Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is the fourth GOP Presidential candidate to lead a national poll over the last three months, which naturally causes skepticism about how long the Newt surge can last. But here’s something Gingrich has done that other GOP flavors of the month haven’t: he’s nearly matched former Mass Gov. Mitt Romney in a poll of the New Hampshire GOP primary.
Romney has long enjoyed a huge lead in the state, which abuts the commonwealth he used to govern in Massachusetts. He’s essentially been hovering over forty percent in a crowded GOP field, which showed how solid his support was in the state. But apparently the idea of Gingrich is causing a few Republicans to change their minds, according to a new survey from GOP pollster Magellan Strategies conducted for the New Hampshire Journal.
Romney clings to a small two point lead in the new survey, coming in at the top with 29 percent of the Republican electorate. Gingrich is second with 27 percent, making it a statistical tie for the lead, with Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) third at 16 and businessman Herman Cain fourth with ten.
One of the most unbelievable shifts for Gingrich is his favorability rating among New Hampshire Republicans. In August, Magellan’s polling showed that Gingrich was one of the most disliked candidates among the party faithful, with only 29 percent having a favorable view of him versus 60 percent with a negative one. That perception has completely flipped three months later. The former Speaker is now liked by 59 percent of the New Hampshire GOPers polled, versus only 31 percent who retain the negative perspective.
The survey asked the whole Republican sample why they think that Gingrich is moving up in the polls, and a near majority selected his “depth and knowledge of the issues,” as the key reason. That far outpaced his debate performances and his past experience as Speaker, which both came in at ten percent.
The Journal, however, urged caution on a Gingrich breakout. Yes, he’s doing well, but they also said the new results point more to a two man race, not a replacement of Romney.
A close look at the data shows Gingrich is actually leading Romney among certain important subgroups of the electorate. Among self-identified conservative voters, Gingrich beats Romney 34%-27%. Among self-identified tea party voters, he leads Romney 38%-21%.
However, Romney has a wide lead over Gingrich among undeclared voters, who give the former Massachusetts Governor 29% over Paul’s 19% and Gingrich’s 18%. There is also a significant gender gap for both Romney and Gingrich. Romney beats Gingrich 33%-22% among women while Gingrich defeats Romney 32%-24% among men.
The tightening of the race should not be understood as a rejection of Romney, however. He remains the most popular candidate in the field with a public image that is 60% favorable and 32% unfavorable. Gingrich is close with 59% saying they have a favorable view of him while 31% have an unfavorable view. Romney is also considered to have a political organization in New Hampshire that is vastly superior to the other candidates.
The Magellan poll used 746 automated interviews with New Hampshire Republicans conducted November 15th and 16th. It has a sampling error of 3.59 percent.
Kyle is the Editor of TPM Media’s PollTracker. He graduated from Beloit College (WI) and began working in politics before getting an M.A. in magazine journalism from New York University, where he interned at TPM and the website of The New Yorker.