What a difference a debate makes: Cain surges to the top in latest TheDC/ConservativeHome Tracking Poll

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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What a difference a debate makes.

Businessman Herman Cain is the big winner in the latest Daily Caller/ConservativeHome presidential primary tracking poll, surging forward to become a top contender, despite generally being considered an underdog.

This month’s tracking poll asked only three questions: “Who would be your top pick for president?”; “Who would be your second choice for president?”; and “Who do you think is the most electable in 2012?”

Cain, the CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, is usually talked about as something of a fringe candidate: likeable, but with little chance at actually winning the nomination. But in the first GOP primary debate earlier this month in Greenville, S.C., Cain performed very well, and a focus group conducted by Frank Luntz declared him the winner. His debate performance seems to have helped him immensely.

Cain jumped to the top of the pack in terms of electability, taking 13 percent of the vote in the tracking poll, compared to the mere 3 percent he got last time. That puts him right behind New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – ever the favorite, even though he says he won’t run — who attracted 19 percent of the vote and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who gets 17 percent, a slight drop from the last poll.

Cain beats Romney as respondents’ top pick for president – netting 15 percent of the vote, an increase of 10 percentage points from the last poll. As a second choice, he ties Christie for the largest percentage of the vote – 11 percent – just ahead of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, and a significant increase from the 5 percent he got in the last poll.

If Cain is the big winner, then Donald Trump (who had not yet announced that he would not run when the poll was conducted), is the big loser. His numbers dropped precipitously since the last poll, suggesting that he made a wise choice to drop out of the race. For instance, in this poll, just 6 percent of respondents said he was the most electable; in the last poll, 15 percent said that of him.

Since the previous poll was conducted, Trump lost a major plank of his would-be campaign platform when President Barack Obama released his long form birth certificate. He seems to have been unable to recover.

Newt Gingrich, who officially announced his candidacy for president last Monday, also saw a small bump in his numbers, gaining three to five percentage point across the board. Tim Pawlenty saw a similar bump after announcing his exploratory committee, suggesting that making ones intentions official provides at least a temporary boost.

This poll is based on an online survey conducted between May 12 and May 14. The sample size was 871 voters, drawn from a panel of 2,500 people identified as conservative Republicans and likely primary voters. The majority of the panel is politically active, with 70 percent having contributed money to a campaign or worked on a campaign. Thirty-five percent of the members on the panel self-identify as part of the Tea Party, while 58 percent say they sympathize with the movement.

The polling language was written before Haley Barbour, Mike Huckabee, and Trump announced that they would not run, and all are still present on the ballot for this survey. They will be removed in the next poll.

See full poll results below: