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PRINCETON, NJ -- Republicans are most likely to name Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich as their first choice for their party's 2012 presidential nomination, with Herman Cain close behind. Among all Republicans nationwide, Romney is the choice of 20% and Gingrich 19%. Among Republican registered voters, Gingrich is at 22% and Romney at 21%.
These results are based on a USA Today/Gallup poll of 1,062 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents conducted Nov. 13-17. Compared with the prior poll, conducted Nov. 3-6, Gingrich's support has increased from 12% to 19% among all Republicans. His support has gone up in each of the last three polls after bottoming out at 4% in August, and is now at his highest for the campaign to date.
Meanwhile, Cain, who has been dogged by allegations of sexual harassment, has seen his support dip slightly, from 21% to 16%. However, it remains well above the levels from earlier this year, which were generally in the single digits.
Rick Perry's support also slipped, to 8% in the latest poll, conducted after the two most recent candidate debates, including the Nov. 9 debate in which Perry failed to remember the names of all three cabinet departments he vowed to shut down if elected. Perry's support has declined in each of the last three updates after peaking at 29% in mid-August, shortly after he entered the race.
Romney, meanwhile, has been the leader or tied for the lead in nearly every poll conducted since May, when the Republican field largely came into shape.
Romney Appeals Equally to Conservatives, Moderates
Most of the candidates, including Romney, receive roughly equal support from conservative and moderate or liberal Republicans. Cain and, in particular, Gingrich, have greater appeal to conservative Republicans.
Overall, Gingrich has a slight edge over Romney and Cain among conservatives, while Romney has a wider margin over the others among moderates and liberals.
Older Republicans Lean Heavily to Gingrich, Romney
Republican presidential nominee preferences vary significantly by age. If the nomination were contested solely among senior citizens, it would be a two-man race between Gingrich (34%) and Romney (28%), with 6 in 10 Republicans aged 65 or older supporting one of those two candidates, and no other candidate above 8% in that age group.
In fact, Gingrich's support is heavily concentrated among Republicans who are at least 50, while his support is 4% among Republicans younger than 30. This pattern may reflect the fact that he has been out of public office for more than a decade, and thus a less familiar figure to younger Republicans. Cain and Ron Paul do much better among younger than among older Republicans, a consistent finding for Paul throughout the campaign. And while Romney is competitive with the leaders in every age group, his support tends to be greater among older Republicans.
Older Americans in general are more likely to vote in elections than younger Americans, suggesting that Gingrich's and Romney's greater support among older Republicans may translate better to actual voting than Cain's and Paul's among younger Republicans.
With the first official nominating contest, the Iowa caucuses, now just six weeks away, there is no clear national front-runner for the Republican nomination. Romney remains at the top of the list, along with Gingrich, whose campaign has mounted a comeback in recent weeks, and Cain. Gingrich's rise coincides with the recent declines of Perry and, to a lesser extent, Cain,
Typically, well before the Iowa caucuses, Republicans have anointed a dominant front-runner who wound up being the nominee. The major exception was in the last campaign, when Rudy Giuliani led national polls by a healthy margin for much of 2007 but was largely uncompetitive in the 2008 primaries and caucuses.
Thus, the current contest stands to be the most competitive and perhaps most unpredictable for the Republican nomination since 1972, when the parties shifted the power to choose their presidential nominees away from party leaders at the national convention to the rank-and-file voters in state primaries and caucuses.