POLL: No Huckaboom in N.H. as Romney Holds Tough

The forces pulling Mike Huckabee to the fore in Iowa are fizzling 1,300 miles to the east, where, in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney holds strong on issues and personal attributes -- and unthreatened by the religion issue he'll try to lay to rest in a speech tomorrow.

Romney, a Mormon, is being challenged in Iowa by Huckabee, a Baptist minister whose support has soared particularly in some core Republican groups there -- evangelical Christians, conservatives and strong abortion opponents. But each of those groups is less plentiful in the New Hampshire electorate, and far more supportive of Romney.

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It's not Huckabee but John McCain and Rudy Giuliani who come closest to Romney in this ABC News/Washington Post poll in New Hampshire, notably challenging him in trust to handle terrorism and the war in Iraq. Still, Romney, familiar as governor of neighboring Massachusetts, leads handily on other issues and most personal attributes.

All told, just more than a month before the Jan. 8 primary, 37 percent of likely Republican voters in New Hampshire support Romney, 20 percent McCain and 16 percent Giuliani. Huckabee trails with 9 percent support, about the same as Ron Paul's 8 percent. Fred Thompson has 4 percent.

Huckabee's New Hampshire support about matches his average (7 percent) in polls from 10 other organizations since October. No Iowa-style surge for the Arkansan here.

CHANGE -- Naturally, things can change. Polls measure current preferences rather than predicting final outcomes. And -- as in Iowa -- an unusually large number of Republican likely voters in New Hampshire, 61 percent, say they still may change their minds. Half of those, indeed, say there's a "good chance" of it.

It follows that enthusiasm for the candidates is not especially strong; only about a third describe themselves as "very enthusiastic" about their current preference -- again, matching sentiment among Republicans in Iowa.

Iowa itself might be a wildcard. Three in 10 likely voters in New Hampshire say the outcome of the Iowa caucuses might play some role in their own ultimate decision. Most of those voters say they'll give it "just some" weight, not a more substantial amount. But with the potential for changeability in the air, and the caucuses occurring just five days before the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary, it could matter.

RELIGION -- Romney's decision to address his religion follows an ABC/Post poll two weeks ago that found him trailing among evangelicals in Iowa by 2-1. In a national ABC/Post poll last summer, moreover, 30 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said they'd be less likely to support a Mormon candidate.

In New Hampshire, though, it's much less of an issue. Just 9 percent of Republican likely voters say they're less inclined to support Romney because of his religion; 88 percent say it doesn't make a difference to them. And, while the sample is small, Romney runs well among evangelicals in the state.

Huckabee's support from evangelicals in New Hampshire is far less than it is in Iowa. And there are far fewer of them: Evangelicals account for 37 percent of likely caucus-goers in Iowa, but just 15 percent of likely voters in the New Hampshire Republican primary.

MORE DIFFERENCES -- New Hampshire is different in other ways. In Iowa, 51 percent of likely caucus-goers say they attend church weekly; that drops to 28 percent of likely Republican voters in New Hampshire. Three-quarters in Iowa are conservatives, compared with 58 percent in New Hampshire. And 75 percent in Iowa say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases; in New Hampshire that dives to 44 percent.

Romney, moreover, leads in each of these groups: He has 37 percent support from weekly churchgoers in New Hampshire, 39 percent support from conservatives and 36 percent from abortion opponents. In the ABC/Post Iowa poll, by contrast, he slightly trailed Huckabee among frequent churchgoers, and only ran evenly with him in the other two groups.

The different sizes and preferences of these groups isn't necessarily about Iowa and New Hampshire overall, but specifically about the people who are likely to turn out for their Republican caucus or primary. The Iowa GOP caucus is an especially low-participation event; the ABC/Post poll there anticipated turnout by only 8 percent of the state's voting-age population. In New Hampshire, this poll anticipates turnout in the Republican primary by 27 percent of the population, about what it was in 2000.

New Hampshire is unusual for the large number of independents who vote in its primaries. They're helpful to Giuliani; he gets 21 percent support from independents, compared with 13 percent among Republicans. (Romney does 10 points better with mainline Republicans than with independents, but again leads in both groups.)

Giuliani also does better with women than with men, while Romney does better among men than women (though leads among both). Romney also tops out among older and better-educated likely voters. McCain's support, for his part, is fairly level across groups.

ISSUES -- Romney, as noted, also leads in trust to handle six of eight individual issues tested in this poll -- the economy, the federal deficit, health care, taxes, immigration, and social issues such as abortion and gay civil unions. McCain leads on Iraq, McCain and Giuliani alike on terrorism. Those are their main talking points in taking on Romney.

Romney also led in Iowa in trust to handle the economy, the deficit and immigration (health care and taxes weren't asked in that poll).

Among these -- again, as in Iowa -- there are no clear preferences as to importance. Rating the two most important issues in their vote, three in 10 cite the Iraq war and immigration, two in 10 cite health care, the economy or terrorism; and about one in 10 cite taxes, abortion or ethics in government.

Romney's been criticized for shifting some positions, and it does show up in his support profile. Among likely voters who say it's more important that they agree with a candidate now, even if he's changed positions in the past, Romney has 50 percent support. Among those who say it's more important that a candidate stay consistent on the issues, he gets a lower 31 percent. But it's a sign of his strength in New Hampshire that even in that latter group -- the much bigger one -- he still leads.

ATTRIBUTES -- On personal attributes, Romney benefits from familiarity -- his single biggest personal advantage is in having "campaigned hardest" in the state. He leads in six of eight attributes tested in this poll, with a closer call vs. McCain on experience and honesty/trustworthiness.

CONTACT -- One thing likely Republican voters in New Hampshire and Iowa have in common is ringing telephones. Majorities in both states -- 54 percent in New Hampshire, 58 percent in Iowa -- say they've received phone calls from one or more of the campaigns. Similar numbers (15 and 19 percent, respectively) also say they've personally met one or more of the Republican candidates.

Republican campaign events, however, have been somewhat better attended in Iowa, 29 percent vs. 17 percent. The smaller pool of likely caucus attendees in Iowa likely is one reason. Another, perhaps, could be the weather: It was a brisk 35 degrees in Des Moines yesterday afternoon, but a downright chilly 24 in New Hampshire's capital, Concord.

METHODOLOGY -- This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Nov. 29-Dec. 3, 2007, among a random sample of 488 New Hampshire adults likely to vote in the 2008 Republican primary. The results have a 4.5-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

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