PPP's national poll released yesterday found Newt Gingrich leading the Republican field and our numbers in California over the weekend back that up: Gingrich is on top there with 33% to 23% for Mitt Romney, 22% for Herman Cain, 6% for Rick Perry, 5% for Ron Paul, 3% for Michele Bachmann, 2% for Gary Johnson, and 1% each for Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum.
This is only our second time polling California all year and the first was in late January, more than 9 months ago and before we were even including Cain in our polling. But comparing the 2 polls still says something about the state of the race. In January Romney was at 22% and here in November...he's still at 22%. Meanwhile Gingrich has nearly doubled his support from 18% early in the year to his current 33% standing. Gingrich is surging while Romney just sort of stays in place.
One thing the California numbers really point to is that if Cain's support continues declining Gingrich has the potential to benefit in a major way. Among Cain voters 42% say Gingrich would be their second choice compared to 14% for Bachmann, 12% for Romney, and only 8% for Perry. Cain voters are fond of Gingrich, giving him a 60/30 favorability rating. Meanwhile they're not too keen on either Romney (30/56) or Perry (32/54). Neither of those guys is very well positioned to benefit if the bottom falls out on Cain.
For all that there's reason to think Gingrich's stay at the top could be short lived. Only 38% of his supporters say that they're firmly committed to him compared to 53% for Cain and 52% for Romney, his fellow front runners. If the knives come out for Newt now that he's looking like a serious contender he doesn't exactly have a strong base of support to fall back on- what he has right now is inch deep support that could disappear quickly if things stop going well.
Cain's holding up pretty well with California Republicans. He has a 64/25 favorability breakdown and only 17% of primary voters think the sexual harassment allegations against him are 'mostly true' compared to 58% who believe they're 'mostly false.' This is another place where Cain is rolling along thanks to media distrust- 67% of voters think it has been 'mostly unfair' to Cain, compared to just 17% who believe it has generally treated him fairly. The bottom may eventually fall out for Cain, but it hasn't yet.
California makes another state where Republican voters just flat out don't like Rick Perry- 34% have a favorable opinion of him to 48% with a negative one. His big problem beyond the fact that he's only the first choice of 6% of Republicans is that he's also in 5th place for second choice votes at only 9%. That puts him behind Gingrich, Cain, Romney, and even Bachmann. So even if the folks ahead of him in line start to slip, there's not much reason to think he will benefit.
At the end of the day we always come back to Romney. With a relatively weak Republican field of candidates it seems like he should be getting some traction. But the numbers in California and elsewhere suggest that the better voters get to know Romney, the less they like him. In January Romney's favorability with California primary voters was +37 (59/22). Now it's only +22 (55/33). Republicans just aren't warming up to him, and that's why you see him with the exact same level of support in California in November that he had in January. Maybe folks will eventually come around to him like most people have expected all year. But the closer we get to the voting without that happening, the more I think they might not ever come around to him.
Full results here