WASHINGTON Herman Cain's departure from the presidential campaign would do little to change the 2012 primary race, as his support would be carved up among the Republican field, an analysis of Reuters/Ipsos poll data said on Wednesday.
Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney would benefit most if sex harassment charges, an allegation of an extra-marital affair and other campaign missteps force Cain to end his bid for the White House, the analysis found, reinforcing their front-runner status.
Support for Romney and Gingrich would rise by 3 percentage points each, against the 1- or 2-point bumps Cain's departure would give some of their rivals for the nomination to oppose President Barack Obama's re-election bid next year.
The shift would not reorder the standings, with Gingrich remaining in first and Romney second, far above the rest of the field. Rounding out the list were Rick Perry, Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman.
"Cain leaving the race doesn't significantly change the face of it," Ipsos pollster Chris Jackson said.
He said it was significant that Cain's backing did not shift to just one candidate. Gingrich has been tipped as the next conservative alternative to Romney, a former Massachusetts governor seen by some Republicans as too moderate.
"It goes against the conventional wisdom that it's the 'anybody but Romney' vote driving all this," Jackson said.
With Cain in the race, 23 percent of registered Republicans said they would vote for Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Without Cain, Gingrich's support would increase to 26 percent.
Romney's backing would reach 25 percent without Cain, from 22 percent with him in the race.
Cain told aides on Tuesday he would reassess the viability of his struggling campaign after an Atlanta woman accused him of conducting a 13-year extramarital affair. Cain led the Republican White House race barely a month earlier but nosedived in polls after the harassment charges and missteps.
He was in third place, with 12 percent support, in the data analyzed on Wednesday from an online poll taken among 446 registered Republican voters on November 18-19.
Texas Governor Perry was at 10 percent, which would rise to 11 percent without Cain. Texas Representative Paul's support would rise to 11 percent from 9 percent.
Bachmann, a congresswoman from Minnesota, would gain 1 percent to reach 10 percent. Support for Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, would remain unchanged at 2 percent, and ex-Utah Governor Huntsman's backing would rise to 2 percent from 1 percent, the analysis said.
Since it 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 5.5 percentage points.
(Editing by Alistair Bell and Bill Trott)