(reported by Andrew Kiel WRHI)
As the race for president heats up, one familiar contender seems to be faring well in early polling. In a Winthrop poll released Tuesday, former Republican presidential candidate and Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee came in first among a handful of potential GOP candidates.
Winthrop University political science professor Scott Huffmon says there were no surprises.
Huckabee was actually expected to win South Carolina and was kind of a suprise when McCain, who had slumped in the summer of 2007, surged forward. So, Huckabee’s base has always been strong across the South. If you were to do a poll of the Northeast, you’d see Romney ahead because that’s where his base is. But Huckabee has been very popular down here.
Huffmon says part of that popularity may stem from Huckabee’s continual presence in national media.
If people completely objected to his politics they never would have started liking him in 2008. The public is very fickle and they forget very quickly. So keeping his name out there in front was absolutely the right strategy -just the right strategy for everybody. Sarah Palin did the same thing. If we had done a question about, who do you like or who do you think is a good messenger for the conservative message, Sarah Palin would have scored higher.
The top three other contenders in the race include former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Alaska Governor and vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
With South Carolina hosting the first-in-the-South primary next February, the presidential political season is gaining steam in South Carolina and across the Southeast.
Huffmon said that Huckabee was faring well even after the recent Conservative Political Action Committee conference where Ron Paul was the winner.
This whole poll was an interesting juxtaposition to the CPAC -the Conservative PAC meeting of activists, not that long ago where Michelle Bachmann did a little better in this and Ron Paul won. We took the exact names of the vote getters from CPAC and read them to rank and file Republican voters and it shows that there is a gap between the activists and who they like and who rank and file Republicans like.
Huffmon says the results, though, are relative to the home state of the individual candidate. Take, for example, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.
People like Michelle Bachmann need to get there name better known in the South. If you had done this poll in the region around her home state, again her name probably would have floated a little further to the top. So the South, which is currently the heart a lot of the conservative strength in America, has a lot of the voting strength.
With President Obama’s first term in office just over 50 percent complete, all eyes are on the Republicans for a new GOP frontrunner in 2012.
In the Winthrop poll of Southern voters, Huckabee had 20 percent name recognition over nearly a dozen other candidates. And while the president did win three Southern states in 2008, the poll also found nearly 46 percent of respondents say they’re not confident of the president’s ability to handle threats to this country.
Huffmon says independent voters are key.
So when somebody says, “I’m an independent,” there’s always a followup question. “Would you say you lean more toward Republican Party, lean more toward the Democratic Party or lean toward neither.” There’s always a segment that leans towards neither. But a lot of independents are leaner and usually twice as many leaner lean Republican than there are Democrats. So a lot of these independents are very conservative in the South -again in the Northeast the opposite might be true. But a lot of the independents in the South lean Republican, they are conservative and they are dissatisfied.
Huffmon said the poll shows public opinion on the economic front did look positive.
A lot of Southerners also felt that the economy was the same or a little bit better than the economy in the rest of the country. Then again, if you were to do a poll like this around, say Michigan, they’re going to say “holy cow our economy is worst than the rest of the country.” So, Southerners think that things are okay. They’re not necessarily sure that things have turned corner, but at least they don’t feel that they are in a worse boat than anybody else in the country.
The Winthrop poll was conducted in late February and polled 825 respondents in 11 Southern states.