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. BobAD

    Just what we need another War Criminal to head the Military.

    November 21, 2011 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  2. Rosemary Peppercorn

    God help us all.

    November 21, 2011 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  3. AGuest9

    Slime rises to the top, eh?

    November 21, 2011 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  4. David

    So this pole only has data from southern states? Seem like if you pole Gingrich's home state he will do well. I am curious what a true national pole looks like.

    November 21, 2011 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  5. Nojo

    Just wait 10 mins, it'll be someone else. Squirrel!

    November 21, 2011 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  6. LordPet

    Yay, the guy who abandoned his wife on her death bed is most qualified to lead the US through these tough times. Happy days are here again

    November 21, 2011 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  7. NLB

    OBAMA 2012.......this is what the above poll tells me........

    November 21, 2011 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  8. AGuest9

    What's the problem with the melting pot? What rises to the top? Yup.

    November 21, 2011 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  9. Julie

    i think this is an instance where the news media HAS DECIDED FOR US AND IS PUBLISHING WISHFUL THINKING.

    November 21, 2011 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  10. Pablo

    of course lets forget about Ron Paul
    North Carolina Republican Straw Poll Results:
    Ron Paul: 52.2%
    Gingrich: 22.1%
    Cain: 13.3%
    Romney: 3.6%
    Bachmann: 2.8%
    Santorum: 1.9%
    Perry: 1.9%
    Other: 1.3%
    Hunstman: 0.6%
    Johnson: 0.3%

    November 21, 2011 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  11. GianCarlo

    This Hog of a pig. It's laughable...........yet the christian right could over look his adulterous past. What a joke this country is becoming.

    November 21, 2011 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  12. Lost in Texas FOREVER and EVER

    this is another "ANYBODY BUT ROMNEY" vote. I guess Herman Cain, even though he claims everyone was lying BUT him seemed to fall out of favor with the GOP right why not back a hypocrite, wife-cheating, backbiting, two-faced for president that can't even control his wife's spending less known the spending problem they claim Congress has. All one needs to do is look at his history of saying one thing one day and switching up the next day. But then again that is the sad shape the GOP is in today.

    November 21, 2011 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  13. ConcernedNetizen

    It's true, he's the best qualified CROOK for the job #fannie #freddie #public_morons

    November 21, 2011 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  14. solana beach local

    This overweight, old, republican retread has NO chance at being this countries leader. Sorry folks... you just don't have anyone of concern this year:)

    November 21, 2011 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  15. Jasel

    So first it was Donald Trump. Then it was Michelle Bachmann. Then it was Mitt Romney. Then it was Rick Perry. Then it was Herman Cain. Now it's Newt Gingrich.

    Which in itself shows Republicans have absolutely no voting sense. They'll pick whichever whackjob that panders to their explicit brand of lunacy or who they think can beat Obama. Doesn't matter how many times they lie, how many times they flip-flop, if they have horrible policy posistions, or even how ignorant they are. As long as they're crazy as cat#$@! and can beat the President they're a-okay as far as conservatives are concerned.

    November 21, 2011 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  16. Lardeau

    Another Yesterday's Man.

    November 21, 2011 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  17. Kay

    Don't worry, folks, he doesn't have a chance. He's just the latest in the line of "Let's throw someone else at the wall and see if he sticks because we sure as he** don't want to nominate Romney". Gingrich is too hated to make it past the second primary.

    November 21, 2011 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  18. cinchy99

    Interesting situation... Newt is clearly the most intelligent, best problem solver, and best "big thinker" out there - bar none, republican or democrat. He also has a lot of baggage and dirty laundry. I doubt if he'll withstand attacks. Too bad though, it would be cool to have a president who is as smart or smarter than Obama, but can actually lead and make wise decisions.

    November 21, 2011 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  19. JohnRJ08

    This is more about how UNQUALIFIED the other candidates are than how qualified Gingrich might be. The man was tossed out of the speakership by his own caucus for unethical behavior and, while he was trying to get Clinton impeached for lying about an affair, he was having an affair while his wife was dying with cancer. A real prince of a guy and the perfect candidate for the GOP.

    November 21, 2011 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  20. Julie

    CNN is in the pockets of the rich republicans. And I am a poor Republican who would never vote for the richest government official!!! I think your POLLS ARE INACCURATE!!

    November 21, 2011 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  21. m

    Democrats should not be too happy with GingRICH as the GOP nominee. He has a bag of dirty tricks that even Richard Nixon would be envious of.

    It really is amazing how short voters memories are and how disliked Willard Romney is.

    I am absolutely certain of one fact, GingRICH will never get my vote!

    November 21, 2011 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  22. Ed Sweeney

    Newt will absolutley tear apart obama in a debate. It would be great to see on National TV.

    November 21, 2011 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  23. Alina1

    Republican candidates and Gingrich especially making terrorists look like compassionate and willing to compromise people, compare to them.

    November 21, 2011 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  24. jim dollinger

    another joke by the media. Dr Paul is sure to win Iowa going away. these attempts to throw Palin, Trump, Bachmann, Perry and now Newt at America isn't going to stop the rEVOLution that is Ron Paul 2012.

    November 21, 2011 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  25. Daniel R

    This guy is not presidential material.

    November 21, 2011 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
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