Who is Newt Gingrich’s base? In surging to the top in the race for the Republican nomination, recent polls find Newt Gingrich has built a coalition of three high-turnout groups: older Republicans, tea party supporters and conservatives.

Overall, Gingrich has tripled his support from 8 to 24 percent in CNN polls of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents conducted in October and November. His support grew most sharply among Republicans ages 65 and older, from 12 to 45 percent. He has leapfrogged Mitt Romney (24 percent) among this group and now leads by 21 points.

Tea party supporters swung strongly to Gingrich, from 11 percent in October to 31 percent in November, while Romney held steady at 19 percent. Conservatives show an identical swing, from 10 to 30 percent, in CNN polls from October to November.

On top of powering his rise, Gingrich’s base groups are some of the most likely to actually show up and vote in GOP primaries. Media exit polls in 2008 showed conservatives making up a majority of  Republican primary or caucus voters in states that hold the first contests in 2012 (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida), including 88 percent of Iowa Caucus participants. Seniors made up about a quarter of voters in South Carolina and Iowa and a third of voters in the Florida primary.

Tea party supporters accounted for two in three Republican voters in the 2010 midterm elections. And while the movement has lost support since then, tea partiers continue to make up a substantial and highly engaged segment of the Republican electorate.

Tea party districts sour on tea party – The tea party movement has become markedly less popular in the same districts that sent tea party officeholders to Washington, according to a unique analysis of national polling by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press released Tuesday. Almost as many Americans who live in tea party congressional districts now disagree as agree with the movement (25 percent agree, 23 percent disagree), a rapid shift from one year ago, when adults in these districts supported the movement by nearly two-to-one (33 percent agree, 18 percent disagree)

The change presents an electoral challenge for tea party representatives up for reelection in 2012. Tea party supporters made up 41 percent of voters according to exit polls, overwhelmingly backing GOP candidates. Pew finds the GOP itself has taken a hit in tea party districts, with favorable ratings of the Republican Party falling from a high of 55 percent in March to 41 percent in October, now similar to ratings of Democrats. 

Week in Obama approval – President Obama’s approval ratings were steady in the low-to-mid 40s in Gallup daily tracking polls through the Thanksgiving weekend, with 43 percent approving and 49 percent disapproving in the latest poll through Monday. Obama has held on to modest approval gains after sinking to 40 percent or lower on 12 occasions in early to mid-October.

Pets visit doc almost as much as humans – Eight in 10 pet owners took their animals to a vet in the past year, according to an Associated Press-Petside poll released Tuesday. What about humans? Slightly more, 83 percent of adults in a 2008 Kaiser Foundation poll (pdf) reported seeing a doctor in the past 12 months. The similarities end there, though. While pet owners report spending about $500 per year at the vet, federal government estimates put the 2009 health-care bill for Americans at about $8,000.  

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