PRINCETON, NJ -- The topsy-turvy Republican presidential race has taken another turn, this time in Mitt Romney's favor. Romney now holds a 32% to 28% advantage over Rick Santorum after Santorum led for most of the last 10 days, including a 10-percentage-point advantage a week ago. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul remain well behind Romney and Santorum.
The latest results are based on Feb. 22-26 Gallup Daily tracking interviews with 1,160 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents nationwide who are registered to vote. They show Romney gaining momentum nationally heading into Tuesday's important Michigan and Arizona primaries, the first contests in nearly three weeks. Santorum surged to his first lead in Gallup's tracking after he swept the Feb. 7 contests in Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado. Santorum's decline in recent days has come as Romney and Paul, in particular, have stepped up their criticism of his voting record in Congress and his positions on issues.
Santorum, along with Romney, Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain, have all held or shared the lead at some point in Republican nomination preference polling since the field began to take shape last spring. The list of five leaders does not include three potential candidates who were among the leaders in a Gallup poll at some point in late 2010 or early 2011 but ultimately decided not to run -- Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump, and Sarah Palin.
Prior GOP nomination campaigns were much more orderly, typically having one dominant front-runner for much if not all of the campaign. Since the nominating power was moved from convention delegates to voters in state primaries and caucuses in 1972, the 2008 nominating contest had been the most volatile prior to this year's, with three different national leaders during the campaign -- Rudy Giuliani, Huckabee, and eventual winner John McCain.
Romney Gains Among Conservatives
In general, Romney's support has increased among nearly all subgroups of Republicans in recent days. But his gain and Santorum's decline have been especially evident among self-identified conservative Republicans.
Whereas Santorum led by 22 points (44% to 22%) among this group on Feb. 20, the two are now essentially even, with Santorum at 33% and Romney at 29%. Meanwhile, Romney continues to be the strong favorite of moderate or liberal Republicans, whose preferences have been more stable over the past 10 days.
Santorum's support has also taken a hit among regular churchgoers, a group crucial to his coalition, though he retains a numerical advantage over Romney within this group.
The Republican nomination contest is entering a crucial phase with the Michigan and Arizona primaries on Tuesday and 10 state primaries or caucuses on March 6. To the extent Romney, Santorum, or one of the other candidates wins the bulk of these contests, he will likely emerge as the strong front-runner for the GOP nomination.
Although the lead has changed hands a number of times over the course of the campaign, Romney has been consistently near the top. His standing suggests he is perhaps not embraced enough by the party to emerge as the clear and consistent front-runner, but he has been better able than his rivals to withstand the scrutiny that comes with being a leading contender for the nomination.
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Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of Gallup Daily tracking Feb. 22-26, 2012, with a random sample of 1,160 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 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.
The questions reported here were asked of a random half-sample of Republicans 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.