Romney tops the poll, which was conducted by Harrisburg, Pa.-based Voter Survey Service (VSS), with 46 percent. When he ran in the 2008 primary, Romney placed second in Florida, taking 31 percent and winning 18 of the 67 counties in the Sunshine State.
“Romney is the clear favorite, and you’d have to conclude he even has a shot to win 50 percent of the GOP vote, depending on what happens in South Carolina,” Jim Lee, the president of Voter Survey Service, told Sunshine State News on Monday. “His media saturation of the Florida airways is clearly having an impact, and, based on what I have learned, he is staying on message by talking about spending and deficits -- two issues GOP voters care about.”
Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich places a distant second with 20 percent. Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who lost the Iowa caucus to Romney by eight votes, takes third with 12 percent.
U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who took second in the New Hampshire primary behind Romney, garners 9 percent. When he ran in 2008, Paul took less than 3.25 percent of the vote in the Florida Republican primary.
Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who placed second behind businessman Herman Cain in the Republican Party of Florida Presidency 5 straw poll in Orlando in September, takes 3 percent in the poll. Eight percent of those surveyed are undecided, while 1 percent of those surveyed back other candidates.
“Mitt’s media ads have successfully positioned him as the only true ‘outsider’ candidate running against other inside-the-Beltway contenders (Gingrich and Santorum in particular), a smart tactic in a year when voters feel Washington is broken,” Lee noted. “At the same time, he is defining his opponents even before voters have a chance to learn more about their positive attributes (Santorum, Gingrich, etc.). This means we’re unlikely to see any of the anti-Romney candidates surging unless one of them can generate momentum from a strong South Carolina showing and/or reshape the race with effective paid TV ads.”
With former Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah announcing on Monday that he was pulling out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination, the chief beneficiary of his support in Florida is Romney. Romney takes 34 percent of Huntsman backers, with Paul garnering 17 percent of them. Thirteen percent of Huntsman supporters are behind Gingrich, while 11 percent of them support Santorum. Two percent of them back other candidates, while none of the Huntstman supporters surveyed are behind Perry. Thirteen percent remain undecided.
Huntsman supporters were asked by Voter Survey Service to name their choice for second place.
When Huntsman was included in the poll, Romney was ahead with 44 percent, Gingrich took second with 20 percent and Santorum remained third with 12 percent. Paul had 8 percent, while Huntsman took 5 percent, followed by Perry with 3 percent. One percent of those surveyed backed other candidates, and 8 percent were undecided.
“Having Hunstman drop out seems to have benefited Mitt -- since this nudges up his numbers to 46 percent while the only other candidate to move was Paul (plus 1),” Lee told Sunshine State News. “If and when Mitt wins Florida, you can chalk it up to a job well done in the annals of political campaigning because he did three things right: raise money to communicate a message, keep the opposition from unifying, and convince most people you are the right candidate for the times.”
The poll of 1,266 likely Republican primary voters was taken Jan. 11-14 and had a margin of error of +/- 2.75 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.
VSS is the same firm that in 2010 conducted some of the most accurate polls taken of races in the Florida primary and general election. It has conducted hundreds of polls in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Florida, Delaware, Maryland, and other states across the nation. It is a leading survey research and political polling firm for GOP candidates for public office and a variety of corporate clients, trade associations, public relations firms and the media.
The work it did in Florida in 2010, commissioned and reported by Sunshine State News, included polls on all races in the primaries and the general election -- some of them taken more than once, as issues and trends through the summer and fall shifted.
RealClearPolitics.com gave VSS/Sunshine State News a tip of the cap after the primary elections because its poll results, particularly in the surprise gubernatorial race, were nearly "spot on." The election ended with Bill McCollum at 43.5 percent, Rick Scott at 46.5 percent and the spread at plus 2.9 percent. The last VSS/Sunshine poll taken showed McCollum at 42 percent, Scott at 44 percent and the spread at plus 2 percent. No other polling firm came anywhere near Sunshine's result.
Jim Lee, president of VSS, has 17 years of polling experience and background as a former lobbyist for the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry and as a special projects coordinator for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. He has a bachelor of science degree in political science from Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pa., and he's a member of both the American Association of Public Opinion Research and the American Association of Political Consultants.
Keep an eye on Sunshine State News all this week for more poll results, looking at the primary to challenge Democrat incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and how Florida Republicans view President Barack Obama, Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.
See the poll's crosstabs in the attachment below.
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.