John McCain moved into the top spot in the New Hampshire Republican primary and is now leading previous front-runner Mitt Romney by a 7-point margin, 34 percent to 27 percent. A new FOX News poll shows that McCain picked up 14 percentage points since the last FOX News poll in mid-December, while Romney suffered a 6-point decline.
Essentially, McCain turned a 13-point deficit into a 7-point advantage in about three weeks’ time. Rudy Giuliani slipped from third to fourth place, with Iowa victor Mike Huckabee edging out the former New York City mayor for third position. Ron Paul, Duncan Hunter and Fred Thompson all registered in the mid-to-low single digits.
Opinion Dynamics Corp. conducted the telephone poll of 500 likely Republican primary voters in New Hampshire for FOX News from January 4 to January 6. The poll has a 4 point error margin.
The poll also found that supporters of Huckabee (73 percent), McCain (72 percent) and Romney (72 percent) are about equally certain of their vote—with backers of Giuliani the least sure of their commitment (66 percent).
• Click here to view full results of the poll. (pdf)
• FOX News Poll: Obama Leads in New Hampshire, Clinton Slips to Second
Romney voters (66 percent) and Giuliani voters (66 percent) are equally likely to think their candidate can win the November 2008 general election, while Huckabee supporters (54 percent) and McCain supporters (53 percent) are somewhat less confident of their candidate winning it all.
McCain voters (29 percent) registered the highest degree of enthusiasm for the prospect of their candidate actually winning the White House, followed by supporters of Romney (20 percent), Huckabee (12 percent) and Giuliani (11 percent).
The poll also shows likely Republican primary voters still think the economy is the single most important issue in the election (20 percent); but that top spot is now shared with the war in Iraq (20 percent). Immigration, at 16 percent, comes in third on the important issues list, followed by homeland security (13 percent), social issues like abortion and gay marriage (7 percent), health care (7), taxes (7 percent) and education (2 percent).
As we saw in the mid-December Fox poll, "standing up for one’s beliefs" (48 percent) continues to be the most important candidate quality among likely Republican primary voters. About half as many voters choose "experience" as the key quality (23 percent), while "being a true conservative" (15 percent) and the ability to get elected (9 percent) lag far behind.
Almost 6 in 10 likely Republican voters (59 percent) approve of the job George W. Bush is doing as president, while 39 percent disapprove.
When asked to name the person who would actually become the next president — regardless of who they planned to vote for — Romney continued to top the list among Republican primary voters (20 percent today; 19 percent in mid-December). McCain occupies second spot on this "inevitability" list (17 percent), followed by Democratic candidate Barack Obama (11 percent). In mid-December, Hillary Clinton was second on this list (17 percent) among Republican voters, but fell into a tie for fourth in this poll (6 percent).
Likely Republican primary voters in New Hampshire are equally divided on abortion—as just as many say they are pro-choice (40 percent) as say they are pro-life (40 percent). "Pro-life" voters give Romney a 6-point lead over McCain (29 percent to 23 percent), while "pro-choice" voters go for McCain over Romney by a hefty 20-point margin (44 percent to 24 percent).
Also, fully two-thirds of likely Republican primary voters (66 percent) think elected officials should not be influenced by their religious beliefs when making policy. This more secular view of politics among New Hampshire Republican primary voters may explain the third-place showing by Huckabee—who polled well among Iowa voters identifying themselves as Evangelical Christians.