NEAL P. GOSWAMI
BENNINGTON -- The first poll conducting by the Castleton Polling Institute that was released Monday shows Mitt Romney leading his closest Republican colleague by 7 percent ahead of next week’s Super Tuesday presidential primary.
According to the poll of 800 Vermonters between Feb. 11 and Feb. 22, 34 percent of the respondents favored Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts. Most of Romney’s support came from self-described moderates. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum had the support of 27 percent of respondents. Santorum’s supporters appear to be more fickle, however, with 55 percent of them saying they are either somewhat or very likely to change their minds before Tuesday. Most of Santorum’s support came from voters who identified themselves as very conservative. Just 7 percent of Vermont voters identify themselves as very conservative, however, according to the institute.
Texas Congressman Ron Paul is garnered the support of 14 percent of the poll’s respondents, while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich drew 10 percent support.
The poll has an overall margin of error of 3.5 percent. But responses were not limited to just likely Republicans. Responses from Democrats and independents are included, which gives the numbers pertaining to candidate support higher margins of error, according to Richard Clark, associate professor of political science at Castleton State College and director of the Castleton Polling Institute.
New rules adopted by the Vermont Republican primary require a candidate to receive a majority of the vote to secure 14 of the state’s 17 delegates that will attend the Republican’s national convention. If a majority is not secured the delegates will be awarded to the candidates proportionally. That could matter in primary campaign where candidates have declared their intention to fight for the nomination into the convention.
None of the candidates have actively campaigned in Vermont, favoring larger, more influential states on what is known as Super Tuesday in the nominating process. They candidates have no scheduled appearances in Vermont before Tuesday.
Clark said the Republican race for the nomination has been volatile, and this week’s results in Michigan and Arizona could still change the way voters see the candidates on March 6, including in Vermont.
"It’s just been a roller coaster. What happens today ... in Michigan is really going to have some impact on how Romney can do on Super Tuesday," he said. "If the narrative from Michigan is that he is really healthy and strong, he keeps on raising money and doing well."
President Barack Obama appears to be on track to once again dominate the state in the general election. Vermont delivered one of Obama’s highest winning margins in the 2008 general election. While Obama’s support appears to have receded a bit, he holds commanding leads over every potential Republican challenger.
Registered voters in Vermont favor Obama over Romney by 26 percentage points, Santorum by 28 points, Paul by 30 points and Gingrich by 42.
"This is a president struggling with the economy ... and yet his approval rating in Vermont is 56 percent. That is strong," Clark said.
The Obama campaign will need few resources to capture Vermont’s three Electoral College votes. "I’m doubting that they’re going to put much in resources in trying to hold Vermont," he said.
Other findings included in the poll results:
* Regardless of whom they support, 47 percent of respondents believe that Romney has the best chance of beating Obama in the general election.
* Economic issues matter more than social issues -- 34 percent cited jobs, and 22 percent cited the budget deficit as issues that will matter most when voting for president in November.
* Vermonters view Obama more favorably than the county as a whole. According to the poll, 56 percent of Vermont registered voters approve of the President’s job performance. Meanwhile, Gallup polling indicates the his national approval rating for the same week at 45 percent.
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