Yesterday’s Gallup tracking poll shows that Newt Gingrich has closed to within five points of Mitt Romney on the national level, with Romney at 30 and Gingrich at 25 points.
And guess what: Gallup’s new tracking numbers, due out at 1 p.m. today, will show the race tighter still, according to Gallup chief Frank Newport.
“What’s coming out at one o’clock will show the race continuing to tighten,” Newport said by phone just now. “Romney is losing support and Gingrich is gaining support.”
That would seem to suggest that the race will almost be tied as of this afternoon.
There’s been some debate as to the importance of national polls, given that the contest is playing out state by state, but Newport says the national data is important in order to understand the broader shifts in public opinion that the candidates’ messages are producing.
“The national number is the stage that this is being played out on,” he says. “A huge majority of Republicans have not yet voted in a caucus or primary.” The national findings, Newport says, are “almost like a jury in a trial.”
What’s more, the national numbers will be particularly interesting to track as a sign of whether Romney’s new scorched earth approach is working. Romney’s team is vowing to attack Gingrich hard on multiple fronts, and the new ad Romney’s campaign just rolled out is very rough stuff. The retooled Romney is also expected to go hard at Gingrich in new ways at the two debates this week, which will be getting national attention.
It’s worth remembering that Gingrich held a national lead before, only to see it collapse. And it’s very possible, of course, that Romney will still remain the favorite even after a Florida loss, given his various built in advantages (money, endorsements, organization, and the more obvious qualities that would seem to make him a better general election candidate than Ginrich).
Still, it’ll be interesting to see if the national numbers over the next few days and weeks show a serious worsening of the current dynamic, in which skepticism of Romney on multiple levels appears to be setting in pretty deeply among core GOP constituencies. It seems this is going to be a very wild ride.
UPDATE: The new tracking numbers are in: Romney 29; Gingrich 28.
UPDATE II: Philip Klein points out that today’s numbers only reflect one day of post-South Carolina polling.