PRINCETON, NJ -- Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich essentially tie President Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election preferences of registered voters nationwide. Fifty percent of registered voters would support Obama in each hypothetical matchup, while 48% would give their vote to Gingrich or Romney.
The USA Today/Gallup survey, conducted Dec. 15-18, finds a slight improvement in Gingrich's standing versus Obama, but no change in Romney's. In Gallup's previous trial heats, conducted as part of its Daily tracking Dec. 6-7, Romney was statistically tied with Obama, as he has been in all of Gallup's Romney-Obama matchups to date. In that same survey, the first to include a Gingrich-Obama matchup, Obama had a slight advantage over Gingrich.
Negative Voting a Major Factor Against Obama
In a follow-up question to both trial heats, most registered voters who back Obama indicate that their vote decision represents a vote for Obama rather than a vote against the Republican candidate. By contrast, voters supporting the Republican in each trial heat say their choice primarily represents a vote against Obama rather than for either Gingrich or Romney.
Registered voters' rationale for their vote choice in an Obama vs. Romney matchup breaks down as 39% backing Obama because they are for him and 11% backing Obama as a vote against Romney. At the same time, 30% back Romney as a vote against Obama, while 18% back Romney because they are actively for him.
The findings are similar in the hypothetical Obama vs. Gingrich matchup; however, the percentage of registered voters saying their vote for Obama would be a vote against the Republican is slightly higher with Gingrich than with Romney as the hypothetical nominee, 15% vs. 11%.
With nearly 11 months to go before next year's presidential election, and several weeks or months before it's clear who the Republican nominee will be, both of the leading Republican contenders for the nomination are nearly tied with Obama in registered voters' preferences. This is consistent with the competitive nature of Gallup's Obama-Romney matchups since August, but it is a little more positive for Gingrich than Gallup's initial Obama-Gingrich matchup in early December. With either Republican, it seems clear that, at this early stage, voters backing the Republican are more motivated by their desire to see Obama out of office than by an affirmative desire to see the Republican elected. These sentiments could change once Republicans settle on a nominee or get to know that person better as he campaigns in earnest and at the convention.
Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Dec. 15-18, 2011, with a random sample of 1,019 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
For results based on the total sample of 898 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.
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.