Teflon candidate? Herman Cain poll numbers remain high, despite controversy.
A new poll shows Herman Cain neck and neck with Mitt Romney, even after sexual harassment allegations surfaced against Cain. But is he out of the woods yet?
WASHINGTON — It’s Day 5 since allegations burst into the media that Herman Cain sexually harassed female employees in the late 1990s when he ran the National Restaurant Association.
And notably, the GOP presidential contender's poll numbers haven’t budged. In fact, the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll – conducted in the days after the harassment allegations surfaced – shows Mr. Cain’s numbers among Republicans have risen over the past month. He is now at 23 percent, versus 24 percent for his top rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
A month ago, the ABC/Post poll had Cain at 17 percent and Mr. Romney at 25 percent.
When compared with other major polls, the ABC results show Cain staying where he’s been since mid-October – in the mid-20s – neck and neck with Romney. The only other national poll released since the harassment story broke is Rasmussen Reports, which has Cain at 26 and Romney at 23.
One question: Would Cain have come in higher were it not for the harassment allegations? A Quinnipiac Poll completed on Sunday, the day the story broke, showed Cain at 30 percent.
For now, Cain is weathering the storm – though there are warning signs for him on the horizon.
“Herman Cain is showing initial resilience in the face of allegations of sexual impropriety: More than half of potential Republican voters say the controversy is not serious [and] fewer than a quarter say it makes them less likely to support Cain,” writes Gary Langer, who conducts polls for ABC News.
Yet, he adds, “the controversy does pose risks for Cain.”
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For now, 69 percent of Republicans say the story about Cain does not make a difference in their vote. Some 55 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say they don’t regard the harassment charges as serious. Among Cain supporters, 22 percent say the story is serious, and among those not supporting Cain, the number is 44 percent. Among Romney supporters, 49 percent call the Cain charges serious.
Here’s the danger for Cain: Almost four in 10 Republicans and Republican leaners do view the harassment charges as serious. And his supporters could change their minds. Among Republicans who stated a preference, a substantial majority – 69 percent – say they could switch to another candidate, and 45 percent say there’s a “good chance” of it.
Langer notes that, to some extent, “views of the controversy reflect political predispositions.” Strong tea party supporters are among those most likely to support Cain over Romney, 36 percent to 21 percent, he says. And they’re among those least likely to see the alleged harassment as serious. Only 20 percent of tea partyers reported they see it as serious.
The rest of the GOP field performed in line with other recent polls: Texas Gov. Rick Perry is at 13 percent. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is now in double digits, at 12 percent. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas is at 8 percent. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota is at 4 percent. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum each have 1 percent.