PRINCETON, NJ -- Newt Gingrich continues to lead the field of candidates for the Republican nomination, though his lead over Mitt Romney has shrunk slightly from last week. Currently, 31% of Republican registered voters nationwide say they are most likely to support Gingrich for the nomination, compared with 22% choosing Romney, with all other candidates in single digits.
These results are based on interviews with 1,167 Republicans and Republican-leaning registered voters in Dec. 8-12 Gallup Daily tracking.
Since Gallup began Daily tracking of national Republican nomination preferences last week, Gingrich has averaged a 12-point advantage over Romney, with a high of 15 points in Gallup's initial report based on Dec. 1-5 interviewing. The current 9-point tracking lead for Gingrich is the smallest yet for the former speaker of the House.
Gingrich has come under increasing attack from his rivals in debates, on the campaign trail, and in television ads since he became the front-runner this month, which may be chipping away at his support, now at 31% after being 37% in the initial tracking report.
At the same time, Romney's support has been fairly stable over this time. In fact, the decline in Gingrich's support has not been offset by an increase in another candidate's support; instead, there has been an increase in the "undecided/no opinion" category, which is up five percentage points in the past week.
Republicans Divided as to Which Candidate Is Better Positioned to Topple Obama
Many Republican voters may choose to cast a "strategic vote" in their state's primary or caucus, voting for the candidate they think has the best chance of winning, whether or not it is the candidate who is closest to them on issues or other dimensions they use to evaluate candidates. Gallup asked Republican voters whether they think Gingrich or Romney has the better chance of defeating Obama in the 2012 general election, and found a fairly even divide, with 44% saying Gingrich and 40% Romney.
The vast majority of Gingrich supporters and Romney supporters believe their preferred candidate has a better chance of defeating Obama. Republican voters who support other candidates or have no preference are split in their opinions of whether Gingrich or Romney would be the more formidable Republican candidate against Obama.
Though Republicans themselves are divided in their views of who is better positioned to defeat Obama, the Dec. 6-7 USA Today/Gallup update on general election preferences among registered voters nationwide suggests Romney may have an edge. Romney and Obama are tied, while Obama has a 50% to 44% lead over Gingrich.
The Iowa caucuses are less than three weeks away, and Gingrich is hoping to ride his current momentum to a victory there, particularly given Romney's strong appeal in New Hampshire, which holds the second nominating contest. Gingrich continues to lead, though he looks a bit less strong this week than he did last week.
In any case, the GOP nominating contest increasingly looks like a two-man race between Gingrich and Romney, with all other candidates' support still mired in single digits. At this point, Republicans do not have a clear consensus on whether Gingrich or Romney is more likely to beat Obama in the general election. To the extent Republicans come to view either candidate as superior on that dimension, it could ultimately decide whom they prefer as their party's nominee.
Also, the results of the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary have often caused Republicans to re-evaluate the candidates in the race, leading to shifts in their preferences. Gallup's Daily tracking of national Republican nomination preferences will be able to measure those changes.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Dec. 8-12, 2011, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 1,167 Republicans and Republican leaning independents, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, who are registered to vote.
For results based on the total sample of Republican registered voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
The questions reported here were asked of a random half-sample of respondents for five nights on the Gallup Daily tracking survey.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.