Newt Gingrich continues to build momentum in New Hampshire, gaining 6 points in a month, but New Hampshire Republican Primary voters say that front-runner Mitt Romney is the candidate who will fix the economy, bring America together and is best suited to be president, according to a Suffolk University/7NEWS (WHDH TV) poll of likely voters in New Hampshire’s GOP presidential primary.
The poll showed Mitt Romney leading with 38 percent of the vote, followed by Newt Gingrich (20 percent) and a surging Jon Huntsman (13 percent), who has overtaken Ron Paul (8 percent) for third place. The rest of the field was in low single digits, combining for about 10 percent. Eleven percent were still undecided.
Romney's lead dropping
Romney’s overall margin is coming down (+27 points mid-November versus +18 points today), and Gingrich’s emergence as the “anti-Romney” candidate, with strong poll showings in other early states, has given him a lift in New Hampshire.
Most notably, Romney’s lead dropped from +48 to +11 in Rockingham County, the second largest county in New Hampshire, located in the southeast along the Massachusetts border. In addition, Romney’s lead fell from +34 to +12 among likely voters ages 55-74 years.
Huntsman draws independents
Jon Huntsman, at 13 percent, is scoring his highest numbers in New Hampshire polling this year, largely due to the support of independents, who are eligible to vote in the New Hampshire primary. Huntsman polled second among independents – besting Gingrich – and trailed Romney by just 11 percent. In New Hampshire there are three registered independents for every two registered Republicans.
“If independents participate in a big way next January, Huntsman will benefit,” said David Paleologos, director of Suffolk University’s Political Research Center. “While other candidates have focused on the more traditional Republican voters, Huntsman has traction among independents, who could dominate the Republican Primary if mobilized.”
Of the two leaders – Romney and Gingrich – Romney was trusted more to fix the economy by 59 percent to 20 percent over Gingrich, while 62 percent of voters said Romney would be better at bringing America together than Gingrich (18 percent). Romney was considered to have the personality best suited to be president (70 percent) compared to Gingrich (16 percent).
“These numbers show the depth of Romney’s strength,” said Paleologos. “We’ve seen that the economy has been the most important issue for the better part of two years, and New Hampshire voters clearly see Romney as the one to fix it. The favorable view of Romney’s personality and ability to bring America together was seen even among Gingrich voters.”
Gingrich voters (43 percent) said that Romney had the personality best suited to be president, compared to 42 percent for Gingrich.
However, voters thought Gingrich would do a better job with foreign policy (46 percent - 34 percent) over Romney, even though more voters would prefer Romney in the White House if the United States were attacked (42 percent Romney - 37 percent Gingrich).
“Republicans see Gingrich as a better choice to set foreign policy by drawing lines in the sand, but they have less confidence that Gingrich will make the right decisions if the line is crossed,” said Paleologos.
Perceptions about the front-runners
In an open-ended question on what word or phrase comes to mind when thinking about Newt Gingrich, 20 percent said “smart.” Additional descriptions included “untrustworthy,” 10 percent; “experienced,” 8 percent; “corrupt,” 5 percent; and “politician,” 5 percent.
The words describing Romney were “businessman,” 31 percent; “flip flops,” 11 percent; “honest,” 9 percent; and “smart,” 5 percent.
In another open-ended question, the Suffolk University survey asked about major concerns for a Gingrich presidency. Reasons for uneasiness included:
- Baggage/his past – 16 percent
- Not trustworthy – 13 percent
- Lack of good judgment – 6 percent
- No new ideas – 6 percent
- Erratic – 5 percent:
- Polarizing – 4 percent:
The major concerns for a Mitt Romney presidency differed markedly:
- Flip-flops – 19 percent
- Too moderate – 8 percent
- Foreign policy – 6 percent
- He might lose – 4 percent
- Health care – 3 percent
The statewide survey of 400 likely voters in New Hampshire’s Republican Presidential Primary was conducted Dec. 10-13, 2011, using live telephone interviews of landline and cell phone users. The margin of error is +/-4.9 percent at a 95 percent level of confidence. Marginals and full cross-tabulation data will be posted at 11 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011, on the Suffolk University Political Research Center website. For more information, contact David Paleologos at 781-290-9310.