Let’s say quite hypothetically that Herman Cain drops out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination. What would the GOP race look like after that point?
I base this on a look at the responses of Republicans in our Nov. 2-6 poll when we asked them to name their second choice for the nomination. The key focus is where Cain’s support goes. The answer? Cain’s supporters give Mitt Romney 27% of their vote, followed by Newt Gingrich with 23%. Falling way behind those two are Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann, each with 13% of the support of those whose first choice is Herman Cain.
Of course, the sample sizes are fairly low here, but the data suggest that if Cain were to leave the race, Romney would be in the lead. Remember that Romney ties Cain for the lead (at 21% each) among Republicans when they make their first choice. Newt Gingrich gets 12% of the first choice votes. So, even if Cain’s vote were to be split evenly between Romney and Gingrich, Romney would be in the lead because he has the bigger base to build on. And Romney gets a slightly higher percentage of Cain’s support than Gingrich as this point. So Romney's lead would be clear should Cain drop out. So, too, would be Gingrich’s clear second place behind Romney in this “Cain drops out” scenario. Rick Perry would be in third place.
All of this is hypothetical, I note again. No one knows what will happen in the days and weeks ahead in the Cain situation. And, were Cain to drop out, the sentiments of Republican voters could change in unknown ways from what they were in our Nov. 2-6 poll.
On another note, you can see in the accompanying table that Cain leads among Tea Party supporters, with 26% of their support compared to 19% support that goes to Romney, 17% for Gingrich, and 11% for Perry.
Romney is obviously not total anathema to Tea party supporters. He comes in second behind Cain among Tea Partiers, in fact. So, if the Tea Party supporters were to face a Cain departure, it looks as if as much of their support might go to Romney as to any other candidate.
(Among those Republicans who are not Tea Party supporters, Romney wins by a two-to-one margin over Cain, 28% to 14%, followed by Perry and Paul at 11%, with Gingrich behind at 7%.)
Another interesting variable in all of this is education. Among those Republicans with only some college or a high school degree or less, Romney gets only about 16% to 17% support. Among those with college degrees or postgraduate degrees, his support jumps to 31%.
- Republicans who have postgraduate degrees: nine-percentage-point lead for Romney over Cain, followed by Gingrich and Perry.
- Republicans with college degrees but no postgraduate degree: six-point lead for Romney over Cain, followed by Gingrich, with everyone else behind.
- Republicans with some college, but no college degree: Cain wins by eight points over Romney, with Perry in third place.
- Republicans with high school degrees or less: Romney squeaks by Cain and Gingrich by two points, with Perry just one point behind those two.
One possible plus for Romney is that turnout traditionally is higher among those with the highest levels of education.
One final factor is religion. The relations between traditional Protestants and Mormons have historically been strained. Mitt Romney, of course, is a Mormon. The data show that among Republicans who are Protestant or some other non-Catholic, Christian religion, Cain beats Romney by 23% to 18%, with Gingrich (who recently converted to Catholicism) behind at 14%, and Rich Perry at 12%. Among the relatively smaller group of Republicans who are Catholics, Romney beats Cain by 24% to 20%, and among those Republicans with no religious identity (a very small group), Romney is essentially tied with Ron Paul, and both of these are slightly ahead of Cain.