Romney Expands National GOP Lead

Romney Expands National GOP Lead

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Now leads Santorum by double digits

PRINCETON, NJ -- Mitt Romney's national support among Republican voters has surged in recent days, coincident with his decisive victory in the Illinois primary and a prominent endorsement from Jeb Bush. Romney's support has increased to 40%, the first time a candidate has reached that level in this campaign, and his lead over Rick Santorum is back into double digits after narrowing to four percentage points on March 20.

Preferences for Republican Presidential Nominee, March 2012

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The data are based on Gallup Daily tracking from March 18-22, an eventful time in the GOP campaign. On March 20, Romney won the Illinois primary, and he got Bush's endorsement the next day. That same day, a Romney aide hinted the former Massachusetts governor would "reset" his positions for the general election campaign in the same manner a child would shake an "Etch-a-Sketch" toy to clear it, which again raised concerns about Romney's issue consistency.

Romney's current positioning could also be affected by the results of Saturday's Louisiana primary, with polls showing Santorum leading there.

Romney's surge this week is notable because of his new high point in support. Prior to this week, his high was 38%, first reached in Feb. 29-March 4 polling after his wins in the crucial Michigan and Arizona primaries. Santorum's highest level of support to date was 36% in mid-February after his sweep of the Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri contests on Feb. 7. Gingrich reached as high as 37% in early December, likely because of his well-regarded debate performance and Herman Cain's departure from the campaign.

Although Romney's support is his highest to date, his current 14-point lead is not his largest. He led by 23 points in mid-January after winning the New Hampshire primary. That lead, as well as another lead he held in late January and early February, eventually disappeared. However, Romney has now held at least a slim numerical advantage over his competitors in Gallup Daily tracking since late February.

Mitt Romney's Lead or Deficit in National GOP Preferences, Gallup Daily Tracking, December 2011-March 2012

Implications

Many political experts predicted Romney would most likely win the Republican nomination once the field of candidates came into shape last year. However, to date he has yet to sustain a double-digit lead for more than a few weeks. In prior Republican presidential nomination contests, one candidate usually led by a wide margin through most, if not all, of the campaign.

In early January and again in early February, Romney moved into large leads over his competitors and it looked like he might have been taking control of the race, only to see Republicans' preferences shift after the results of key primaries or caucuses, such as Gingrich's win in South Carolina and Santorum's Feb. 7 victories.

Romney continues to hold a sizable lead in convention delegates, and even as he has suffered defeats in more recent contests such as Alabama and Mississippi, he has managed to hold on to a slim lead over his rivals in rank-and-file Republicans' preferences. Now, with a more substantial lead in preferences, the coming days will reveal whether Republicans finally coalesce around Romney as their preferred nominee, or whether the campaign takes another turn and weakens his front-runner status.

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Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of Gallup Daily tracking March 18-22, 2012, with a random sample of 1,157 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, who are registered to vote.

For results based on the total sample of Republican registered voters, 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 by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone 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 2011 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.

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 www.gallup.com.

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