By Sheldon Alberts - 08/28/12 09:00 AM EDT
Three-quarters of Republican voters believe Mitt Romney is a stronger presidential candidate than John McCainJohn McCainOvernight Defense: Pentagon denies troops on Syrian front lines | Senators push for more Afghan visas McCain files B amendment to boost defense spending Senators push to authorize 4,000 more visas for Afghans MORE was four years ago — and a sizable majority said the party is more closely aligned with their personal views than in 2008, according to a new poll for The Hill.
The survey found 74 percent of GOP voters feel better about Romney as their candidate in 2012 compared to Sen. McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008, while only 18 percent feel the former Massachusetts governor is a weaker candidate.
The poll showed Romney’s choice of Rep. Paul RyanPaul RyanPuerto Rico debt relief faces serious challenges in Senate Overnight Finance: GOP faces dilemma on spending bills | CEOs push Congress on tax rules | Trump talks energy Overnight Energy: Trump outlines 'America First' energy plan in North Dakota MORE (R-Wis.) is highly popular among Republicans, with 71 percent of GOP supporters saying the selection has made them more likely to vote for the GOP ticket.
Moreover, 6 in 10 Republican voters said the party is more closely aligned with their own priorities than it was in 2008. Only 20 percent of Republicans said the party is less closely aligned with their views.
The findings point to a broad level of satisfaction among Republican voters with their party’s leadership and direction heading into the crucial phase of the 2012 election campaign.
The Hill’s poll was conducted by Pulse Opinion Research on Aug. 26 among 1,000 likely voters. It has a 3 percentage-point margin of error on the total sample.
The poll found 48 percent of all likely voters believe Romney is a stronger candidate for the GOP than McCain was four years ago, while 35 percent overall feel he is weaker.
While GOP enthusiasm is high, Romney is facing some significant challenges as he prepares to accept his party’s nomination, the poll found.
In particular, the controversy over Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-Mo.) “legitimate rape” comment has the potential to damage Romney’s candidacy.
Akin, an six-term congressman, has refused to step aside as the party’s Senate candidate in Missouri despite calls by Romney and other high-level Republicans to exit the race.
According to The Hill poll, 43 percent of voters said the congressman’s comments about rape and abortion make them less likely to vote for Romney in November. Among voters identifying themselves as moderate, 54 percent said they were less likely to vote for Romney.
The backlash to Akin’s comments isn’t as pronounced among Republican voters, the poll showed. Forty-three percent of Republicans said the recent remarks make them more likely to vote for Romney, compared to 15 percent who are less likely to do so.
The GOP candidate also faces skepticism among moderate voters about the strength of the Republican ticket. The poll found 46 percent of moderates believe McCain was the stronger candidate, while 40 percent picked Romney.
A slim majority of moderates — 55 percent — say the presence of Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, on the GOP ticket makes them less likely to vote for Romney.
Twenty-seven percent of moderates said they are more likely to back the GOP ticket because Ryan is on it.
In addition, 54 percent of moderates say the Republican Party of 2012 is less closely aligned with their own views than it was in 2008, compared to 25 percent who said the GOP more closely reflects their views.
The poll found a sharp difference in sentiment between Republicans and Democrats on what they consider the most important issue in the fall election.
Overall, the poll found a majority of likely voters — 51 percent — saying jobs and the economy were the biggest issue to them. Another 29 percent cited fiscal issues like government spending and debt, while 13 percent said abortion and social issues and 3 percent said national defense.
Among Democrats, 69 percent said the most important issue was jobs and the economy.
While jobs and the economy also topped the list of issues of concern to GOP voters — at 45 percent — Republicans placed more importance than Democrats on fiscal issues.
The poll found 35 percent of Republicans believe government spending and debt is the top issue, compared to just 13 percent of Democrats.
Almost identical numbers of Republicans and Democrats — 12 percent and 13 percent, respectively — said abortion and social issues were most important.
Jobs and the economy are the top issues for voters across all income levels — except for those earning above $100,000, the poll found.
Six in 10 voters earning under $20,000 per year identified jobs and the economy as the main issue of concern, compared to 35 percent of people earning six-figure incomes.
The survey also offered a glimpse into Democratic attitudes toward the Republican Party. Fifty-six percent of Democrats believe McCain, who lost the 2008 election in a 365-173 electoral vote, was a stronger Republican candidate than Romney.
Fourteen percent of Democrats said the choice of Ryan as the Republican running mate makes it more likely they’ll vote for Romney, while 69 percent said the selection makes it less likely they’ll support the GOP ticket.