Newt Gingrich's campaign is rapidly imploding, and Ron Paul has now taken the lead in Iowa. He's at 23% to 20% for Mitt Romney, 14% for Gingrich, 10% each for Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry, 4% for Jon Huntsman, and 2% for Gary Johnson.
Gingrich has now seen a big drop in his Iowa standing two weeks in a row. His share of the vote has gone from 27% to 22% to 14%. And there's been a large drop in his personal favorability numbers as well from +31 (62/31) to +12 (52/40) to now -1 (46/47). Negative ads over the last few weeks have really chipped away at Gingrich's image as being a strong conservative- now only 36% of voters believe that he has 'strong principles,' while 43% think he does not.
Paul's ascendancy is a sign that perhaps campaigns do matter at least a little, in a year where there has been a lot of discussion about whether they still do in Iowa. 22% of voters think he's run the best campaign in the state compared to only 8% for Gingrich and 5% for Romney. The only other candidate to hit double digits on that question is Bachmann at 19%. Paul also leads Romney 26-5 (with Gingrich at 13%) with the 22% of voters who say it's 'very important' that a candidate spends a lot of time in Iowa. Finally Paul leads Romney 29-19 among the 26% of likely voters who have seen one of the candidates in person.
Paul's base of support continues to rely on some unusual groups for a Republican contest. Among voters under 45 he's at 33% to 16% for Romney and 11% for Gingrich. He's really going to need that younger than normal electorate because with seniors Romney's blowing him out 31-15 with Gingrich coming in 2nd at 18%. Paul is also cleaning up 35-14 with the 24% of voters who identify as either Democrats or independents. Romney is actually ahead 22-19 with GOP voters. Young people and non-Republicans are an unusual coalition to hang your hat on in Iowa, and it will be interesting to see if Paul can actually pull it off.
Romney's vote share is up 4 points from a week ago to 20% from it previous 16% standing. His favorability numbers have improved a little bit as well from 48/44 to 49/40. One thing Romney really has going for him is more room for growth than Paul. Among voters who say they're not firmly committed to their current candidate choice, Romney is the second choice for 19% compared to 17% for Perry, 15% for Bachmann, and only 13% for Paul. It's particularly worth noting that among Gingrich- who seems more likely to keep falling than turn it around- voters, he's the second choice of 30% compared to only 11% for Paul.
In addition to having more support right now Paul also has firmer support (73% solidly committed) than Romney does (68% solidly committed.) But at the same time Romney appears to have more room for growth, which could allow him to overtake Paul in the last two weeks.
Two other notes on Romney: he's now winning the electability primary- 25% of voters think he would have the best chance to defeat Obama compared to 17% for Gingrich and 16% for Paul. And he also leads Paul 24-18 among voters who watched the Sioux City debate on Thursday night, confirming general perception that he had the stronger performance.
The rest of the field isn't getting much traction. Among the three candidates tied at 10%, Santorum has gained a couple points compared to last week, Perry has moved up a single point, and Bachmann is down a point. There is some indication that Iowans are warming up to Perry a little bit. He's gone from a -4 (43/47) favorability to a +8 (48/40).
With six candidates in double digits there are still a lot of different things that could happen the final two weeks in Iowa. But it looks like Paul and Romney have emerged as the clear front runners.
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