For the first time in PPP's monthly national polling since July 2010 Mitt Romney's taken a lead, albeit a small one, over Barack Obama. He's up 47-45.
Romney has two main things going for him. He leads the President 45-36 with independents. And he's also benefiting from a much more unified party with 88% of Republicans committed to voting for him while only 83% of Democrats say they'll vote for Obama.
Our national survey confirms the wide electability gap between Romney and the rest of the Republican candidate field. Obama leads both Newt Gingrich (49-44) and Ron Paul (46-41) by 5 points, Michele Bachmann (50-41) by 9, and Rick Perry (50-40) by 10. It continues to look like if GOP voters really want to defeat Obama they pretty much have to nominate Romney.
One thing that could confound Romney's prospects is if a strong third party candidate entered the race. We find that pretty much all of the big names who have been mentioned for potential independent bids would take a lot more voters from Romney than Obama.
The strongest potential independent candidate we tested is Donald Trump who gets 19% in a three way contest with Obama at 45% and Romney at 31%. The folks who say they would support Trump go for Romney 71-10 in a straight up head to head with Obama. Donald Trump's ego could potentially prove to be Obama's greatest asset for reelection in 2012.
The independent candidate who gets the next largest amount of support is Ron Paul at 17%. Obama would get 42% and Romney 37% in that match up. Folks who would vote for Paul third party go for Romney by a 55-17 margin over Obama in their head to head, making them at least a slightly more politically diverse group than the Trump voters. Paul would achieve a near three way tie with independent voters, getting 27% to Obama's 32% and Romney's 31%.
The only other potential independent we tested who registers in double digits is Jon Huntsman at 11%. Obama gets 43% and Romney 37% in that three way contest. Although Huntsman has built up a reputation as the Republican Democrats love and is getting a huge chunk of his support in New Hampshire from Obama voters, he would still draw disproportionately from Romney in a three way contest. His voters go 63-15 for Romney over Obama in a head to head.
It's clear there's a lot more desire for a third party candidate from conservative voters than Obama supporters. The strongest third party hopeful beyond the 3 in double digits is Gary Johnson who gets 9%. The three folks we tested who might presumably have more appeal to the left come in at 8% for Michael Bloomberg, 7% for Bernie Sanders, and 4% for Rocky Anderson.
The big picture on our national poll remains the same: Obama/Romney is a toss up, Obama has an advantage on the rest of the Republican field, and a third party candidate could pave the way for Obama's reelection.
Full results here