Herman Cain has become the first choice of Republican voters in Iowa: he now leads the pack there with 30% to 22% for Mitt Romney, 10% for Ron Paul, 9% for Rick Perry, 8% each for Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich, 5% for Rick Santorum, and 1% each for Jon Huntsman and Gary Johnson.
The momentum in Iowa is pretty much completely on Cain's side. Since our last poll there in mid-August he's gained 23 points. The only other gainers are Gingrich and Romney, each of whom are up 3 points. Perry and Bachmann have both collapsed, losing 13 and 10 points respectively while Paul is down 6 points and Huntsman is down 2 points as well. Staying in place is Santorum who's seen no change in his support.
Better news for Cain even than his lead is that his supporters are much more solidly committed than Romney's. 50% of them say they will definitely vote for him compared to only 34% who say the same for his co-front runner. When you look at the race just among voters who say they are firmly committed Cain's lead expands to 19 points at 38% to 19% for Romney, 13% for Paul, and 12% for Perry.
Cain's in a great position. But the top's proven to be a dangerous place in Iowa. Over the course of our last four polls in the state we've found four different leaders: Mike Huckabee, then Romney, then Perry, and now Cain. And if we'd done a poll any time in July or early August we probably would have found Bachmann in the lead to make it five leaders in five polls. It's a very fluid race with only 42% of voters saying they're strongly committed to their candidate.
Cain's building his lead off the most conservative elements of the Republican Party. Romney actually leads with both moderates (25-23) and voters describing themselves as 'somewhat conservative' (33-22). But Cain is completely destroying Romney with 'very conservative' voters, 40-11, and that's what gives him his overall advantage.
Cain is up 39-14 on Romney with Tea Party voters and digging deeper on those numbers you see one of the biggest issues Romney is having to contend with. 53% of Tea Partiers think Romney's too liberal to only 36% who describe him as ideologically 'about right.' Cain has no such perceived ideological problem with those voters- 79% describe him as 'about right' to just 7% who think he's too liberal.
Despite that issue you have to think if Mitt Romney had been told six months ago that in October he would be 12 points clear of everyone other than Herman Cain in Iowa he would have taken it in a second. At this point Romney has to go all out to win Iowa- if he can win there and in New Hampshire, Florida, and Nevada where he's consistently done pretty well in the polls the race is over. He doesn't even have to worry that much about doing well in South Carolina. There may be some issues for Romney in Iowa with the base not liking him but the reality is they haven't persistently shown that they like anyone else either- the opening is there for him to take it.
Other than Cain's rise and the increasingly real chance that Romney could get a perhaps decisive win in Iowa, the other amazing thing on this poll is how far Perry has fallen. Voters haven't just turned away from supporting him- they don't even like him anymore. Perry's favorability is 38%, with 41% of voters expressing a negative opinion of him. That represents a 35 point drop from mid-August when he was at 56/24.
One final note on Cain- in addition to having the lead in Iowa he might also have the most room to grow- 16% of voters say he's their second choice compared to only 12% who say that for Romney and 11% for Perry. Cain is notably the next choice for both Bachmann and Santorum supporters, perhaps the candidates most likely to not actually still be in the race by the time Iowa voting comes around.
Full results here