WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Presidential hopeful Herman Cain's quirky "smoking ad" may have mystified many Americans, but according to a new Reuters/Ipsos online poll, it has drawn a sharp line between Republicans who identify with the Tea Party and those who don't.
The ad, which shows Cain's chief of staff Mark Block puffing on a cigarette for no apparent reason, created enormous Internet buzz this week.
Six in 10 of those who strongly identify with the conservative Tea Party movement said they loved or liked the ad.
An almost equal percentage of people who self-identified as mainstream Republicans either disliked or hated it.
Block is shown on the video giving Cain, a surprise Republican nomination front-runner, a testimonial before taking a draw from a cigarette. The image shifts to the candidate who slowly breaks into a smile as his campaign song blares.
"He's a likable candidate, particularly for those strong Tea Partiers who identify around values of small government and an anti-Washington sentiment. Cain seems to be tapping into that very effectively," said Ipsos pollster Julia Clark.
Tea Party supporters form a central part of the Republican voting base and could help determine who the party's 2012 presidential nominee will be, with voting to start in early January.
Cain, the former chief executive of Godfather's Pizza, has shot to the top of some Republican polls in recent weeks in the race to decide who will challenge Democratic President Barack Obama in next year's election.
About a third of people surveyed loved or liked Cain's video, a third hated or disliked it, and another third was neutral.
Some commentators have speculated that Cain's campaign put a smoker in the ad as an anti-political correctness message that would appeal to conservatives.
Even if that were the intention, most Tea Party Republicans did not take the bait.
"I do think the Tea Party support for this ad is not because of the smoking but because of their support for Cain," said Clark.
The smoking did stick in viewers' minds, and seemed to obscure the campaign message of Cain as a viable candidate.
The one word that came to people's minds most when asked about the smoking segment was "stupid."
Fifty percent of those polled felt what stood out for them most was the narrator smoking a cigarette, and more than a quarter thought the ad communicated to them that Cain endorses smoking.
"This really distracted from the message in a lot of ways," said Clark.
People who have never been smokers noticed the cigarette more than those who smoke or who have smoked. About one in five of current smokers felt that it communicated that 'Herman Cain endorses smoking,' but this figure rose to a third among people who have never smoked.
"If you've never smoked a cigarette you're more likely to think Cain endorses smoking," said Clark.
The poll surveyed 554 registered Republicans, of whom 374 answered questions about the video.
Because 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 this were a traditional random survey, it would have a margin of error of between plus 4.4 percent and plus 5.1 percent. This figure varies because some participants dropped out of the video portion of the survey.
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