Washington (CNN) - Newt Gingrich tops the list in the race for the GOP nomination, according to a new national survey.
And a CNN/ORC International Poll released on the eve of a CNN presidential debate focusing heavily on national security and foreign affairs also indicates Republicans consider the former House Speaker the most qualified GOP candidate to be Commander-in-Chief.
See full results (PDF)
Programming note: GOP presidential candidates face off at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday, November 22, in the CNN Republican National Security Debate in Washington, D.C.
According to the survey, 24% of Republicans and independent voters who lean towards the GOP say they are most likely to support Gingrich for their party's nomination, with 20% saying they back Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who is making his second bid for the presidency.
Gingrich's four point margin over Romney is within the survey's sampling error. A CNN poll released one week ago had Romney at 24% and Gingrich at 22%. Gingrich was at just 8% in a CNN poll in October.
Gingrich's campaign was left for dead by many in May and June, following a number of controversies that spurred some of his top advisers and staffers quit, and that left the campaign coffers in the red.
But the former House Speaker has performed well in 10 major GOP presidential debates held this year, acting as the elder statesman while many of his rivals for the nomination attacked each other.
"I entered this race with a huge amount of background story, some public, some private, which led people initially to think, 'Well, I'm not sure I want him.' And part of what the debates have done is they've been able to see me without editing, and, therefore, they've been able to say, 'Gee, that's not the guy I thought he was,' " Gingrich recently told CNN's Piers Morgan.
"It seems likely that Gingrich's performance in past debates has helped him - 43% say he is the Republican candidate who best understands complex issues, more than double the number who say that about Romney," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.
Gingrich gets another chance to shine Tuesday, when he along with seven of his GOP rivals face off in a CNN presidential debate on national security, foreign policy and the economy. CNN is teaming up with the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute, two long time Republican-leaning think thanks, to put on the debate, which is being held just a few blocks from the White House.
According to the survey, on national security issues, 36% of Republicans say Gingrich is most qualified to be commander-in-chief - 16 points higher than Romney.
Former Godfather's Pizza CEO and radio talk show host Herman Cain garners support from 17% of the Republicans surveyed. Cain was at 25% support in CNN polling last month, but slipped after a controversy over sexual harassment allegations from his time as head of the National Restaurant Association during the late 1990s.
Rick Perry is at 11% in the new poll. The Texas governor soared to frontrunner status soon after he entered the race in mid-August, but thanks to stumbles in the debates this autumn, Perry's numbers dropped and are now holding steady in the low double digits. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who is making his third run for the White House, is at 9%, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota is at 5%, with former Sen. Rick Santorum at 3% and former Utah Gov. and former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman at 3%.
While Gingrich has some major strengths, the poll indicates he also has some weaknesses. Only 9% of Republicans say he is the most likable candidate. Republican voters also don't think he's the best choice for getting the economy moving again, and they see Romney, not Gingrich, as the Republican with the best chance of beating President Barack Obama next November.
Gingrich is the latest GOP candidate to surge in national and state surveys, following Bachmann, Perry and Cain. Bachmann and Perry slid after their initial surges, and Cain may be headed in the same direction.
"But don't think that Gingrich has risen in the polls simply because other alternatives to Romney have fizzled," adds Holland. "The number of Republicans who would be pleased or enthusiastic if he won the party's nomination has grown from 51% in May to 70% now - not the kind of numbers you would expect if voters were 'settling' for Gingrich."
Although he is no longer at the top of the list, Romney is viewed as the most likable candidate, and the one most likely to get the economy moving again. And significantly, by a two-to-one margin, Republicans say Romney is the candidate with the best chance to beat Obama.
Although many Republicans are clearly looking for an alternative to Romney, they don't oppose him. Only 28% say they would be displeased or upset if Romney won the GOP nod.
The poll also indicates that the race is far from over: Only 27% of Republicans say they have definitely made up their minds.
The CNN poll was conducted by ORC International from November 18-20, with 1,019 adult Americans, including 402 Republicans and independents who lean towards the GOP, questioned by telephone. The survey's sampling error for Republican primary questions is plus or minus five percentage points.
HA!! Thanks GOP. If this stays, you can kiss the white house goodbye. Newt would not get 100 electoral votes.
But there is email evidence that he acted as a lobbiest for Freddy and Fanny to try to increase the # of people to access mortgages and lines of credit – which caused the meltdown. What are people thinking?
That's right. Don't forgive Cain for his indiscretions, but go ahead and let Mr Evil off the hook. You'd really have to hate Obama to put Gingrich in the White House. Not much of a man, and certainly not a leader. He'll always feel his followers are not good enough for him. Oh yeah, that would include the folks who would vote for him.
I guest the republican base are saying, "Any one but Romney". When we find Newt is at the top of the heap, come on folks, lets be honest, Newt is a scrum bag of all scrum bags and yet we fine him on top of the poo pile. It's a said day for the conservative right. What happened to you guys? The party of "No" dead in the water. Period.
Of course dont report the major growing support of Ron Paul. Please median, block him out more. Its so refreshing to see more censorship within the media.
no surprise he's at the top of the polls. thrown out of the House for ethics violations, crooked dealings with Fannie Mae that he won't talk about. another crook in the long line of Republican "leaders" like I am NOT a crook Nixon, I have no recollection Reagan, Waterboarding is not torture and no bid Halliburton war contracts Cheney. Let's not forget George HW Bush's Chief of Staff, Big John Sununu, who never paid back the money he stole from the US Treasury by using limos and planes as his own private transportation. Maybe Newt will divert some campaign funds to his Tiffany's account.
This Republican parade of front runners is going to be decided by who has the ball last when the clock runs out, who is on top of the polls when the primary voting actually begins.
My money says that Gingrich is peaking too soon. I don't think he can stay afloat on top for 6-7 weeks until the first primaries. I say he sinks, but the question is who will rise to the top. It will be either Paul or a recycled reject. The next marching band in the parade should be best one yet.
Meanwhile, old Saint Mitt will be bringing up the rear of the parade in his sleigh waiting to give the boys and girls their final thrill. (Actually, don't fire trucks usually follow a parade? Just in case there are any fires to put out?)
@danda – save your breath. paul is NOT going to be elected president. He is a bigger thrownback than the newter man. As someone else said, anybody but the $250M flip flopper, but the teapublikans still don't have one candidate out of the eight clowns worthy of shining the president's shoes.
Gingrich does speak well. The problem is that his ideas are so out of touch that people should not be taking him seriously.
May we be reminded that Gingrich is responsible for the way Wasington is working today. Look back to the Clinton years he closed down the Government. Washington is already disfunctional he is a bully with too much baggage to be a President.
He has no respect for man or woman and is very arrogant. The way he talked about the young people in the OccupyWall Street movement: "take a bath and get a job" is going to comeback and haunt him, it is appalling.
Polls in Iowa, NC and others have Ron Paul at or near the top. Not surprised CNN pushes him down to the bottom. Stop being so afraid of the only presidential candidate that either party will put forth that speaks the truth and follows through with his promises.
Perhaps the headline should have read "Gingrich at top of pack for first time in CNN polling of white suburban southerners over 50!" Hardly a representative sample of the nation. Shame on you CNN for not making that information as prominent as the screaming headline about Gingrich.
If you look at this Poll of "Adult Americans", no one under age 50 was polled. These people do not know how to use the Internet and do not represent the majority of Republicans.
Good grief, some people have short memories. They don't want Romney that's for sure. Newt is the flavor of the month. Next month the Republicans will have a rock as their frontrunner. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.
As an independent voter, I wouldn't vote for Gingrich if he was the last man in the race! I remember the 90s very clearly and he lacks morals, is a flat out liar, and would do ANYTHING to get voted for. Just wait till the general election comes and we're reminded of his ethics violations. I think the GOP REALLY wants Obama to be a 2nd term president. Otherwise, they would have done better coming up with a REAL candidate.
Click on the poll and go to page 9 to see the demographics. I guarantee this doesn't reflect the majority of Republican voters. Especially if it snows during the primaries and the old people can't get out of the house.
Another globalist shill just like Obama!
The republicans are one desperate group of people! They are bouncing all over the place in hopes of finding themselves a real candidates, it is hilarious to watch! So who's left now awaiting their turn, let see: Paul, Bachman, Santorum and Huntsman. Maybe Pawlenty should re-enter the race he might actually stand a chance with the field of clowns we have now!
nice try CNN. I hope you at least got paid to make this crap up.
nice try. I hope you at least got paid to make this stuff up.
how is this 'BREAKING NEWS' as shown on the front page of CNN??!?
Unelectable..If this is the republican candidate it's a lost election..
what CNN doesn't want you to see (awaiting moderation) is the money that changed hands with this accusation. Don't believe it...
So much for family values, huh? The "most qualified" candidate has cheated on two wives, and has ethics and tax code violations. Is THIS who you want to lead our country???
Not bad for a guy who dumped all his wives until he latched onto a rich one........