PRINCETON, NJ -- Rick Santorum now holds a 10-percentage-point lead in Gallup's Daily tracking of national Republicans registered voters' preferences for the 2012 GOP nomination.
In the Feb. 15-19 Gallup Daily tracking rolling average, Santorum is ahead of Romney by 36% to 26%, with Newt Gingrich at 13% and Ron Paul at 11%. This marks Santorum's largest lead to date. Santorum had moved to within two points of Romney, 30% to 32%, by the end of last week.
Prior to Santorum's surge, Romney led Santorum 37% to 16% in Gallup Daily tracking ending Feb. 6, the day before Santorum won primaries and caucuses in Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado. Meanwhile, Gingrich's current 13% support ties his lowest since Gallup began tracking Dec. 1; Gingrich held a one-point lead over Romney as recently as the end of last month.
Despite Santorum's Lead, Romney Viewed as Most Electable
In a separate USA Today/Gallup survey conducted Feb. 16-19, all Americans were asked which of the two candidates -- Romney or Santorum -- they believed would have the best chance of beating Barack Obama in November. Overall, 54% of Americans named Romney and 29% chose Santorum.
Fewer Republicans are undecided on this issue, leaving 58% who say Romney has the best chance of beating Obama, while 32% choose Santorum.
Republican support for Santorum is clearly based on more than just electability, given that Republicans generally favor Santorum for the nomination while holding the belief that Romney is the most electable candidate. Overall, almost 3 in 10 Republicans in the USA Today/Gallup survey who believe that Romney has the best chance of beating Obama still say they would vote for Santorum over Romney. By contrast, 88% of Republicans who say Santorum has the best chance of beating Obama support him over Romney for the GOP nomination.
Santorum is the latest candidate to rise to the top of the Republican presidential preference list, marking the latest phase in the highly volatile race for the party's nomination over the past year. Since Gallup Daily tracking of GOP preferences began on Dec. 1, the national lead among Republicans has changed four times, with Gingrich and Romney alternating for the lead, and now with Santorum in the top spot.
Santorum's leap upward was the direct result of his unexpected victories in the Minnesota, Colorado, and Missouri primaries and caucuses on Feb. 7. There have been no major votes since then, and no debates, but that is about to change. Looming on the horizon are the Feb. 22 GOP debate in Arizona, the Michigan and Arizona primaries on Tuesday, Feb. 28, and then a number of high-profile primaries and caucuses throughout March. Going by the pattern established this year, the results of each event have a good chance of further affecting the relative standing of the GOP candidates in the eyes of Republicans nationally.
The finding that a clear majority of Republicans believe Romney has the best chance of beating Obama in November underscores some of Romney's difficulties in this race. His campaign's emphasis on his electability has not been enough for a segment of Republicans who apparently want a candidate who agrees with their views on issues and policy. As the election draws closer, it will be important to monitor the degree to which these attitudes change.
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Republican tracking results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of Gallup Daily tracking Feb. 15-19, 2012, with a random sample of 1,194 Republican registered voters, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on this sample of registered Republicans, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Other results are from a USA Today/Gallup poll, based on telephone interviews conducted Feb. 16-19, 2012, with a random sample of 1,014 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on this total adult sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
For results based on the sample of 481 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±6 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.
View methodology, full question results, and trend data.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.