Gingrich at top of pack for first time in CNN polling
November 21st, 2011
04:01 PM ET
10 years ago

Gingrich at top of pack for first time in CNN polling

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.

Filed under: 2012 • CNN/ORC International poll • Newt Gingrich • Republicans
soundoff (313 Responses)
  1. SJSC

    What the American people WANT is completely different than what they NEED. Unfortunately, most Americans will never realize that. Newt will tell it like it is. He will SAY and DO what he thinks is best for the country, regardless of public opinion. Colin Powell says, "to be a leader means sometimes you have to tic people off". Unfortunately, what America wants is a politician to tell them what they want to hear. Therefore, all we will get from politicians is LIE, LIE, LIE. But we will buy it, hook, line and sinker.

    November 21, 2011 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  2. mike

    Old white guy in a suit...check. Bereft of any discernible positive qualities...check. Sounds like a GOP nominee to me!

    November 21, 2011 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  3. John Smith

    Well that's not surprising, given that an overwhelming majority of dumb Americans also think Ronald Reagan was a great president.

    November 21, 2011 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  4. Kebos

    Gingrich is the only Speaker of the House to have been disciplined for ethics violations. Gingrich has been married three times. To mention just a few.

    He may be the most qualified but as a decent human being, his record is abysmal.

    November 21, 2011 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  5. rick h

    On the very day that the former Speaker of the House assumes top Republican spot in many polls, comes information that he was on the receiving end of more than a million dollars in compensation for helping Freddie Mac find best negotiating position on Capitol Hill. On many other resumes, that revelation would be damage enough, but it takes on special damage conditions for Gingrich, who has scored multiple points by slamming Chris Dodd and Barney Frank, the 'men' generally considered most responsible for the mortgage lending crisis that slammed the economy nose first into the tarmac.

    November 21, 2011 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  6. AgrippaMT

    The thought of Newt Gingrich sitting in the White House is truly bone chilling. America will perish if he ever gets in there.

    November 21, 2011 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  7. Dave R.

    I wouldn't react one way or another over this until the convention produces the final candidate. This will change again in a week or two.

    November 21, 2011 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  8. ThinkAgain

    If Cain is "black walnut," then Newt is ... Vanilla Chunky Monkey?

    November 21, 2011 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  9. Steve

    The sun is setting on the LeftyLibDems hopes on all fronts. Ted Kennedy's seat is usurped by an unknown, BO disappoints on nearly all fronts from economic recovery to leadership to championing progressively tighter environmental regulations. Face it, the LeftyLibDems are just stuck with this loser now that Hillary let herself be clear. Meanwhile, Italy demonstrates the ability to be governed by a pragmatic economic experienced leader who then appoints a non-political panel of experts, the only similarly qualified candidates for POTUS are Newt and Romney. As the Arab spring turns into a quagmire of failed democratic hopes and OWS spreads to campuses with increasing civil unrest and violence, the independents and non-idealogue Democrats will desert BO's floundering ship of state en masse. Expect the LeftyLibDem blaming to widen and increase in decibels. Expect more devisiveness to further dis-unite more segments of society as BO thrashes about trying to keep the faux dream alive. And expect the economic suffering among the poor and middle class to continue from clueless and impotent LeftyLibDem administration. Stand firm and grab hold, all ye who think with your hearts. You'll soon be swept away by reality.

    November 21, 2011 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  10. PaulC

    With the visceral hatred I have seen for Obama I would not be surprised to see the American voters elect Newt in spite of the stench of his baggage...after all, they voted for George W......twice.

    November 21, 2011 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  11. Nancy in MA

    Really??? What is wrong with them? Newt as Commander Chief?? These people are crazyy.

    November 21, 2011 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  12. Deathstalker

    All I can say to this is LO.. OMG yes he is really the great leader we need to run our country. OMG Wow this is the best the GOP can do it is so funny watching them destroy a once great political party what a joke this is...

    November 21, 2011 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  13. Sheila

    Most people take 1 sacred vow in their life – to their spouse. If they can't remain faithful to one person who loves them, how can we expect them to remain faithful to an entire country?

    November 21, 2011 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  14. Bill

    This poll includes nobody under 50. What a joke.

    November 21, 2011 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  15. markiejoe

    What is most shocking is the 17% of Republicans say that Herman Cain is most qualified to be commander-in-chief.

    Now that is just downright scary. Do these Republicans live in a cave?

    November 21, 2011 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  16. JSTOR

    The Jews are the problem in America. They are the ones who have promoted the destruction of our white European culture, they are the ones who have left the borders open to the third-world hoards, and they are the ones who ran the economy into the ground. In addition, they completely own the media outlets and the publishing houses, and thus the truth about them rarely gets disseminated. If you want to learn more about why the Jews are the problem, visit and

    November 21, 2011 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  17. GA Field - Iowa

    Any one who thinks Newt is not the best debater on the GOP side simply does not understand debate.

    November 21, 2011 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  18. VegasRage

    I need to go hurl and laugh at the same time on this story.

    November 21, 2011 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  19. James PDX

    If you consider that the common skills/abilities of the last several presidents have been; ineptness, corruption, dishonesty, greed, and stupidity, then, yes, obviously Newt is the most qualified candidate.

    November 21, 2011 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  20. hwy911

    So... The Republican voters don't care about marital, um, indiscretions, truthfulness or ethical behavior. That's interesting, coming from the party that did its level best to destroy Clinton. Good to know. Oh, and the idea that the Republican party is the party of morals and values? Not true, as it turns out. So, all you phony baloney evangelicals can go suck eggs.

    November 21, 2011 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  21. Mr. Won'tfallforit

    Don't bit on this story folks. Read the wording: It's a poll that CNN commissioned. For some reason CNN has keyed on Gingrich. As happy as he might be – this is a death sentence for him and his political career. Gingrich is through.

    November 21, 2011 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  22. JP

    Well, I agree that Bible thumpin' Newt is more qualified than any of the other clowns and hacks currently in the race – but that ain't sayn' much!

    No way he can beat the big-O in November 2012. I'll vote for some 3rd party guy before I'll vote for either of them.

    Actually, if some really great third party candidate comes along, I think that he/she would have an outstanding chance in a Newt VS Obama election.

    November 21, 2011 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  23. strangerq

    Bwhahahaha. Yes the laughs never end with this ridiculous party.

    Now if Sarah Palin would only jump back in, then the we are talking laugh riot for the ages.

    Newt has a new book out - – "Contract with Tiffany's!" 🙂

    November 21, 2011 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  24. PacificView

    Give Newt a couple of months and he will have insulted every voter at least once.

    The GOP convention should be a hoot this time.

    November 21, 2011 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  25. VegasRage

    I need to go hürl and laugh at the same time on this story.

    November 21, 2011 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13