Businessman Donald Trump (22 percent) holds a comfortable lead over his dozen opponents in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary contest, according to a Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll.

With the primary three months away, the rest of the crowded GOP field remains far back, with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) at 11 percent; retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, 10 percent; Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich tied at 9 percent; former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, 8 percent; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and businesswoman Carly Fiorina tied at 4 percent; and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), 3 percent, according to the Suffolk University Political Research Center survey of likely Republican voters in New Hampshire. The remaining candidates combined for 2 percent, and 18 percent of likely Republican primary voters were undecided.

“Donald Trump’s loyal 22 percent goes a long way in New Hampshire,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston. “As long as the remaining 78 percent is split relatively evenly among the six or seven major contenders, we’re getting close to ‘Trump-mate’ in the Granite State.”

Rubio viewed favorably

Rubio is emerging as the Republican alternative to Trump in New Hampshire through a methodical move into second place. Rubio led in voters’ approval, with a 64 percent favorable–22 percent unfavorable rating. When asked which Republican had the best chance of beating the Democratic nominee, Trump finished first at 31 percent and Rubio was second with 16 percent, while all other candidates were in single digits. Rubio also was the top second choice among all candidates with 17 percent, followed by Cruz with 12 percent and Bush with 11 percent.

“The Rubio thread runs deep throughout the poll. If you look at who is in the top three when it comes to favorability, first choice, second choice, trust, or best chance of winning in the general election, Rubio is the only candidate who meets all of those tests,” said Paleologos.

Terrorism seen as key issue

Polls traditionally have shown jobs/economy as the top issue for voters, but the recent attacks in Paris appear to have dramatically changed the landscape. Terrorism/national security was the top choice among NH Republican voters (42 percent) followed by jobs/economy (18 percent), and illegal immigration (12 percent). When voters were asked which Republican is best equipped to handle the American response to the Islamic State, Trump was the choice of 25 percent followed by Rubio (13 percent), Cruz (11 percent), and Bush (10 percent).

Romney retains appeal

Although Mitt Romney is not running for president this year, he is highly regarded in New Hampshire and, if willing, could be a unifying alternative if there were to be a brokered convention in 2016. When respondents were asked if they would switch their first-choice commitments to Romney if he were added to the list of candidates, 30 percent indicated they would switch, which would be enough for the former Massachusetts governor and 2012 GOP nominee to top and topple the field. And when undecided voters were asked if they would vote for Romney if he were added to the list, 36 percent indicated yes.

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 Nov. 17-19, 2015, 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. For more information, contact David Paleologos at 781-290-9310, dpaleologos@suffolk.edu.