Mitt Romney Surges In National Polls

Republicans are rallying behind their eventual nominee.

In the week since the New Hampshire primary, something interesting has been happening in the national polls. While South Carolina still seems to be tight, and much will depend on the outcome of the debate tonight and the one on Thursday night, Mitt Romney is pulling way ahead of the rest of the field on the national level. Just out this morning, for example, is the new national poll from Fox News Channel which puts Romney at 40% among Republicans for the first time:

While far more Republican primary voters view Rick Santorum as the true conservative, Mitt Romney has become the clear leader in the race for the GOP nomination, according to a just-released Fox News poll.

After Iowa and New Hampshire wins, Romney now garners the highest level of support from GOP primary voters nationally achieved by any candidate so far. And support for Santorum has nearly quadrupled in the last month, putting him firmly in the second tier with Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.

Romney has the backing of 40 percent of Republican primary voters. He’s followed by Santorum at 15 percent, Gingrich at 14 percent and Paul at 13 percent. Rick Perry captures 6 percent and Jon Huntsman 5 percent.

Romney’s support is up 17 percentage points since last month’s Fox poll. Gingrich — who led last month — has dropped by 22 points.

Among voters who are part of the Tea Party movement, Romney (30 percent) leads Santorum (21 percent) and Gingrich (18 percent). White evangelical voters give the edge to Romney over Santorum — 32 to 23 percent.

Twenty-nine percent of primary voters say Santorum is the candidate best described as a true conservative. That’s nearly twice as many as pick Romney (15 percent), Gingrich (14 percent) or Paul (13 percent).

Still, another trait is more important to GOP primary voters — electability. Fully 80 percent say it is “very” important their nominee can beat Barack Obama, compared with 42 percent who give the same weight to being a true conservative.

And by a wide margin Romney is seen as the one with the best chance of beating Obama: 63 percent say he’s the candidate most likely to do it. That’s seven times as many as say Gingrich (9 percent).

The ability to win in November also tops other candidate considerations such as having a business background (56 percent “very” important), and agreeing with the nominee on major issues (47 percent “very” important).

Republican primary voters have mixed views over which kind of candidate would be more likely to beat Obama: 49 percent think a more moderate Republican who will appeal to independents, while 43 percent think a more conservative Republican who will provide the sharpest contrast with Obama.

No other candidate comes close to matching the former Massachusetts governor when primary voters are asked who is most qualified to manage the economy. Forty-four percent say Romney, while 17 percent say Gingrich. Another 10 percent say Paul and 8 percent say Santorum.

Lest you think the Fox poll is an anomaly, take note that the latest Gallup Daily Tracking Poll numbers have Romney at 37%, with Santorum at 14 percent, Gingrich at 13 percent, Paul at 12 percent, Perry at 5 percent and Huntsman at 3 percent.  And, most significantly, all the national polls taken since last week — including CNN and Reuters/Ipsos — show Romney at or above 30% with no candidate within 10 percentage points of him.

The RealClearPolitics chart shows the Romney spike quite clearly:

There are a number of factors at play here. First of all, there’s the only saying that nothing succeeds like success. Mitt Romney has won the first two contests in this race, one of them quite decisively, and he stands poised to win the next two as well. His fundraising numbers are leaving his competitors in the dust. And, as one commentator said after his victory speech last Tuesday, he’s starting to look like a Presidential candidate. His opponents meanwhile are mostly fighting among themselves even as they try to attack him for that most evil of Republican sins, being a successful businessman. All of this is likely combining to cause people to jump on what looks like the winning team.

Additionally, it does appear that conservatives are beginning, perhaps still reluctantly, to accept the fact that Mitt Romney is going to be the Republican nominee for President. Even if he were to stumble in South Carolina, he is the only candidate capable of competing in Florida and beyond. More importantly, as the Fox poll shows, the Republican selectorate is (finally) starting to turn its attention to the question of electability, and on that score Romney is winning hands down. In fact, its been true for months now that when pollsters have asked Republicans who they believed had the best chance of beating Obama in the fall. Mitt Romney has been at the top of that poll result consistently even amidst the spikes in support experienced by Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum. The problem Romney had was that, for a long time, respondents were telling pollsters that electability wasn’t necessarily their top priority. Now, that appears to be changing, and Romney seems to be benefiting from it.

We saw something similar happening in the Republican race four years ago:

This is a picture of the race after only two contests — Iowa and New Hampshire — and just days before the Michigan primary and Nevada Caucuses (which Mitt Romney both won) and the South Carolina primary (which McCain won). Just two weeks after this snapshot, McCain also decisively won Florida and the beginning of the end of the race played out rather quickly as Mitt Romney dropped out, leaving McCain to compete with Mike Hucakbee and Ron Paul which really wasn’t any competition at all. This appears to be what’s happening now. Romney’s surge is unstoppable, at least by anyone left in the field at this point. If he wins South Carolina decisively, the logic for any of these candidates staying in the race becomes thin indeed. If he wins Florida, which seems certain at the moment, the race will be over. For all the sturm und drang of the summer and fall, for all the column inches that have been written about new delegate allocation rules, late entrants into the race, and brokered conventions, the 2012 Republican race will end up having been just as conventional as pretty much every other contested GOP race since 1980. Nobody should be surprised.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. I for one welcome our new Massachusetts leader.

    (If he wins it sure will be a spin o’ the wheel where he ends up. He could be as bad as GWB, or he could do some Nixon to China rapprochement with the Democrats.)

  2. MBunge says:

    Ah, it’s nice to be reminded that human beings really never do learn anything. It was only 2004 when one of our major parties nominated someone for President based almost entirely on “electibility”. I’ll be surprised if history doesn’t repeat itself.


  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    even as they try to attack him for that most evil of Republican sins, being a successful businessman pillager.

    Fixed that for you Doug.


  4. PD Shaw says:

    Nice comparison to the 2008 race; I’ve been wondering why people think Romney has some particular or unusual weakness when this race doesn’t seem that unusual to me, except for the boom/bust cycle of his opponents, which probably says more about them than Romney.

    Some comparisons:

    Santorum appears to be underperforming Huckabee for that segment of the vote. Either that segment is not as strong as in years past or Santorum is not as good as Huckabee.

    Paul appears to be performing the role Thompson played last time, somewhat helping the eventual winner gain the nomination.

    Perry reminds of Giuliana, except that Perry’s miscues have doomed him to a more rapid demise. But both appear to be good candidates on paper, but weak in creating a national campaign, and ultimately shown to be provincial candidates.

  5. Jeremy says:

    I’m kinda surprised that Ghouliani was so high in the polls for so long. [shudders]

  6. Tsar Nicholas says:

    It also has to be mentioned that this was a very weak field. Once Perry imploded Romney had no serious competition whatsoever.

    Santorum last won an election while Clinton still was president, and the most recent time that Santorum appeared on a ballot he was blown out of the water by a ridiculous margin. Gingrich is a farce of a candidate who was running to increase his appearance and book tour fees. Paul is a farce of a candidate and most of Paul’s supporters are too immature to walk into a Hertz and rent a car. Bachmann couldn’t win a national election unopposed. Cain was a parody of an empty suit. Huntsman didn’t have any ground game, was completely dependent on his father for campaign funds, and jumped into the contest by inexplicably making social issues a major set of talking points and further compounding that mistake by taking left-wing stances.

    Romney won this thing by default.

    That said, ironically enough, Romney always has been a better general election candidate than a GOP primary candidate. Obama’s clearly the favorite, but Romney is quite likely to make this a real horserace.

  7. An Interested Party says:

    That said, ironically enough, Romney always has been a better general election candidate than a GOP primary candidate. Obama’s clearly the favorite, but Romney is quite likely to make this a real horserace.

    And yet, so far during the primary campaign, Romney has said the most ridiculous things to appeal to the GOP base, but once the general election campaign starts, he will have to moderate what he says to appeal to independents…not that others in this position haven’t had to do the same thing, but for Multiple Choice Mitt, this will only enforce one of the biggest criticisms about him…