Across the Board, Perry Cuts Into Romney's Base

Gallup's more detailed numbers showed a broad appeal for the Texas governor, who has swiftly become the GOP's front-runner for 2012

Romney Perry - AP Photo-Jim Cole Jim Young-Reuters - banner.jpg

A closer look at Wednesday's striking Gallup poll showing Texas Gov. Rick Perry rocketing to the top of the 2012 Republican presidential field captures the threat his campaign could pose to Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who had previously been considered the front-runner.

The Gallup results show Perry displaying broad reach across the party, with appeal that, for now at least, transcends lines of income and education. Those results underscore Perry's potential, as a staunch social conservative with a strong economic story in Texas, to build a primary coalition that bridges the divide between upscale, managerial Republicans and the party's more populist and evangelical blue-collar wing.

Overall, the survey, conducted from August 17-21, showed Perry leading the field with 29 percent among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. Romney trailed with 17 percent, followed by Ron Paul with 13 percent and Michele Bachmann at 10 percent.

According to figures provided to National Journal by Gallup, Perry leads Romney not only among Republican voters without a college education -- a group always expected to be responsive to Perry's anti-government and culturally conservative arguments -- but also among GOP voters with at least a four year college degree. That group had been Romney's strongest in earlier polling, offsetting his difficulty among working-class Republicans. In 2008, the GOP primary electorate split almost exactly in half between voters with and without a college degree.

Specifically, the Gallup survey shows that, among Republican voters without a college degree, Perry tops the field with 27 percent, followed by Romney with 15 percent, Ron Paul with 14 percent and Michele Bachmann with 11 percent. Among Republican voters with at least a four-year college degree, Perry has rocketed to the top with 33.4 percent, dwarfing Romney's 21 percent, Paul's 10 percent, and Bachmann's 9 percent.

Looking at the results by income tell the same story. Perry leads Romney by at least 10 percentage points among voters in all four income categories Gallup reported. Among Republicans earning between $2,000 and $5,000 monthly, Perry leads by 29 percent to 18 percent: among those earning $7,500 per month or more, Perry maintains a 31 percent to 22 percent advantage.

This broad appeal for Perry may be overstated in that it comes before he has truly engaged with his rivals for the nomination. It's entirely possible that his support will narrow as his opponents spar with him more directly; for instance, if former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who lags at just 1 percent in the survey, continues his criticism of Perry's rejection of the science of climate change and questioning of evolution, it's possible that the Texas governor's backing among college-educated voters might erode.

Already in the survey there are also some signs of the potential limits on Perry's support. He runs much better among voters who identify themselves as conservatives than those who consider themselves moderate or liberals; likewise, he runs better among Republicans who attend church regularly than those who don't. And Perry polls much better in the South (39 percent) than anywhere else. Each of those patterns could benefit Romney in coastal states, which tend to be more secular and moderate, even in the GOP.

Yet overall, the groups in which Perry now displays the most strength -- including self-identified conservatives and regular church-goers -- represent a bigger share of the GOP primary electorate than moderates and less devout voters. And his ability to reach across class lines distinguishes him from Sarah Palin, who last year might have seemed Romney's principal potential rival. Palin's appeal was always concentrated much more among non-college Republicans and that trend, like a table tipping on its edge, has dramatically intensified in the new poll. When Palin, who has suggested she's still mulling the race, is included in the latest Gallup Poll, she attracts support from just 3 percent of college-educated Republicans, compared to 15 percent of those without degrees.

One other good sign for Perry: among regular church-goers in this survey, he's already eclipsed Bachmann, his most serious competitor for the votes of evangelicals and other religiously-devout Republicans. Among Republicans who attend church at least once a week, Perry draws 34 percent -- double Romney's 16 percent, and more than triple the 9 percent supporting Bachmann.

It may not last as he engages more sharply with the other contenders, but Perry's ability in this survey to outpoll both Bachmann among the devout and Romney among the well-educated shows the Texas governor's opportunity to build a broader coalition than either of his principal rivals.

Image credit: Jim Young/Reuters, Jim Cole/AP