New CNN/Time/ORC International polls show Newt Gingrich leading Mitt Romney in three of four states that will be casting critical early votes in the Republican presidential nominating process, putting the former House speaker in a potentially commanding position to capture his party's nomination.
The polls, released late Wednesday, show Gingrich leading the GOP fields in Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida. Romney is clinging to a single-digit lead in New Hampshire, a state where he owns a home and is well-known from the four years he served as governor of neighboring Massachusetts. Like other early-state polls released this week, the latest surveys show that Gingrich has built his leads on the backs of more-conservative voters resistant to Romney.
In Iowa, which holds its caucuses in less than four weeks, on Jan. 3, Gingrich leads Romney, 33 percent to 20 percent, in line with surveys of the Hawkeye State released this week by the Des Moines Register, NBC News/Marist, ABC News/Washington Post, and CBS News/New York Times. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, runs a close third, at 17 percent, followed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry at 9 percent, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., at 7 percent, former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., at 5 percent and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman at 1 percent. Two percent chose none of the candidates, and 5 percent said they were undecided.
Forty percent of likely Republican caucus-goers who identify as tea party supporters support Gingrich, a 24-point advantage over Paul. Among those who say they either oppose the tea party or are neutral, 26 percent support Romney, compared to 25 percent for Gingrich.
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New Hampshire Republicans (and independents) will vote a week after Iowa, on Jan. 10. In the Granite State, Romney retains a slight lead over Gingrich, 35 percent to 26 percent, with Paul at 17 percent. Huntsman is fourth, with 8 percent; all other candidates are at 3 percent or lower.
In late October, Romney led his closest competitor among eligible voters in the first-in-the-nation primary state by 27 points.
Paul finishes a close third in Iowa and New Hampshire, running stronger in the first two states—where he has more robust organizations—than in South Carolina and Florida.
If Gingrich and Romney split the first two states, that could position Gingrich well going into the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary, where the poll shows he leads Romney by a wide margin, 43 percent to 20 percent. No other candidate breaks double-digits: Perry is at 8 percent, and Bachmann and Paul are each at 6 percent.
Gingrich carries 53 percent of tea party supporters in South Carolina, compared with just 14 percent for Romney. Among those who do not identify as tea party supporters, the two candidates are tied, with each earning 31 percent.
Florida closes the month with its delegate-rich Jan. 31 primary, and nearly half of likely primary voters are behind Gingrich, who leads Romney 48 percent to 25 percent. No other candidate scores higher than 5 percent in the Sunshine State.
A whopping 62 percent of tea party supporters in Florida support Gingrich, giving him a 44-point lead over Romney among those voters. Gingrich runs neck-and-neck with non-tea partiers in the state, trailing Romney, 35 percent to 32 percent.
There is a silver lining in these polls for Romney and other candidates looking up at Gingrich: The field in the four early states remains fluid. Just 39 percent of likely caucus-goers in Iowa, 44 percent of likely New Hampshire primary voters, 34 percent in South Carolina, and 37 percent of Florida voters say they will definitely support their candidate.
The polls were conducted Nov. 29-Dec. 6. The respective sample sizes and margins of error are as follows:
- Iowa: 419 likely caucus-goers; margin of error plus or minus 4.8 percentage points.
- New Hampshire: 507 likely primary voters; margin of error plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
- South Carolina: 510 likely primary voters; margin of error plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.
- Florida: 446 likely primary voters; margin of error plus or minus 4.6 percentage points.
Until Dec. 3, businessman Herman Cain's name was included in the list of candidates. Cain supporters have been reallocated according to their second choices.