Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is maintaining his commanding position atop the field of Republican candidates for president in the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire, according to a new poll published in Christmas Day editions of the Boston Globe.
Romney leads with the support of 39 percent of likely GOP primary voters in his adopted home state, according to the poll, conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, are tied for second place, each at 17 percent. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman runs fourth with 11 percent, breaking double-digits in the UNH poll for the first time.
The drop-off from the top four candidates in the poll is steep: Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., is fifth, at three percent, and all the other candidates combined -- Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer -- account for four percent of the vote.
Romney's share of the vote is down slightly from a UNH poll in mid-November, when he led with 42 percent. Gingrich has ticked up two points over that time, while Paul has jumped five percentage points since last month. Huntsman has improved his standing over the previous poll by three points.
The poll shows Romney enjoys a broad base of support in the state. Compared to Iowa, fewer likely New Hampshire primary voters identify as tea party supporters, and those that do are more accepting of Romney than their Hawkeye State counterparts. Among those voters who say they support or are active in the tea party, Romney has a wide lead, enjoying a 44 percent to 24 percent advantage over Gingrich. About half of likely primary voters describe themselves as neither supporting nor opposing the tea party; Romney leads among this group by more than 20 percentage points.
Among the less than 20 percent of likely primary voters who say they oppose the tea party, Huntsman (28 percent), Paul (26 percent) and Romney (25 percent) enjoy roughly equal amounts of support.
Romney runs strong among all age groups, surpassing 35 percent across the board. His strongest challenger among younger voters is Paul, who captures 24 percent of the vote among those under age 35. Gingrich, on the other hand, is Romney's strongest rival among seniors, with 18 percent of the vote among those 65 and older, though he still trails Romney by 26 points among that group.
The primary field remains fairly fluid: 46 percent of likely primary voters say they are still trying to make up their minds, while 26 percent say they have definitely decided for whom they will vote, and 28 percent say they are leaning towards one candidate.
As in other polls, Paul supporters describe themselves as more fervent and less likely to change their vote than supporters of other candidates: 39 percent say they have definitely decided to vote for the iconoclastic congressman. Thirty percent of Romney supporters are committed to voting for him, but 36 percent say they are still trying to decide.
A Gingrich collapse leading up to the Jan. 10 New Hampshire primary is likely to benefit Romney, according to the poll. A majority of Gingrich supporters, 56 percent, say Romney would be their second choice.
Fully two-thirds of likely primary voters say they expect Romney to win the state's nominating contest, compared to just 15 percent who predict Gingrich will win. But a lot can change in two-and-a-half weeks: In a UNH poll at this point in late 2007, Romney had a three-point lead over Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the eventual winner. UNH will conduct another poll between the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary a week later, National Journal has learned.
The Boston Globe/UNH poll was conducted Dec. 12-19, surveying 543 likely Republican primary voters. The margin of error is +/- 4.2 percent.