PRINCETON, NJ -- Mitt Romney remains the first choice of registered Republican voters nationally in Gallup Daily tracking of the GOP race. He holds a 27% to 19% lead over Newt Gingrich, followed by Rick Santorum with 15% and Ron Paul with 12%. These results, based on interviewing conducted Dec. 29-Jan. 5, give Romney one of his largest leads over a competitor to date.
The interviewing period included in the latest report straddles the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses in which Romney edged out Santorum by eight votes, with Paul in third place.
Santorum, who received 2% to 4% support from Republican voters nationally throughout most of December, is now seeing the same type of rise in support as Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and Gingrich enjoyed at times last year.
Gallup interviewing Wednesday and Thursday night -- after Santorum's strong showing in Iowa -- shows his support at 21%, up significantly from where he was last month. This places him second behind Romney's average of 29% support in those same two post-Iowa nights of interviewing.
Romney's support among Republicans has been fairly stable over the last year, but he is now up from the 21% to 24% support levels he received for much of December. Romney's current eight-percentage-point lead over his nearest challenger is his largest since Gallup began tracking registered voters Dec. 1, and ties his largest lead among the broader sample of all Republicans measured at any point last year.
The trends in the data suggest that the former Massachusetts governor may maintain his national lead among Republican voters going into Tuesday's New Hampshire primary. Romney is at this point the front-runner in pre-primary polls in New Hampshire, increasing the chances that he will continue to lead among national Republicans after Tuesday's vote in the Granite State.
Gingrich's support has dropped roughly in half from his high of 37% support in early December, but now appears to have leveled off. Over the last two nights of interviewing, Gingrich averaged 17% support, putting him in third place behind Romney and Santorum.
In the Iowa voting Paul came in third, but his support among Republicans nationally has not risen significantly. Paul's five-day average support level now is at 12%, which is about where it was for the second half of December. For Wednesday and Thursday nights, Paul's support is slightly below his five-day average, at 11%, indicating that he is not receiving a bounce from his Iowa performance.
National Republican preferences clearly delineate a race in which various challengers to Romney's front-runner status have risen up and then fallen back down as time has progressed. The rise of former Pennsylvania Senator Santorum after his strong showing in the Iowa caucuses is yet another phase in the fascinating race for the Republican nomination this year -- the most volatile GOP contest in recent decades.
The results of the New Hampshire primary will be the next factor with the potential to affect the race. Gallup research indicates that the Republican candidate who leads in national polling after New Hampshire has historically been the candidate who receives the GOP nomination. If Romney continues to lead next week, then history would suggest that the momentum favors Romney, and Santorum and the other challengers will have a difficult road to victory.
Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of the Gallup Daily tracking survey Dec. 29, 2011-Jan. 5, 2012, with a random sample of 1,229 Republicans who are registered to vote, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling.
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 2011 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.