Businessman Donald Trump (27 percent) holds a comfortable lead over his opponents in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary contest, according to a Suffolk University poll of likely Republican primary voters.

The second tier of the crowded GOP field remains very close, with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich tied at 12 percent; former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, 11 percent; Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) at 10 percent. Next among the 30 Republican candidates listed on the official New Hampshire ballot are New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at 6 percent; retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, 5 percent; businesswoman Carly Fiorina, 4 percent; and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), 2 percent, according to the Suffolk University Political Research Center survey of likely Republican voters in New Hampshire. Twelve percent of likely Republican primary voters were undecided.

“More than a quarter of New Hampshire’s GOP voters are loyal to Donald Trump,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston. “That 27 percent isn’t a skyscraper, but it towers over the four candidates vying for second place. However, a surprise win from a second-tier candidate in Iowa could create the momentum needed to break into the twenty percent range in New Hampshire. If there are no surprises in Iowa, the undecided voters will be divided, and Trump will prevail.”

Gainers and losers since November

While voters looked more favorably on Rubio than other candidates (55 percent favorable–28 percent unfavorable), he has not yet grown as a first-choice candidate for the Republican nomination since a November Suffolk poll had him at 11 percent, compared to 10 percent now. The candidates gaining since November are Trump (+5 points), with Bush, Cruz and Kasich gaining 3 points each, while Christie gained 2 points. The biggest decline as a first-choice candidate was Carson (- 5 points), despite his high personal favorability.

General election scenarios

Trump did not fare well with likely Republican voters in matchups against potential general-election opponents. In a scenario where Trump was pitted against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee and former New York City mayor and possible presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg as an independent, 63 percent of the Republican voters said they would vote for Trump, but 10 percent would vote for Clinton; 10 percent would vote for Bloomberg; 3 percent said they would not vote in November; and 14 percent were undecided. When Trump was matched against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Bloomberg, 57 percent said they would support Trump; 18 percent would opt for Sanders; 9 percent would choose Bloomberg; 3 percent would not vote in November; and 13 percent were undecided.

“A Trump nomination coupled with independent Michael Bloomberg’s possible entrance into the fray signals a seismic shift in the Republican landscape,” said Paleologos. “Not only would a Trump nomination lose votes to the Democrat and independent candidates, it would suppress Republican turnout, at least in New Hampshire. This is the place where Trump’s negatives are quantifiable. If you are the GOP, you can’t afford to lose a quarter of the vote from among the best Republican primary voters.”

Ironically, when likely voters were asked which of the top seven Republican candidates had the best chance of winning the general election against the Democratic nominee, Trump (41 percent) easily led, followed by Cruz (13 percent), Rubio (11 percent), Kasich (7 percent), and Bush (6 percent), Christie (4 percent) and Carson (1 percent).

Issues of voter concern

NH Republican primary voters see terrorism/national security (35 percent) as the most important issue facing the nation today, followed by jobs/economy (23 percent), and illegal immigration (14 percent).

History of Suffolk research in New Hampshire

In the 2014 New Hampshire general election, the final Suffolk University poll predicted a 3-point win for Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen over Republican Scott Brown; Shaheen won by 3 percent. In the 2012 New Hampshire Republican presidential primary, the final Suffolk poll correctly predicted the 1-2-3 order of finish (Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and Jon Huntsman) from among the 33 listed GOP candidates on the ballot.

Methodology

The statewide survey of 500 likely New Hampshire Republican presidential primary voters was conducted Jan. 25-27 using live telephone interviews and a split sample of landline and cell phone numbers. The margin of error is +/-4.4 percentage points at a 95 percent level of confidence. Marginals and full cross-tabulation data are posted on the Suffolk University Political Research Center website: www.suffolk.edu/SUPRC. For more information, contact David Paleologos at 781-290-9310, dpaleologos@suffolk.edu.