrich, 8% for Ron Paul, 7% for Herman Cain, 6% for Michele Bachmann, 3% for Jon Huntsman, 2% for Rick Santorum, and 1% for Gary Johnson.
Perry had a poor debate performance in Florida Thursday night and our results suggest that the negative coverage he received from that did hurt him some in the state. We started this poll on Thursday night before the debate and in those interviews the race was neck and neck with Romney at 33% and Perry at 31%. But in interviews done Friday-Sunday Romney's lead expanded to double digits at 29-19. More telling might be what happened to Perry's favorability numbers after the debate- on Thursday night he was at 63/23 with Florida Republicans. Friday-Sunday he was at 48/36. Perry's poor performance may or may not prove to be a game changer nationally but it definitely appears to have hurt his image in the key state where it occurred.
Perry was down in Florida even before the debate though and one thing that may be hurting him is his comments on Social Security. 49% of voters disagree with his 'Ponzi Scheme' comments to only 37% who agree and with the folks who dissent from that statement his deficit against Romney goes all the way up to 19 points at 35-16. It's also noteworthy that seniors are the age group where Perry faces the biggest deficit to Romney at 34-26.
Moderates in Florida prefer Romney by a 32-15 margin over Perry and those describing themselves as 'very conservative' give their support to Perry by a 32-24 spread over Romney. Romney winning with the middle and Perry winning with the far right is what we find in pretty much every state. Romney's winning overall because he's up 36-24 with those identifying as 'somewhat conservative.' This really seems to be the swing voting bloc within the GOP electorate for this year. For the most part Perry's been leading that group in our polling since his entry so it's a very good sign for Romney that they may perhaps be swinging back in the other direction. Ultimately these voters who are conservative but not really far right/Tea Party types will probably determine who wins the nomination.
Other notes on Florida:
-People probably don't need another reminder that straw polls are meaningless in terms of broader implications but Herman Cain was at 14% when we surveyed Florida in June and now he's at 7%. His victory Saturday was hardly indicative of growing support in the state.
-Florida might be the best symbol yet of Michele Bachmann's fallen star. In June she was in 2nd place at 22%. Now she's dropped 16 points and is in 6th place at 6%. You almost wonder if she's even going to make it to Iowa with those kinds of numbers.
-If the Republican race was down to two people by the time Florida votes, Romney would lead Perry 45-36 in a head to head.
Full results here