Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich holds a substantial lead over Mitt Romney among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who say they are very likely to vote in their state's presidential primary or caucus, but most GOP voters say there is a chance they would vote for either of the front-running candidates, according to a new Pew Research Center poll released on Tuesday afternoon.
Gingrich leads Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, 35 percent to 21 percent, according to the poll. No other candidate is in double digits. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, is a distant third at 8 percent. Paul is followed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who are each at 5 percent. Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., is at 3 percent, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is at 2 percent.
Gingrich runs best among male GOP primary voters, leading Romney by a wider, 21-point margin. Gingrich's margin among women is smaller, at just 7 points.
Gingrich runs nearly as well among those GOP voters who say they either disagree with the tea party or have no opinion as he does among those who agree with the tea party: He leads Romney by 15 points among tea partiers, and 12 points among non-tea partiers.
Regionally, Gingrich runs stronger in the South, where he leads Romney by 25 points. In the East and Midwest, he leads by 15 points, while Romney has a slight, 3-point lead in the West. None of the first four states to hold caucuses or primaries -- Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, or Florida -- is a western state.
Despite Gingrich's significant lead over Romney, the race remains fluid. Just 34 percent of all registered Republicans or Republican-leaning independents who expressed a candidate preference -- regardless of how likely they are to vote -- said they strongly supported their candidate, including 29 percent of Gingrich supporters and 33 percent of Romney supporters.
And Republicans remain open to either candidate: Only 20 percent of registered Republicans and Republican-leaners say there is no chance they would vote for Gingrich in their state's primary or caucus. Just 26 percent say there is no chance they would support Romney.
On the other hand, 46 percent say there is no chance they would support Perry or Santorum, while separate, 51-percent majorities say they wouldn't support Paul, Bachmann, or Huntsman.
The Pew Research Center poll was conducted Dec. 7-11, surveying 504 registered Republicans or Republican-leaning independents. The margin of error is +/- 4.4 percent. The subsample of those very likely to vote in their state's primary or caucus -- for the GOP horse-race matchup -- consists of 392 Republicans, for a slightly higher margin of error of +/- 4.9 percent.