Both Gingrich and Romney can point to their backgrounds as reasons Republicans should back them. More than six in 10 consider Gingrich’s political experience a major reason to support him, and more than seven in 10 say they approve of the work he did as House speaker in the 1990s.
But Gingrich’s experience as a private citizen since leaving Congress draws negative responses. His work as a consultant for Freddie Mac has come under blistering attack from his GOP rivals in recent debates and on Iowa airwaves.
By 44 percent to 33 percent, Republicans surveyed say they have an unfavorable view of the political work he has done since leaving office. About three in 10 of his supporters have negative views of his activity since leaving the speaker’s office, and among GOP-leaning independents, 53 percent say they view that work unfavorably.
Gingrich has responded by saying that he has never lobbied and that most of the money from Freddie Mac went toward overhead and other expenses, not to him directly. On Monday, his campaign began an advertising counteroffensive.
Although more Republicans think Gingrich has the best experience to be president, Romney’s work in the private sector and as governor of Massachusetts are viewed positively. More than six in 10 say his business experience is a big reason to support him; a majority have a favorable impression of the work he did buying, restructuring and selling companies while at Bain Capital; and more than two-thirds say they approve of the job he did as governor.
Not all about that record in Massachusetts is viewed positively, however. About 28 percent consider his policies on health care — he signed into law a coverage mandate for all Massachusetts residents — a major reason to support his candidacy. But 36 percent say it is a major reason to oppose him.
Gingrich’s critics have questioned whether he has the temperament to be president. Romney called him “extremely unreliable” in a Washington Post interview a week ago and “zany” in a New York Times interview the next day.
In the Post-ABC News poll, 61 percent say the former speaker has the right personality and temperament to be president — an 11-point increase since June and a shade under the 67 percent who say so about Romney.
The other candidates are struggling for national attention. Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) are at 7 percent in the poll, while former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.) and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr. are at 3 percent.
Most Republicans say Paul’s views on limited government are a major reason to support him, while many consider his opposition to U.S. military intervention a big reason to oppose his candidacy. Nearly two-thirds say they can rely on Paul to say what he really believes — more than say so about Gingrich or Romney — but a slim majority says he lacks the personality and temperament to be an effective president. Nearly half say that his policies as president probably would be unacceptable to most Americans.
Polling manager Peyton M. Craighill and polling analyst Scott Clement contributed to this report.