It's been a bad week for Newt Gingrich in our early state Republican polling, but we still find him with a good sized lead nationally. He's at 35% to 22% for Mitt Romney, 11% for Ron Paul, 7% for Michele Bachmann, 6% for Rick Perry, 4% for Rick Santorum, 3% for Jon Huntsman, and 1% for Gary Johnson.
On the surface that's good news for Gingrich but looking under the hood it's more bad news to some extent. We haven't done a national poll in 5 weeks, too long ago to make a good comparison, but on 6 state polls we've conducted since Thanksgiving in Florida, Montana, North Carolina, Colorado, Virginia, and New Mexico Newt has always had a lead of at least 19 points over Romney with the average of those polls coming out to a 27 point advantage at 42-15. His present national lead represents some serious shrinkage from that. He's also seen a 13 point decline in his net favorability from our last national poll, going from +45 (68/23) to +32 (60/28).
The most interesting finding in this national poll might be that Romney's net favorability has improved 15 points in the last month from just +9 (48/39) to now +24 (55/31). Republican voters are starting to warm up to him in a way that could pave his path to the nomination. Beyond that Romney is clearly next in line to take the national lead if Gingrich continues to falter.
Not only is he 11 points clear of Paul, his closest competitor, but he's the 2nd choice of 35% of Gingrich voters compared to 16% for Bachmann, 11% for Perry and Santorum, and only 6% for Paul. If Newt's people keep jumping ship they're likely to end up with Romney.
The main thing our national poll proves is that national polls at this stage are irrelevant. Gingrich may still be doing ok in places where primary voters aren't closely following the Republican contest at this point but in the two states where his record is really facing a lot of scrutiny and voters are paying attention his favorability numbers have plummeted under water and his support has declined precipitously.
It seems likely that if his support was that fragile in Iowa and New Hampshire, it's probably that fragile in South Carolina and Florida too once the campaign really heats up in those states. The national advantage is pretty irrelevant for Gingrich in the context of what's happening to him in the early states.
Full results here