Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has catapulted to the top of the Republican field in New Hampshire, achieving a statistical tie with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, whose large lead in the Granite State had seemed rock-solid and impervious to challenge — until now.
Romney has held a lead of 20 points or larger over his nearest opponents in New Hampshire since polling there began in April. As the former governor of a neighboring state who owns a house in New Hampshire, Romney is as close to a native son as it comes.
Yet in the latest NH Journal poll conducted by Magellan Strategies, Romney has 29-percent support — the first time his share of the vote has dropped below 30 percent — and Gingrich is at 27 percent. Texas congressman Ron Paul is in third at 16 percent, followed by Herman Cain at 10 percent. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 3.59 percent, making Romney’s shrinking advantage statistically meaningless.
Gingrich’s rise appears to have come at the expense of both Romney and Cain. In Magellan’s October poll, Romney led with 41 percent, Cain was a distance second with 20 percent, Paul was at 10 percent, and Gingrich polled only 6-percent support.
Asked why Gingrich was moving up in the polls, a 44-percent plurality said he was gaining support among Republican primary voters because of his depth and knowledge of the issues. Ten percent said it was because of his strong debate performances, and the same percentage pointed to his past experience as Speaker of the House.
Gingrich is the first candidate to be able to challenge Romney in New Hampshire. Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain — candidates who had strong surges nationally — never came near parity with Romney. Perry came the closest in a lone Public Policy Polling poll in early July, holding Romney to a 7-point lead.
Gingrich and Romney both have approximately 28-percent favorability advantages in New Hampshire, a measure of the difference between voters who have favorable impressions of candidates and those who see them unfavorably. Cain’s popularity is upside-down at this point, with 39 percent saying they hold a favorable opinion and 51 percent saying they hold an unfavorable opinion of the pizza mogul.
The results come on the heels of a series of polls showing that Gingrich has rocketed into the top tier both nationally, and in early states like Iowa and New Hampshire. With higher poll numbers comes increased scrutiny, and Gingrich is now weathering a barrage of critical reporting about his past. If he can survive the storm, Gingrich could have a path through the early states that would take him to the nomination.
It’s worth noting that this poll is still an outlier until future polls come up with similar results, or if future polls go back to the older model with Romney 20 points ahead. Steven Shepard of National Journal also points out some possible problems with the poll’s voter model, noting on Twitter that based on 2008 turnout, the model over represents voters over age 65, and under represents 18-34 year old voters.
Magellan surveyed 746 likely Republican primary voters from November 15 to November 16. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.59 percentage points.