A new Public Policy Polling survey (Dec. 11-13; 555 likely Iowa Republican Caucus attenders) shows Texas Rep. Ron Paul pulling to within one point of present campaign leader Newt Gingrich, 21-22 percent. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney places third, tallying 16 percent, followed by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6) at 11 percent, while Texas Gov. Rick Perry trails with 9 percent.
The results show an eight-point swing in Paul’s favor since PPP’s Dec. 3-5 poll. In that study, Gingrich scored 27 percent and Paul 18 percent, while Romney remained steady at 16 percent.
The current poll respondents are more informed and politically active than those in an average sampling cell. Fifty-two percent of the group members watched last Saturday night’s televised debate held in Des Moines. A full 15 percent of those polled said that they have personally seen more than one candidate give a speech. And, by a margin of 67-20 percent, the sample cell believes it is very or somewhat important that a candidate has spent “a lot of time” in Iowa.
Though the candidate preference question has tightened, the respondents’ perception regarding which contender has the best chance of defeating President Obama hasn’t changed much. Here, it is former House Speaker Gingrich who is perceived to be in the best political position for the general election. A full 30 percent say he is strongest. Twenty-one percent believe Mr. Romney has the best chance of unseating the President, while only 14 percent say the same about Rep. Paul. Following this question was one that clarified the respondents’ perspective: by a margin of 56-32 percent they say the candidates’ issue positions matter more than their ability to win the 2012 general election.
Since 40 percent of this polling sample said they could eventually support someone other than the person they named in this survey, a second-choice question was asked. There, the leading candidates basically fought to a draw. Gingrich is the second choice of 14 percent of those polled, Romney 13 percent, Paul 12 percent, Bachmann 11 percent and Perry 10 percent. In answering the question about who they believe will actually win the Republican presidential nomination, again Gingrich is the top choice. Twenty-six percent of the respondents named him, Romney polled 21 percent, and Paul 12 percent. All others were in single-digits.
Like the Caucus goers as a whole, this polling sample is comprised of very conservative voters. Seventy-seven percent of those surveyed consider themselves to be very (42 percent) or somewhat (35 percent) conservative. Additionally, by a margin of 46-24 percent the participants believe there is a “war on Christmas.”
This poll, like so many others taken of the Iowa caucus electorate, again reveals the closeness and volatility of the current Republican presidential contest. As the candidates turn toward the home stretch in Iowa, it appears that a three-horse race is headed to a possible photo finish.
Iowans attend their Caucus meetings on Jan. 3, so it remains to be seen just how the race changes over the holiday period. With Christmas now just days away, the field could become politically frozen. If so, the campaign becomes a turnout game for Jan. 3. The Hawkeye State result will likely set the tone for the rest of the campaign.