Video: Cain takes lead in new NBC/WSJ poll

  1. Closed captioning of: Cain takes lead in new NBC/WSJ poll

    >>> now to politics. new nbc news/" wall street journal " poll shows president obama facing tough political headwinds heading into the next presidential election . as gop candidate herman cain takes the lead in the republican race. chuck todd , nbc's political director and chief white house correspondent is here with some numbers. chuck, good morning to you. before we get to mr. cain let's talk about the president, his approval rating at 44%. 51% disapproving of the job he's doing and a whopping 74% of the american people not happy with the direction that the country is headed in, so what other than the economy might be driving these numbers?

    >> look, this is very bad stability for the president, that 44%. a couple things to keep an eye on. in a re-election year your job approval rating and your actual number on election day converge and it's no accident. the 44% he gets there is the exact same 44% we show on whether he should be re-elected against a generic republican. this is the second month in a row where the wrong direction number, we were able to say this is the highest of his presidency. august that 73% was and this one. 82% by the way, matt, say the entire federal government is unhealthy and needs major reform. so it's a pessimism about not just the economy but about all of washington . guess who the head of washington is? fnchts there is good news for the white house this morning it is that 63% of the people in this poll approve of his jobs plan. there is a very interesting number associated with that, chuck, on where people think the burden of taxes should fall.

    >> right. and also just about the same amount of folks, 64%, believe it should be among the wealthy and corporations that should be paying more money for government services and how we do this and whether it's to pay for the president's jobs plan. so philosophically, the president has the public on his side. he's just not able to somehow convince congress, not just republicans, but all of democrats to take his position on this and so like you said the white house will take that as good news and say, okay. that's a message we can run on for the re-election. but the problem is right now he can't get it done.

    >> but why is there not more momentum or energy behind this? warren buffet as you know on wednesday released his financial statement for the previous year. he made about $62 million, paid about $7 million in taxes. he released a statement saying if you could get other ultra rich americans to publish their returns along with mine that would be very useful to the tax dialogue. i hope you succeed in getting the ultra rich to share in the sacrifice many millions of other americans will soon be asked to do. why isn't there more momentum for this?

    >> to be totally politically cynical it's because the republicans and the president are talking to two sets of different swing voters . republicans believe if they upset the tea party base and show any sort of expansion of government, which that's what a tax increase is viewed as by the tea party , they will get punished in primaries. they're not talking to the same set of voters. back in the mid '90s when gingrich and clinton finally sat down it's because they both cared about the same set of swing voters . that's not the case right now.

    >> let me get to the republican field for 2012 . the big headline here is that herman cain has now taken the lead with 27% of the people in our poll saying they favor him. mitt romney second. rick perry is fading at 16%. when you ask people in this poll how much they know about herman cain , what answers do you get?

    >> well, first of all, they claim to really like him and a lot of people say he has the highest favorable rating of any of the candidates but our polls went back and rephoned and reinterviewed folks who said they were for cain over romney. a man in wisconsin told us he is not a member of the political establishment. a man in indiana told us he is probably the best candidate at the moment, which by the way, at the moment is a key phrase there. another one said to us, in washington state , he gives direct answers. he isn't a politician. you see the theme, matt. that he is the unpolitician in this field. he's the guy that hasn't had elective office. that's why he is resonating. the question is whether he can have this hold for somehow more than a month. rick perry didn't have it, michele bachmann didn't, and of course the first political flavor of the month about four months ago with donald trump .

    >> chuck todd in washington this morning with the results of our new poll, chuck, thank

By Deputy political director
NBC News
updated 10/13/2011 7:23:50 AM ET 2011-10-13T11:23:50

Fueled by Tea Party supporters, conservatives and high-interest GOP primary voters, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain now leads the race for the Republican presidential nomination, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

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And in yet another sign of how volatile the Republican race has been with less than three months until the first nominating contests, the onetime frontrunner, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, has plummeted to third place, dropping more than 20 percentage points since late August.

“Cain is the leader ... That’s the story,” said Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff.

Read the full NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll here (.pdf)

But McInturff cautions that Cain’s ascent — and Perry’s decline — is probably not the last shakeup in a GOP race that has seen a series of sudden rises and abrupt falls (first Donald Trump, then Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and now Perry) in the field.

“There is still a long, long, long time to go,” McInturff said.

Cain checks in as the first choice of 27 percent of Republican voters in the poll, followed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at 23 percent and Perry at 16 percent. After those three, it’s Texas Rep. Ron Paul at 11 percent, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at 8 percent, Bachmann at 5 percent and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman at 3 percent.

In the previous survey, conducted in late August, Perry led the field at 38 percent, Romney stood at 23 percent, while Cain was at only 5 percent.

“He isn’t a politician”
Cain’s numbers are sky-high among Republican primary voters. Fifty-two percent view him favorably, versus just 6 percent who see him unfavorably. Among Tea Party supporters, his favorable/unfavorable score is 69 percent to 5 percent. And among Republicans who identify themselves as “very conservative,” it’s 72 percent to 2 percent.

Mitt Romney
Daniel Acker  /  AP
Mitt Romney speaks during a Republican presidential debate on Tuesday.

In follow-up interviews with respondents supporting Cain, they argue that he’s not a politician, and that he seems real. “He has common-sense answers and is in touch with the heartbeat of America,” said one respondent, a 46-year-old male from Florida.

“Cain gives direct answers. He is succinct. He isn’t a politician,” answered another who’s a 56-year-old male from Washington.

Group: Cain plan a major tax cut for rich

“Cain presents himself as a real person. He speaks from the heart. He is plainspoken and down to Earth,” added a third respondent, a 56-year-old female from Texas.

“Acceptable” Romney
Despite Cain’s rise and Perry’s fall over the past month and a half, Romney’s standing in the Republican horse race hasn’t changed—it was 23 percent in August, and it’s unchanged at 23 percent now.

But that doesn’t mean that Romney is unappealing to Republican voters. His favorable/unfavorable score is 51 percent to 16 percent, which is in the ballpark of Cain’s.

Among Tea Party supporters, it’s 55 percent to 20 percent, and among “very conservative” Republicans, it’s 60 percent to 19 percent.

Read the full NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll here (.pdf)

Hart says this shows that Romney is “acceptable” to GOP primary voters, even if he might not be their first choice. Hart sums up their attitude: “Can I live with him? Yes. Do I want him? Less so.”

But according to the poll, the health-care reform Romney signed into law in Massachusetts is a bigger political problem for him than his Mormon faith.

Forty-three percent of Republican primary voters say they have a less favorable impression of the former governor when told that he opposes the federal health-care law requiring that nearly all Americans have or purchase health insurance—but that his Massachusetts law has similar requirements.

Only 12 percent of Republicans say that description gives them a more favorable impression of Romney, and 42 percent say it makes no difference.

By comparison, 66 percent of GOP primary voters say they feel comfortable with Romney’s Mormon faith, versus just 13 percent who don’t feel comfortable.

But among self-described evangelical Christians, who make up about a one-sixth of all respondents in the poll, a larger number, 25 percent say they don’t feel comfortable with his Mormon faith.

Obama leads in head-to-heads

In hypothetical match-ups for the general election, President Barack Obama leads Romney by two points, 46 percent to 44 percent, which is virtually unchanged from August.

Rick Perry
Andrew Harrer  /  AP
Rick Perry speaks during a Republican presidential debate Tuesday.

Against Cain, Obama enjoys an 11 point advantage, 49 percent to 38 percent. And against Perry, the president is up by 12 points, 51 percent to 39 percent.

When paired against a generic Republican, 44 percent say they would “probably” vote for Obama, while 42 percent would “probably” vote for the Republican candidate. That’s a change from August, when a generic Republican led the incumbent president, 44 percent to 40 percent.

And 73 percent of Democrats and 78 percent of Democratic primary voters say they want their party to nominate Obama again as its 2012 presidential candidate. By comparison, in April 1995, 67 percent of Democrats said the same of Bill Clinton, who didn’t face a primary challenger during his successful re-election bid.

“Difficult” numbers for the president
But Obama’s political standing isn’t markedly better since the end of the bruising battle over raising the debt ceiling. His job-approval rating remains unchanged 44 percent, and only 39 percent approve of his handling of the economy. (Yet 61 percent approve of his handling of the war against terrorism.)

Another high stakes debate for Perry

What’s more, only 17 percent of respondents believe the country is headed in the right direction; just 18 percent think the federal government is working well or “okay”; and only 21 percent feel the economy will improve over the next year.

“These continue to be a very difficult set of numbers for the president,” said McInturff, the GOP pollster.

The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll was conducted Oct. 6-10 of 1,000 adults (200 reached by cell phone), and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points. The margin of error for the 336 Republican primary voters surveyed in the poll is plus-minus 5.4 percentage points.

Mark Murray covers politics for NBC News.

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