Herman Cain remains even with Mitt Romney for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination as GOP candidates prepare to face off at Wednesday night’s CNBC debate.
A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows Romney with 28 percent and Cain 27 percent, indicating that so far allegations of sexual harassment have not eroded the former Godfather’s Pizza executive’s standing. Mr. Cain drew 27 percent in the previous NBC/WSJ poll, last month.
Rising to third place in the survey was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who drew 13 percent. Rep. Ron Paul and Gov. Rick Perry drew 10 percent, while Rep. Michele Bachmann drew 4 percent and former Sen. Rick Santorum received 2 percent.
The survey, conducted one year from Election Day 2012, showed that President Obama remains a vulnerable target for whichever Republican candidate emerges with the nomination. As he has been since August, Obama was stuck at the survey with a 44 percent job approval rating, the lowest of his presidency. His approval on handling the economy is even lower, at 40 percent.
Obama leads prospective Republican candidates in potential Nov. 2012 matchups, but his lead over Mr. Romney is narrow — 49 percent to 43 percent. He leads Mr. Cain by a more comfortable 53 percent to 38 percent.
On the sexual harassment allegations against Cain, fully 54 percent of Republican voters said it concerned them “none at all” in considering whether to support Cain. Just 13 percent expressed substantial concern.
The telephone survey of 2,000 Americans, which carries a margin for error of 3.1 percentage points, was conducted Nov. 2-5. That was before one-time co-worker Sharon Bialek publicly accused Cain of groping her in 1997.
But Cain faces the scandal with a broadly favorable initial reputation among Republican primary voters. Some 52 percent view him positively, exceeding Romney’s 46 percent, Perry’s 33 percent and Paul’s 26 percent.
The now-familiar backdrop for the survey is gloomy public assessments of the economy. Just 19 percent say America is headed in the right direction; only 25 percent expect the economy to improve in the next year. Amid slow growth and job creation in the recovery from recession, four in 10 continue to say “the worst is ahead of us.”
Fully three in four Americans say the country’s economic structure is out of balance, favoring wealthy Americans over everyone else. A 53 percent majority agreed that the size of government must be reduced.