Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich blasts to the top of the 2012 GOP field in the latest national poll released by Quinnipiac University. He topped the Republican presidential primary field with 26 percent support, followed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney with 22 percent and a lagging Herman Cain with 14 percent. All other GOP candidates polled in the single digits.
Gingrich garnered only 10 percent support from Republican voters in similar polling at the beginning of November. In that poll, businessman Herman Cain topped the field with 30 percent, but his support has deteriorated in the face of sexual harassment allegations and fumbling responses to foreign policy questions. Romney's support has remained consistent.
"We're kind of where we've been before--there's a conservative challenger challenging Mr. Romney, who has kind of been the de facto front-runner since this began," said Peter Brown, assistant director at the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, during a press conference at the National Press Club. "The only thing that's changed is the identity of the candidate who is challenging Mr. Romney."
Brown says Republicans' opinion of Gingrich differs from that of previously popular GOP candidates--such as Rep. Michele Bachmann, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and Cain--in that voters respect his experience compared to Romney.
"When we ask Republicans who has the knowledge and experience to be president, [Gingrich] leads by a large margin over the other candidates," said Brown. "He also gets the edge in foreign policy. His weakness is in personal characteristics. He's somewhere near the bottom in that."
In a head-to-head match-up with all voters, Romney still performs the best against President Obama, according to the poll. The two men are in a statistical tie, with Obama receiving 45 percent support and Romney 44 percent. In a race against Gingrich, Obama leads 49 percent to 40 percent.
And despite the fact that more Republicans said they prefer Gingrich to Romney, 38 percent said Romney has a better chance to defeat Obama compared to just 23 percent who said Gingrich does. Most Republicans also said Romney is more likely to be the GOP nominee than Gingrich, 52 percent to 19 percent.
The latest poll by the Connecticut-based school was conducted between November 14 and 20 and surveyed 2,552 registered voters, including 1,039 Republican primary voters. The overall margin of error is plus or minus about 2 percent and about 3 percent on questions including just Republicans.
Brown says there is no way to be sure if Gingrich has the staying power to win the nomination.
"Just as the media did a fairly comprehensive job on Herman Cain's background about the time he became a leader in the polls, one would expect there would be similar kinds of stories about Mr. Gingrich and we'll see whether they have an effect or not," Brown said. He added that Romney has far more money and organization than any of his rivals, which are keys to winning in the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida.
Other recent national polls have shown Gingrich winning a majority of support from Republicans. A recent Suffolk University/7NEWS poll of likely New Hampshire GOP primary voters showed solid support for Romney at 41 percent, with Gingrich inching up to 14 percent support, enough to tie for second place with Texas Rep. Ron Paul.