(CNN) - Newt Gingrich tops the field of Republican presidential candidates by double digits in three of the four states to first hold contests in the race for the GOP nomination, according to new surveys in those states.
The CNN/Time/ORC International Polls, released Wednesday, indicate that strong support from the tea party movement is contributing to the former House speaker's surge among likely Republican primary voters and caucus-goers. But the poll also suggests that this race is far from over, with less than half the people questioned in each state saying their minds are made up.
According to the poll, one-third of likely GOP caucus participants in Iowa say they are backing Gingrich. Thirteen points back, at 20% is former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who's making his second bid for his party's nomination. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who's making his third run for the presidency, is at 17%, with Texas Gov. Rick Perry at 9%, Rep. Michele Bachmann of neighboring Minnesota at 7%, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania at 5% and former Utah Gov. and former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman at 1%. Both Bachmann and Santorum have been crisscrossing Iowa.
Iowa's Jan. 3 caucuses kick off the presidential nomination contest, with New Hampshire's primary going second, one week later, on Jan. 10.
In New Hampshire, Romney remains the front-runner, but his once-large lead is shrinking. The poll indicates that 35% of likely Granite State GOP primary voters back Romney, with 26% supporting Gingrich and 17% backing Paul. Huntsman, who's been spending nearly all of his time campaigning in New Hampshire, is at 8%, with everyone else in the low single digits.
"Don't make the mistake of assuming this is a two-man race. Ron Paul is essentially tied with Romney for second place in Iowa, the first state out of the box, and has double-digit support in the next state on the calendar, New Hampshire," says Keating Holland, CNN Polling Director.
In South Carolina, the first southern state to vote and third overall, the poll indicates Gingrich far ahead of the field. Forty-three percent of likely GOP primary voters in the Palmetto State say they are backing Gingrich, with Romney a distant second at 20%, Perry at 8%, Bachmann and Paul each at 6%, Santorum at 4% and Huntsman at 1%.
It's the same story in Florida, the fourth statewide contest on the calendar. According to the poll, 48% of people likely to vote in Florida's Jan. 31 GOP primary say they support Gingrich, with Romney a distant second at 25%, Paul at 5% and everyone else in the low single digits.
So what's the secret to Gingrich's surge?
"In some states, Gingrich scores better among men, or older voters, or born-again Christians, but in other states those advantages disappear. But in each of the four states surveyed, Gingrich has a commanding lead among tea party supporters - by roughly 40 points in the two southern states and by smaller amounts in Iowa and New Hampshire," adds Holland. "Among likely GOP primary voters who are neutral toward the tea party or oppose it, Gingrich manages no better than a tie in most of those states and loses that group by 20 points to Romney in New Hampshire."
The CNN/Time/ORC poll is the third in the last day and a half to indicate that Gingrich is the front-runner in Iowa, and the second in the last day and a half to indicate he's the front-runner in South Carolina.
Gingrich's campaign was left for dead by many in late spring, after a bunch of controversies which resulted in a number of top advisers and staffers quitting the campaign. They also faced financial difficulties. But thanks to strong performances in many of the Republican presidential debates this autumn, and thanks to stumbles by Bachmann, Perry and businessman Herman Cain, who suspended his campaign this past weekend, Gingrich has soared in both national polling and in surveys in the crucial early voting states.
The challenge for Gingrich now is to use his skyrocketing poll numbers and increase in fundraising to quickly build a larger and more effective campaign structure in the early voting states. Gingrich went up with his first campaign TV commercial Monday, in Iowa.
The poll also indicates that even with start of the caucuses and primaries less than four weeks away, likely voters may still change their minds. Fifty-five percent of likely Iowa caucus goers and South Carolina primary voters say they may change their minds, with 53% of likely Florida primary voters and 48% of likely New Hampshire primary voters say their open to moving to another candidate.
"It's very important to keep in mind that these poll results are not - and cannot be - a prediction of the actual results to contests that are at least a month away. Most likely voters have not made up their minds in any of these states. Don't think the races are over in these four states - not by a long shot," says Holland.
The poll was conducted from Nov. 29-Dec 6, both before and after businessman Herman Cain suspended his bid for the GOP nomination. Herman Cain's name was included in the list of candidate until December 3, when he suspended his campaign. The results released today indicate the second choice of respondents who picked Cain as their first choice.
The poll was conducted for CNN and Time magazine by ORC International, with 419 likely Iowa GOP caucus goers, 507 likely New Hampshire Republican primary voters, 510 likely South Carolina GOP primary voters, and 446 likely Republican primary voters in Florida, questioned by telephone. The surveys sampling error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.