4:00 AM, Dec 4, 2011
© 2011, Des Moines Register and Tribune Co.
With the dizzying fall of Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich has stepped into the breach and now stands alone as the most popular GOP presidential candidate in The Des Moines Register’s new Iowa Poll.
Gingrich, with support of 25 percent of likely Republican caucusgoers, is seven points ahead of the rising Ron Paul, who’s at 18 percent. Mitt Romney drops to third, at 16percent, denting his previously armor-plated Iowa polling average. Romney’s support stood at 22 percent last month.
Cain, who suspended his campaign Saturday, had plunged from 23 percent to 8 percent in just over a month, tied with Michele Bachmann.
In a race that’s still far from settled, previous candidate surges have had a half life. But Gingrich’s comes at a critical time — with just a month until the first votes are cast in the nation’s GOP nominating contest. The key question is whether his support represents momentum or a peak.
Politics watchers say it could be difficult for Gingrich to withstand the rigors of front-runner status, especially when his campaign has shown a lack of discipline so far, plagued by early debt, staff turnover and a paper-thin organization.
Gingrich has been “a one-man band just standing onstage and pontificating,” Republican strategist Mike Murphy said. “On caucus night, can you convoy and get people there?”
One striking finding: The results show Gingrich’s ascendancy has the potential to grow, pollster J. Ann Selzer said.
More respondents choose Gingrich as their second choice than any other candidate. Together, 43 percent of likely caucusgoers pick him as first or second.
With Cain’s departure from the race, Gingrich will likely benefit. More Cain supporters name Gingrich as their second choice than any other candidate.
Rounding out the field: The two Ricks, Perry and Santorum, are locked in a tie at 6 percent. At the bottom is Jon Huntsman at 2 percent.
Selzer & Co. of Des Moines conducted the poll of 401 likely Republican caucusgoers Nov. 27-30. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
The race remains elastic. Eleven percent of likely caucusgoers are uncommitted to a first choice, and 60percent are still willing to change their mind. A single day’s news can seesaw opinions.
Another interesting finding: Paul, often dismissed by the political establishment, has climbed 6 points since the Register’s October poll.
“The big surprise potential now is with Ron Paul,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
But Paul could be closing in on his ceiling, the poll indicates. Just 7 percent choose him as their second choice.
“This is where Paul is weak, in that he has little breadth from which to draw new support,” Selzer said.
Although Romney is no longer king in the Iowa Poll — he was No. 1 in June and just a point off the lead in October — the results contain some positive signs for his Iowa campaign.
Pluralities of likely caucusgoers see Romney as the most electable candidate in the general election, and the most presidential. Gingrich supporters name Romney as their second choice more than any other candidate. And Romney takes the likability crown that caucusgoers bestowed on Cain a month ago.
Leading on electability offers perhaps the brightest ray of hope for Romney supporters. Gingrich’s surge might prove another primal but short-lived scream of frustration at the direction the country is headed.
As the Jan. 3 caucuses near, their theory goes, Republicans will eventually gravitate to the candidate they think can best beat Democratic President Barack Obama.
Thirty-five percent of poll respondents have seen at least one candidate in person.
That’s slightly higher than four years ago, when candidates had had a live audience with 31 percent of likely caucusgoers by late December.
Why can’t Iowa Republicans make up their minds? Ninety-two percent of those not fully committed to their first choice say they just always keep their mind open to switching candidates.
But 25 percent say they’re concerned there may be a new revelation about their first choice, and 16 percent say there’s something they already know about their candidate that makes them uneasy.
More on the Iowa Poll
Obradovich: New Iowa Poll provides guidance on caucus myths and realities
Three questions emerge from Iowa Poll results
Results by candidate
More numbers from the Iowa Poll
Raw data, Nov. 27-30 Iowa Poll
About the poll
The Iowa Poll, conducted Nov. 27-30 for The Des Moines Register by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, is based on interviews with 2,222 registered Republican and independent voters in Iowa ages 18 or older, of which 401 said they would definitely or probably participate in the January 2012 Republican caucus. Interviewers contacted individuals randomly selected from the Iowa voter registration list by telephone, stratifying contact by age. The full sample of 2,222 respondents was adjusted for age and sex based on distribution among active Republican and no-party registered voters. Questions asked of the 401 likely Republican caucusgoers have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points. Results based on smaller samples of respondents — such as by gender or age — have a larger margin of error. Republishing the copyright Iowa Poll without credit to The Des Moines Register is prohibited.