Romney Competitive With Top GOP Rivals Among Conservatives

by Lydia Saad, Senior Gallup Poll Editor

Enjoys clear lead in the East and West and slight edge among older Republicans

PRINCETON, NJ -- Gallup's most recent update of Republican preferences for the 2012 presidential nomination, conducted prior to this week's candidate debate in New Hampshire, finds that, among conservatives, Mitt Romney is tied with Rick Perry at 18%, though both candidates slightly trail Herman Cain, at 23%. Additionally, Romney enjoys a sizable lead over both of his chief rivals among the smaller bloc of moderate/liberal Republicans.

2012 GOP Presidential Nomination Preferences, by Ideology

The picture is similar on the basis of Republicans' association with the Tea Party movement, although Cain's edge with Tea Party supporters is greater than his edge with conservatives. Cain leads the race among Republicans who describe themselves as supporters of the Tea Party movement, favored by 27%, while Romney (with 17%) is nearly tied among Tea Party Republicans with Perry (18%) for second. Romney is the clear front-runner among Republicans who are not supporters of the Tea Party (either calling themselves opponents or neutral), earning 26% of the vote to Perry's 13% and Cain's 8%.

These findings, from Gallup Daily tracking of Republicans' presidential preferences from Oct. 3-7, represent a marked change from mid-September when Perry led Romney among conservatives, 38% to 21%, though Romney still led among moderate/liberal Republicans with 30% to Perry's 18%. That was at a time when Perry led Romney among all Republicans by 31% to 24%, and before Cain surged in the polls.

Overall, the latest polling shows Romney roughly tied with Cain for front-runner status among all Republicans and those who lean Republican, with Perry coming in third.

Romney Leads on the Coasts and Among Older Republicans and Republican Leaners

With four GOP debates currently scheduled between now and December, more shuffling of the candidates' standings could still occur. Looking ahead to the primary elections, which start in January, Romney may benefit from his relatively strong support in the East and West, as these are home to some of the most delegate-rich states, including New York, Pennsylvania, and California. Three other big delegate states -- Texas, Florida, and Georgia -- are in the South, but no single candidate has a strong lead there, even though both Perry and Cain hail from Southern states. That is a shift from recent months when Perry was the strongest candidate in the South.

Romney is favored by 32% of Republicans in the East, more than twice the percentage supporting his next closest competitor in this region -- Cain at 15%. Romney has a somewhat less pronounced advantage over Cain in the West, 22% vs. 16%. Cain and Perry roughly tie for the lead in the South with Romney not far behind, while Romney is about equally matched with the two men in the Midwest.

2012 GOP Presidential Nomination Preferences, by Region

Romney enjoys slightly higher support among older Republicans than among younger and middle-aged Republicans, a pattern that could benefit him in the primaries next year if it holds, given older Americans' greater propensity to vote. Notably, Ron Paul's strength is with younger Republicans and Republican leaners, even though Paul himself, at age 76, is the oldest candidate in the GOP race.

2012 GOP Presidential Nomination Preferences, by Age

Romney Leads With the Business-Minded, Cain With the Government-Minded

The Oct. 3-7 poll also updated a question asking respondents to say which of four sets of issues is most important to them in politics: social issues and moral values, government spending and power, business and the economy, or national security and foreign policy. As has been the case all year, most Republicans choose one of the two economic-oriented issues, while 16% name social/moral issues and 11% national security/foreign policy.

There is some differentiation in nomination preferences according to Republicans' issue-orientation. Republicans who are most concerned about business and the economy favor Romney by a 12-percentage-point lead over Cain, 28% vs. 16%. Those focused on government spending and power lean nearly as strongly in favor of Cain over Romney, 24% vs. 16%. Those citing social issues and moral values split about equally for Perry (19%) vs. Cain (15%), Paul (14%), and Romney (15%). And those who select national security and foreign policy are closely divided between Romney (18%) and Perry (17%).

2012 GOP Presidential Nomination Preferences, by Issue of Top Importance

Bottom Line

Gallup polling suggests that, among the three leading Republican candidates for the Republican nomination, Romney has the biggest crossover appeal between the right- and left-leaning wings of the party. Romney's 18% support from conservatives matches Perry's and comes close to Cain's 23%. At the same time, his 25% support from moderate/liberal Republicans far outpaces Perry's 12% and Cain's 9%.

Romney's current tie for front-runner status may stem, in part, from the fact that so many candidates in the field brand themselves as solid conservatives, thus splintering the conservative vote. If more of the bottom-tier conservative candidates drop out, or otherwise wash out of the race, it will be interesting -- and crucial to Romney's chances of winning the nomination -- to see if their votes go disproportionately to Romney or to his remaining competitors.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of Gallup Daily tracking Oct. 3-7, 2011, with a random sample of 1,064 Republicans and independents who lean Republican, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of Republicans and Republican leaners, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phones numbers are selected using random digit dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone-only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

The questions reported here were asked of a random half-sample of respondents for five nights on the Gallup Daily tracking survey.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit http://www.gallup.com/.

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