According to the latest Rasmussen poll, Newt Gingrich now enjoys the support of 52 percent of Tea Party voters, and his huge advantage among such voters has vaulted him into the national lead in the GOP presidential race. The poll was taken yesterday, two days after Gingrich’s win in the South Carolina primary, and it shows the former speaker leading Mitt Romney by an overall margin of 7 percentage points — 35 to 28 percent. That result marks a 10-point swing between the two candidates from six days earlier, when Romney led Gingrich by 3 points in Rasmussen’s polling (30 to 27 percent), and a 20-point swing from 19 days earlier, when Romney led Gingrich by 13 points (29 to 16 percent).
Romney still has a 10-point lead among likely Republican primary voters who do not consider themselves to be affiliated with the Tea Party. Among such voters, Romney enjoys 36 percent support, compared to 26 percent for Gingrich, 13 percent for Rick Santorum, and 11 percent for Ron Paul. However, Gingrich leads Romney by a whopping 36 points among voters who consider themselves to be affiliated with the Tea Party. Among such voters, Gingrich has 52 percent support, compared to 20 percent for Santorum, 16 percent for Romney, and 8 percent for Paul.
No doubt buoyed in part by the recent near-endorsement of Tea Party favorite Sarah Palin — as well as that of Allen West (R., Fla.) — Gingrich’s level of support among Tea Party voters has risen from 24 percent shortly after Iowa (at which point he was tied with Romney among such voters), to 39 percent last Tuesday, to 52 percent in current polling.
It has always seemed like the candidate who could best unite the GOP’s Tea Party and establishment wings was Paul Ryan. But with Ryan’s refusal to run (so far), the GOP race has now largely become a battle between the party’s two wings, with the Tea Party candidate currently having surged into the lead. (In addition to Ryan, Indiana governor Mitch Daniels could potentially have crossover appeal to both sets of GOP voters, although he’d have to convince Tea Party voters that his non-confrontational manner doesn’t suggest a lack of willingness to fight. Congressman Mike Pence also has crossover appeal, but he seems more interested in replacing Daniels than in being president.)
Santorum, who is running second among Tea Party voters, is third in the overall Rasmussen polling — with 16 percent support. Paul, who runs fourth with both the Tea Party and the establishment, has 10 percent support.
Interestingly, Gingrich is faring quite a bit better among married voters than among those who are single. He has a 10-point lead over Romney among married voters (37 to 27 percent), while the two are tied among voters who are single (with 29 percent apiece).
Respondents were also asked which candidate would do the best job at handling various issues. Romney trails both Gingrich and Santorum on social issues (albeit by small margins), and he trails Gingrich by a wide margin (51 to 18 percent) on defense and national security issues. Perhaps of greater concern for Romney, however, is that likely voters appear unconvinced by either of the two principal reasons he has given them for voting for him. Romney is only narrowly edging Gingrich as the candidate who would do the best job on the economy (35 to 32 percent), and he is losing to Gingrich on the question of which candidate is most electable (39 to 37 percent).