(CNN) – Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich may be the top choice for Republican primary voters according to a survey released Tuesday, but in a hypothetical matchup with President Barack Obama, he’d be defeated if the general election were held today.
But former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who trails Gingrich by double digits in the poll, fares better against the incumbent president, with only two points separating him from an Obama win in the hypothetical race.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey indicates that Gingrich takes the lead in the race for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination over Romney by 17 points. Forty percent of Republican voters who say they’d vote in a primary selected the history professor as their first choice and 23 percent chose Romney.
Nine percent picked Texas Rep. Ron Paul with Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann in fourth place at 8% and Texas Gov. Rick Perry in fifth with 6%. Perry is followed by former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman who received 5% support and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum at 3%.
Although Gingrich may be at the front of the pack of contenders, if the next election for president were held today, four in ten registered voters said they’d choose him and 51% said they’d vote to re-elect President Obama, whose approval rating remains in the mid-forties according to the poll.
The survey shows GOP primary voters’ number two choice is more competitive with the incumbent president than their number one.
When matched with Romney, the president is only ahead by two percentage points, within the poll’s overall sampling error of 3.1%.
The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll was conducted from December 7-11 by telephone among 1,000 adults and 271 registered voters who said they would vote in the Republican primary. It has an overall sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. The subset of Republican primary voters has a sampling error of plus or minus 6 percentage points.