Washington (CNN) - Newt Gingrich's lead in the race for the GOP presidential nomination has evaporated, according to a new national survey.
A CNN/ORC International Poll released Monday indicates that 28% of Republicans and independents who lean towards the GOP say the former House speaker is their choice for their party's nominee, with an equal amount supporting former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. In CNN's previous national poll, conducted last month, Gingrich held a 24%-20% margin over Romney. And Gingrich's lead over the rest of the field of candidates was even larger in other surveys conducted at the beginning of this month.
Full results (pdf)
"Early-December polls from other organizations tended to show Gingrich's support in the mid-30s with Romney in second place, so the current figures indicate that Romney has recently gained ground at Gingrich's expense," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.
According to the new CNN survey, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas is in third place at 14%. That's a five point rise for Paul since last month's poll. The survey indicates Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota at 8%, Texas Gov. Rick Perry at 7%, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania at 4%, former Utah Gov. and former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman at 2%, and nine percent undecided.
With 15 days left until the Iowa caucuses, which kickoff the presidential primary and caucus calendar, the poll indicates that only 35% of Republicans are definitely supporting the candidate they're currently backing, with the rest undecided or willing to change their minds.
So what's behind Romney's rise and Gingrich's drop in the poll?
"Romney's appeal to Republican voters seems to be based mostly on his personal qualities, many of which - including likability and trustworthiness - are problem areas for Gingrich. For Romney, that's not a bad position to be in when six in ten Republicans say that personal characteristics will matter more than issues when they decide which GOP candidate to support," Holland said.
The survey indicates that a plurality of Republicans nationwide say that Romney best represents the personal qualities a president should have. Romney is viewed as the most honest and trustworthy candidate, with only 12% saying that Gingrich is the most trustworthy Republican in the race - his lowest score on any item tested.
And Romney is seen as the most likable Republican in the field, beating Gingrich and Bachmann on that measure by a two-to-one margin.
"Gingrich has one major advantage - he remains the candidate who Republicans view as the strongest leader, with more than four in ten giving Gingrich a thumbs-up on leadership," Holland added.
Just over four in ten Republicans say that they think Romney, who's making his second bid for the White House, is most likely to win the GOP nomination, regardless of whom they are backing, with Gingrich four points back at 37%. Everyone else is in single digits. As for which candidate has the best shot of beating President Barack Obama next November, 36% say Romney and 35% say Gingrich, with everyone else in single digits.
More than eight in ten Democrats and independents who lean towards the Democratic party say they want Obama to be renominated next year.
The CNN poll was conducted by ORC International from Dec. 16-18, with 1,015 adult Americans, including 436 Republicans and independents who lean Republican and 497 Democrats and independents who lean towards the Democratic party, questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.