PPP's newest national poll finds Mitt Romney leading the Republican candidate field, although not by a particularly substantial amount. He's at 21% to 17% for Jeb Bush, 15% for Ben Carson, 11% for Scott Walker, 9% each for Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee, 7% for Chris Christie, 4% for Rand Paul, and 2% for Rick Perry.
Romney's leading based on a formula that sounds pretty similar to a lot of 2012 polls. He isn't the top choice among 'very conservative' voters, getting 16% to Cruz's 19% and Carson's 18%. And he isn't the top choice among moderates either, getting 22% to Bush's 28%. But where he does have a substantial advantage is with 'somewhat conservative' voters, the center of the Republican primary electorate, where he gets 27% to 18% each for Bush and Carson.
If Romney doesn't run for President and his supporters are reallocated to their second choices, Bush leads with 21% to 16% for Carson, 14% for Walker, 12% for Huckabee, and 10% for Cruz.
Here are the winners, losers, and in betweeners from this poll:
-The biggest winner has to be Scott Walker. His 11% standing appears to be the first time he's registered at double digits in a national poll. He's reached that level of support despite having the lowest name recognition of any candidate we tested, which is a pretty good indication that when voters get to know him they're coming to like him. Walker's near 3:1 favorability rating among those who have heard of him is second only to Carson. Things are headed in the right direction for Walker.
-The other big winner is Ben Carson. Despite being the only person in this mix never to have served in a major office before, he's outpacing other hopefuls with Tea Party credentials like Ted Cruz and Rick Perry. Carson's +38 net favorability rating at 49/11 matches Romney for the best among any of the GOP hopefuls. Carson has consistently been hitting double digits in our state polling as well.
-The biggest loser in this poll is Rand Paul. In addition to being in 8th place for people's first choice, he's also tied for 8th place as people's second choice. Only 10% of respondents list him as either their first or second choice, the lowest of any of the candidates we tested. Paul's net favorability with GOP primary voters has dropped by 10 points in the last year from +37 at 58/21 to now +27 at 50/23.
-Republican primary voters simply don't like Chris Christie. His net favorability rating with them is -8 at 35/43. Among voters describing themselves as 'very conservative,' it's 24/51- they just don't trust him at all. Last January Christie was polling at 14% for the nomination and now he has just half that level of support.
-The other loser is Rick Perry. Republicans actually like him fine- his +29 favorability rating at 50/21 is equal to Walker's and better than Bush's. But he's still in last place at just 2% suggesting that even among voters who like him, few of them want him to be the nominee in 2016. His last best chance may have passed.
-Last January Mike Huckabee was leading our national Republican polling at 16%. Now he's fallen back to the middle of the pack at 9%. Huckabee's 58% favorability rating trails only Romney among Republican voters, but that too is down from 64% a year ago. Huckabee's still in the mix but his stock isn't what it was a year ago.
-Jeb Bush has had the largest decline in his net favorability of any of the GOP hopefuls over the last year. Last January he was at +38 (56/18) and that's declined now by 15 points to +23 (47/24). But Bush is still in second place and he's the second choice of a lot more Romney backers than Carson is, so if Romney doesn't end up running Bush is likely to be the early leader.
-Ted Cruz is pretty much running in place. Last January he was at 8% and this January he's at 9%. Last January his favorability rating was 45/20 and now it's a pretty similar 49/19. Cruz is the second choice among Ben Carson supporters, so if Carson fades as voters become more familiar with him Cruz could move into the top tier.
-On one hand Mitt Romney leads the Republican primary field. On the other hand 74% of GOP primary voters would prefer for someone else to be the nominee- not terribly impressive. His 62/24 favorability rating with primary voters is way down from 85/13 right before the 2012 election.
On the Democratic side Hillary Clinton leads with 60% to 15% for Joe Biden, 10% for Elizabeth Warren, 2% for Bernie Sanders, and 1% each for Martin O'Malley and Jim Webb.
Clinton's a little less strong than she was a year ago. Our two national polls in early 2014 found her at 66-67%. Nevertheless she is polling at at least 55% among liberals, moderates, men, women, whites, African Americans, and Hispanics- a pretty thorough lead at this stage.
Full results here