Former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney holds a commanding lead in New Hampshire in the early stages of the race for the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination, according to a new survey commissioned by NH Journal and conducted by Magellan Strategies. The survey is the first statewide survey of Granite State Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in 2011.

Romney leads former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin by 23 points, with Romney earning 39% and Palin earning 16%. Mike Huckabee (10%), Newt Gingrich (8%), Texas Congressman Ron Paul (7%), former MN Gov. Tim Pawlenty (4%), Rick Santorum (3%) and MS Gov. Haley Barbour (1%) all trail significantly behind. Romney finished second to Sen. John McCain in the 2008 New Hampshire Republican Presidential primary.

None of the candidates in the survey have publicly announced their candidacy for president but all have said they are seriously considering a bid.

Despite her ballot position, Palin is very popular with Republican voters. 59% view her favorably while 31% have an unfavorable view of her. More Independents (50%) have a favorable view of her than and unfavorable view (41%). This data reflects Independent voters who say they are likely to vote in the Republican presidential primary.

Romney appears popular with all subgroups of the Republican electorate. Large percentages of seniors (76%), social conservatives (76%) and fiscal conservatives (76%) hold favorable views of him. Romney has struggled with social issues, such as abortion, in the past and many conservative pundits have speculated that his health care plan in Massachusetts could cause problems for him on the right. Nevertheless, Granite State Republicans are very comfortable with him as the presidential campaign season officially opens.

Huckbee and Pawlenty are also viewed substantially more favorably than not. Gingrich, Santorum and Barbour have relatively higher unfavorable ratings.

In a memo released about the survey, Magellan pollster David Flaherty stated, “This survey is a very early measurement of the potential 2012 Republican Presidential primary field. Mitt Romney’s strength is not surprising considering his close second place finish to John McCain in 2008 and his regional advantage of being a former border state Governor. Many political observers have commented on the “late” start of the 2012 Presidential primary campaign in comparison to the 2008 Presidential primary. We agree with this observation, and view the survey results as an “uninformed” snapshot of likely New Hampshire Republican Presidential primary voter opinion.”

The survey was conducted on Tuesday, January 4th from 6:00 to 8:00pm using automated telephone calls to a sample of 1,451 voters randomly drawn from a New Hampshire voter file among households containing at least one registered Republican or independent voter. Independent voters were screened for their intention to vote in the 2012 Republican Presidential primary. The response data was weighted to reflect past Republican primary voting demographics from the 2008 Republican Presidential primary election. Three attempts were made to interview each household in the sample. This survey has a margin of error of 2.57% at the 95 percent confidence interval.

Note: NH Journal editorial board member Patrick Hynes is a consultant to Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s PAC.

NHJ New Hampshire 2012 Republican Presidential Primary Survey Topline Results