Poll: Romney leads, Santorum surges into top 3

Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum Getty Images

Updated 10:50 a.m. ET

CBS News Poll analysis by the CBS News Polling Unit: Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Fred Backus and Anthony Salvanto.

On the heels of the Iowa caucuses last week, Mitt Romney now leads the field of Republican presidential candidates. Newt Gingrich is in second place, and Rick Santorum has leapt into the top tier and is now right behind Gingrich in the latest CBS News national poll.

In the race for the nomination, 19 percent of Republican primary voters support Romney, followed by Gingrich with 15 percent, and Santorum right behind him with 14 percent. This is an increase of 11 points for Santorum since last month, but a five point decline for Gingrich.

When voters who chose someone else are asked to choose a candidate from the current field, the race remains similar: Romney leads with 24 percent, followed by Santorum and Gingrich, each with 18 percent.

Each of the candidates receives their support from different factions of the Republican Party. Romney's core backing comes primarily from moderates, women and non-Tea Party supporters, while Santorum's support comes from evangelicals and voters who are very conservative, the poll shows.

Poll shows GOP voters still looking for answers

Gingrich seems to be losing some of his traction with Tea Party-supporters to Santorum - a social-values conservative from Pennsylvania.

While Santorum and Gingrich are now tied among Republican primary voters who support the Tea Party movement, Gingrich led this group by 16 points as recently as December. White evangelicals now seem to firmly back Santorum in this race.

However, while Santorum leads among Republican voters who identify themselves as very conservative, Gingrich is ahead among those who say they are only somewhat conservative.

Romney and Santorum bring different perceived strengths to the race as well. Romney is viewed as most electable (and most likely to be the eventual nominee), while Santorum is seen as the candidate who best represents these voters' values - up 17 points since November. Romney is right behind him on this measure.

After his narrow victory in Iowa, 55 percent of Republican primary voters now expect Romney to eventually become the Republican nominee for president - far ahead of any other candidate. Registered voters nationwide agree.

When asked directly which candidate has the best chance of beating President Obama in the national elections this November, Romney remains at the top of the list - and has gained on the other candidates in the last month.

Now, 49 percent say Romney has the best chance of winning over the incumbent Democrat, up from 37 percent in December.

Gingrich has dropped sharply on this measure, from 31 percent last month to just 13 percent now.

Meanwhile, Santorum has resonated with voters when it comes to his values. Santorum is now at the top of the list of candidates who best represents Republican primary voters' values with 22 percent, rising 17 points on this measure since November. Santorum is closely followed by Mitt Romney at 21 percent, and then Gingrich 14 percent, Paul at 13 percent, Perry at 6 percent and Huntsman at 3 percent.

It is important to note, however, that nationally, the race for the Republican nomination remains extremely fluid. Most voters have not completely settled on their candidate.

Even among Republican voters who do pick a candidate, seven in 10 say it's still too early to say whether their mind is really made up.

Read the complete poll (PDF)


This poll was conducted by telephone from January 4-8, 2012 among 1,413 adults nationwide.

1,247 interviews were conducted with registered voters and 440 with voters who said they plan to vote in a Republican primary. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The margin of error for the sample of registered voters could be plus or minus three points and five points for the sample of Republican primary voters. The error for subgroups may be higher. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

  • Tucker Reals

    Tucker Reals is the CBSNews.com foreign editor, based at the CBS News London bureau.

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