Three weeks before the first contest in the GOP primary race, most Republican voters have yet to fully commit to any one candidate, including front-runners Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. Still, many have ruled out second-tier contenders, making another seismic shift in a tumultuous race less likely. Christmas has come early for poll watchers, with new national polls from NBC/Wall Street Journal, the Pew Research Center, Associated Press/GfK and Reuters/Ipsos. Here are their top findings:
1. No thanks — While about two-thirds of those who back Gingrich or Romney say they support their top pick only “moderately,” more than four in 10 likely primary voters say there’s no chance they’ll vote for Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry or Rick Santorum. This from the Pew Research Center poll released Tuesday. By contrast, fewer than three in 10 rule out Romney or Gingrich.
The poll echoes a Gallup poll released last week showing that besides Gingrich and Romney, other candidates are seen as “not acceptable” to majorities of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents.
2. Gingrich=conservative; and Romney? — A 57 percent majority of likely GOP voters in the new NBC/WSJ poll released Tuesday said Gingrich is “conservative” in his general approach to issues, while 29 percent said so about Romney; 48 percent see Ron Paul as conservative. A contemporaneous AP/Gfk poll found a different result, with a majority of all Republicans and GOP-leaning independents calling both Gingrich and Romney conservatives.
Earning a reputation as a conservative is a critical “is he like me” threshold for Republican candidates. Need proof? Take a look at the Post’s Republican Primary tracker, which shows conservatives dominating early primary contests in 2008 and making up a whopping 88 percent of Iowa caucus-goers and 69 percent of primary voters in South Carolina, according to exit polls.
Need more proof? Romney took the issue head on Tuesday, calling Gingrich an “unreliable conservative” in an exclusive interview with The Washington Post.
3. Romney has lost electability advantage — A November Washington Post-ABC News poll found Romney leading the GOP field on just one attribute: electability. But Gingrich edges Romney by 35 to 28 percent among primary voters on having the best chance to defeat Obama in a general election in the latest Pew poll. Similar numbers of all Republicans and GOP-leaning independents in the latest AP/GfK poll say Gingrich and Romney would be strong challengers in the general election against Obama. Recent polls show Romney is more competitive with President Obama than Gingrich in a general election match-up.
Reality check: Most voters have already decided on 2012 — More than seven in 10 admit they’re almost certain on how they’ll vote in the 2012 presidential election. Some 34 percent of registered voters say they’re about certain to vote for Obama, while 37 percent say they’ll definitely vote against him, according to the latest NBC/WSJ poll. Fewer than three in 10 (27 percent) say they could vote either way depending on the Republican nominee.
The results may be unsurprising to some, given that Americans who identify as Republican or Democrat overwhelmingly back their party’s candidate in presidential contests. Nevertheless, it’s another reminder that even before candidates deliver countless speeches and produce polished campaign ads, many voters are closed to being convinced one way or the other.