A Gingrich Exit Would Change Little

New poll shows Gingrich supporters equally divided between Santorum and Romney

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A growing crowd of conservatives, including heavyweights like National Review Editor Rich Lowry, have called for former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich to drop out of the Republican presidential race.

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But it looks as if that wouldn't change much.

According to a new Gallup poll, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's modest lead over former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum would barely shift if Newt Gingrich were to leave the race. With Gingrich in the race, Romney has the support of 34 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independent registered voters, giving him a six-point lead over Santorum. Without Gingrich, that lead is still only seven points wide, with Romney at 40 percent to Santorum's 33 percent.

A Gingrich exit would also barely affect Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who would only gain two percentage points of support, from 11 to 13 percent, the poll says.

The results buck conventional wisdom that Gingrich and Santorum are competing for the same "conservative" voters, whereas Romney occupies a more moderate space.

[U.S. News Debate Club: Should Newt Gingrich Drop Out?]

According to the Gallup data, that's not exactly the case. Gingrich supporters are equally divided between which frontrunner they would choose as their second choice, with 40 percent saying Romney is their second choice, and 39 percent tabbing Santorum as their runner-up.

In addition, as Gallup points out, Romney and Santorum tie for the lead among "conservative" Republicans, with 33 percent each, while Gingrich has 16 percent of those Republicans' support.

Among "very conservative" voters, Gingrich and Romney are nearly tied, at 21 and 19 percent support respectively, but Santorum has the clear lead, with 45 percent. This goes a long way toward explaining why Santorum would not benefit substantially from a Gingrich exit, says a release accompanying the Gallup poll.

"The most conservative voters already support Santorum to a large degree, and Gingrich's appeal to this group is not substantially greater than Romney's," the release says.

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The figures appear to spell trouble for Santorum. Instead of simply profiting off of a declining Gingrich campaign, Santorum "would also likely need to cut into Romney's current base of support to gain ground on the frontrunner," notes Gallup.

Then again, this poll is hypothetical, and it may remain that way. When CBS This Morning's Charlie Rose asked Gingrich on Friday under what circumstances he would end his campaign before the Republican convention, Gingrich responded, "Probably none."

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