BOSTON – With Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump declaring they are both out of the running for president of the United States, Mitt Romney has become the clear front-runner among Republican primary voters nationwide, according to a Suffolk University poll. The former governor found support from 20 percent of all likely GOP primary voters. Among voters of all parties, Romney was the closest of the Republican challengers tested to catching President Barack Obama (Obama 46 percent vs. Romney 43 percent).

In the GOP primary, Romney’s 20 percent was followed by Sarah Palin (12 percent), Newt Gingrich (9 percent), Rudy Giuliani (7 percent), Ron Paul (5 percent), Michele Bachmann (4 percent), Herman Cain (4 percent), Mitch Daniels (4 percent), Tim Pawlenty (3 percent) and Rick Santorum (3 percent), with 20 percent undecided. Jon Huntsman, Gary Johnson and Buddy Roemer all received less than 1 percent.

“With Huckabee and Trump out of the race, the whole dynamic has changed,” said David Paleologos, director of the Political Research Center at Boston’s Suffolk University. “Romney is the clear front-runner now; that’s a position he’ll have to be prepared to defend over the coming months.”

Terrorist activity

The poll also addressed all likely voters’ views on a range of issues facing the nation.

Following the killing of Osama Bin Laden, a majority of likely voters (51 percent) said they think there will be a terrorist attack on U.S. soil in the next year; 34 percent did not think there would be an attack; and 16 percent were undecided.

“While terrorism and national security do not appear to have taken precedence over issues such as the national debt or jobs and the economy, it’s clearly something that’s on people’s minds,” said Paleologos. “Ironically, the removal of Bin Laden may have heightened fears for a majority of Americans.”

Of those responding, 57 percent said it would be OK to use enhanced interrogation techniques or some forms of torture on suspected terrorists to procure information to help keep America safe. Further, 58 percent said the Patriot Act was necessary to keep us safe, compared with 31 percent who felt that it gives the government too much power and invades privacy.

Energy issues

In spite of strong support for increasing domestic oil production (69 percent), a wide majority of likely voters (64 percent) favored eliminating tax breaks and subsidies for oil companies, compared with 27 percent who felt they should remain and 9 percent undecided.

Sixty percent of respondents believed that federal money spent helping to develop alternative energy technology and creating green-collar jobs can significantly contribute to fixing the economy.

Obama viewed favorably

While likely voters expressed concern about the direction of the country (57 percent said it’s on the “wrong track” vs. 33 percent who said it’s heading in the “right direction”), Obama received a job approval rating of 47 percent. Meanwhile, 72 percent said they disapproved of the job Congress is doing; 12 percent approved; and 16 percent were undecided.

When asked if the president deserved to be re-elected, 48 percent of respondents said it is time to give someone else a chance, while 43 percent said Obama deserves re-election. Regardless of their personal preferences, 46 percent of likely voters said they expect Barack Obama will remain president in 2012, compared with 37 percent who felt that one of the Republican candidates will be the next president.

For more poll findings, please see the marginals.

The nationwide survey of 1,070 United States likely voters was conducted May 10-17, 2011, using live telephone interviews. The margin of error is +/- 3.0 percent at a 95 percent level of confidence. Marginals and full cross-tabulation data is posted on the Suffolk University Political Research Center Web site. For more information, contact David Paleologos at 781-290-9310, on Twitter: @DavidPaleologos.