In the most pronounced contrast between former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s position within the Republican primary contest and his standing in a matchup against President Obama, Gingrich has taken a commanding lead in a new national poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal. Newt gets 40 percent of the GOP vote nationally, the highest total for any candidate in the past few months. He’s currently 17 points above his main competitor, former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney.
But the data also shows that Gingrich is a much weaker candidate against President Obama nationally. While Romney is only bested by the President by two points within the poll, Gingrich is crushed 51 - 40, showing the expansive disconnect between the GOP voters’ desire to have a non-Romney candidate and the chances that candidate has in the general election.
“Why the difference between Gingrich and Romney? Look no further than their favorability ratings,” MSNBC wrote in their analysis of the poll. “Gingrich enjoys strong numbers among Republicans (46 percent positive vs. 21 percent negative), conservatives (42 percent positive vs. 23 percent negative) and Tea Party supporters (54 percent positive vs. 16 percent negative). In fact, they are higher than Romney’s numbers among these same three key Republican groups.”
But that’s as far as the Gingrich appeal goes, according to the data. “Gingrich struggles with other important voting blocs — like women (20 percent positive vs. 38 percent negative), independents (16 percent positive vs. 40 percent negative) and suburban residents (25 percent positive vs. 41 percent negative),” MSNBC continued. “By comparison, Romney fares better among women (22 percent positive vs. 31 percent negative), independents (21 percent positive vs. 29 percent negative) and suburban dwellers (29 percent positive vs. 30 percent negative).”
In all these cases Romney has a much larger set of “neutral” respondents than Gingrich, meaning his job would be to sway their feelings from apathetic to positive rather than from negative to positive.
The new national numbers come on the heels of fresh polling in Iowa that shows Newt isn’t the inevitable winner in the state. Gingrich has maintained a healthy lead in Iowa over the last few weeks, but the University of Iowa and Public Policy Polling (D) both released surveys that showed his lead waning, and in PPP’s case, Gingrich’s unfavorability rating rising.
The negatives are a problem in the NBC/WSJ poll as well. Fifty percent of general election voters in the poll say they will not vote for Gingrich, whereas the President and Mitt Romney have breathing space to go after a majority — 45 percent of voters say they wouldn’t consider voting for Obama and 44 percent say the same about Romney.
“Romney has work to do,” Bill McInturff, the GOP pollster who worked on the poll for NBC/WSJ, told MSNBC. “But Newt starts in a difficult position.”
The NBC/WSJ poll used 1,000 live telephone interviews with adults conducted from December 7th to the 11th, containing a sampling error of 3.1 percent. The general election matchups utilize a smaller sample of registered voters.
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.