Rick Perry is the favorite among Republican primary voters, but Mitt Romney is the candidate who would be the strongest against President Barack Obama, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll released Tuesday.
Perry leads among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, getting 31 percent of the vote. Romney takes 24 percent, followed by Ron Paul at 13 percent. Michele Bachmann has continued her decline in the polls, and now ties with Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain for fourth, with just 5 percent of the vote.
If the field narrows down to just the two frontrunners, Perry is still the overall favorite, taking 49 percent to Romney’s 39 percent. Eleven percent of voters remain undecided.
Each candidate has a very clear demographic within the party: Among conservative Republicans and tea party supporters, Perry blows Romney out of the water, leading by 22 percent and 36 percent, respectively. However, among moderate and liberal Republicans and non-tea party supporters, Romney leads, though by a narrower margin. He gets 52 percent of the vote to Perry’s 38 percent among moderate/liberal Republicans. Among people who do not support the tea party, he beats Perry by 12 percent.
Perry, however, does less well in a general election match up against President Obama. Obama beats Perry 50 percent to 45 percent among registered voters. Romney, on the other hand, narrowly leads Obama among registered voters, 49 percent to 47 percent. Neither lead is statistically significant, Gallup points out. Moreover, they note, Perry has slightly lower name identification than Romney with Republicans. But other recent polls corroborate the results. A Public Policy Polling poll from last week found Obama leading Perry by 11 percentage points, and leading Romney by only 4 percentage points. A Rasmussen poll last week found Obama leading Perry 46 percent to 39 percent.
A 53 percent majority of Republicans and Republican leaning independents would prefer the candidate who could beat Obama to the candidate who agrees with them on the issues. If Romney can capitalize on the sense that he would be the more viable candidate in a general election, he could peel away some of Perry’s support.
A look at futures-trading site Intrade, that sense seems to already be taking hold. Since the September 7 Republican debate, when Perry’s comments that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme came fully into the spotlight, odds that Perry will be the Republican nominee have been trending downward.
On September 7, Intrade had 39 percent odds that Perry would be the Republican nominee. On September 8, over 2,000 people traded shares, and his odds fell to 36 percent. At the lowest point in the last two weeks, Perry’s odds were at 34.5 percent. Several ups and downs later, Perry’s odds now stand at 37 percent.
Over the same period, Romney has seen a gradual increase in his odds of being the Republican nominee. On September 7, the day of the debate, Romney’s odds were 33 percent. Since then, they have steadily climbed, and now stand at 39.2 percent.
The USA Today/Gallup poll is based on live telephone interviews with 1,004 adults from September 15 through September 18. The margin of error for this sample is plus or minus 4 percentage points. The sample of registered voters includes 889 people, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. The sample of 439 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents has a margin of error of plus or minus 6 percentage points.