A University of Iowa Hawkeye Poll being released this morning in Washington has both good news and bad for Iowa frontrunner Newt Gingrich.
The former U.S. House speaker is leading the field with a 10 percentage point lead over his nearest rival, Mitt Romney, but poll data indicates his support is starting to slip away.
The poll of likely GOP caucusgoers found Gingrich leading the field with 30 percent. Former Massachusetts Gov. Romney polled 20 percent and Texas Rep. Ron Paul came in third at 11 percent.
The polling began Nov. 30 – before Herman Cain suspended his campaign. Cain, who was leading Romney 37 percent to 27 percent in the October Hawkeye Poll, polled just 4 percent in the latest survey.
The polling data suggests that Gingrich already had picked up much of Cain’s support as the allegations of sexual harassment and an extramarital affair caused the Georgia businessman’s support to erode, UI political scientist Frederick Boehmke said. That shift likely fueled Gingrich’s surge.
Although conventional wisdom suggested Gingrich would pick up much of Cain’s support, UI political scientist Frederick Boehmke said the former speaker’s numbers were dropping by the time the polling was completed.
“In the final days of the polling, the gap between Gingrich and Romney narrowed from 12-13 percent to 5-6 percent,” Boehmke said. “That would suggest that Gingrich’s support is starting to slide down a bit like previous poll leaders.”
So the question becomes whether Gingrich can hang on to the lead through the Jan. 3 caucuses.
“It’s hard to say how far he will fade … whether they will come down below Romney,” Boehmke said. It was Gingrich’s numbers falling, not Romney’s coming up, that narrowed the gap, he added.
Boehmke’s not sure there is time enough for another candidate to surge to the top of the polls as Bachmann, Perry and Cain did earlier.
Santorum has suggested that given the surge-and-fade nature of the campaign, he’s on schedule to move to the top of the field in time for the caucuses.
“Maybe if they were in February,” Boehmke said.
If there is a candidate who could surge in the final three weeks it would be Paul, Boehmke said. Paul has the organization and money to take advantage of the large number of likely caucusgoers who are undecided. He’s spent considerable time in Iowa and built an enthusiastic base.
“I don’t see any of the previous leaders surging back to the top,” he added.
The Hawkeye Poll found 11 percent of the likely caucusgoers who say they are undecided and only one-third of those polled said they were “very satisfied” with the candidates.
“No candidate has a lot of ‘very satisfied’ supporters,” he said.
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