WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Forty percent of U.S. Republicans view presidential candidate Herman Cain less favorably after watching a video of a woman accusing him of groping her, a Reuters/Ipsos poll said on Tuesday.
As Cain’s team scrambled to keep the widening scandal over sexual harassment accusations from derailing his campaign, 39 percent of poll respondents said they believed the allegations made by Sharon Bialek on Monday were true and 38 percent thought they were not.
Three other women have said they were subjected to harassment by Cain but Bialek was the first to go public. Support for the Cain is slipping slightly amid the news reports about the allegations that he denies.
Bialek, who identified herself as a registered Republican and single mother, said Cain made a crude sexual advance toward her in 1997 when he headed the National Restaurant Association.
Survey respondents were shown a video of Bialek making her allegations and 36 percent said they had seen it already.
The findings are from an online survey of 462 Republican registered voters on November 7 and 8.
Cain, a former pizza company executive who has never held elected office, has led many polls in the race to become the Republican nominee to face President Barack Obama, a Democrat, in the November 2012 election. He has tried to put the sexual harassment issue behind him in recent days to talk more about his so-called 9-9-9 tax reform proposal.
“I don’t think that he’s going to be able to shift back to fiscal policy again with this coming to light,” said Ipsos pollster Julia Clark, explaining that the stakes are much higher now that Cain is not facing anonymous accusers.
“They have a face to put with it, they have an event to associate with the accusation, and that’s really enough at this point,” Clark said.
Cain’s campaign attempted on Tuesday to undermine the credibility of Bialek, saying she has a “long and troubled history.
A second woman, one of two who settled harassment claims against Cain with the National Restaurant Association, spoke to The New York Times on Tuesday.
Cain said the Reuters/Ipsos poll findings were to be expected.
“It is natural that some voters will be turned off by the mere mention of the accusations. It is natural and it is expected,” Cain told a news conference in Arizona when asked about the survey.
In the survey, 21 percent of respondents said they would vote for Cain in a Republican primary election, compared with 24 percent in a survey taken on October 27-28.
The latest number left Cain in second place among Republican contenders, after Mitt Romney, but he was no longer neck and neck with the former Massachusetts governor.
“I think we’re at the beginning of the end (of Cain’s presidential hopes),” said Michael Fauntroy, a professor of public policy at George Mason University in Virginia. “I never really saw him as a legitimate candidate, notwithstanding what the polls were saying.”
The candidate who seemed to gain the most from the small fall in Cain’s support was Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Gingrich’s backing rose to 16 percent from 11 percent, putting him third in the latest poll.
Romney’s support slipped to 26 percent from 29 percent in the earlier poll. Texas Governor Rick Perry was fourth.
Cain says his business experience is just what the country needs as it struggles with high unemployment and a sputtering economy, not a career politician.
It could help him now if voters knew more about him than the scandal. “He doesn’t have the political capital in his back pocket that he can rely on to survive this,” Fauntroy said.
Since the Reuters/Ipsos survey was an online poll, typical margins of error do not apply. Despite that, various recognized methods were used to select as representative a sample as possible and weigh the results.
If it were a traditional random survey, it would have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Alistair Bell and Will Dunham