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New National Poll: Romney Gains, Obama Struggles

What's a political writer to do on a slow news day when official Washington is closed for business?  Blog about new polls, that's what!  Fox News has a new survey out, which examines both the Republican presidential primary and broader political questions.  The top line take-away is that Mitt Romney has drastically expanded his lead among the national GOP electorate:


While far more Republican primary voters view Rick Santorum as the true conservative, Mitt Romney has become the clear leader in the race for the GOP nomination, according to a just-released Fox News poll. After Iowa and New Hampshire wins, Romney now garners the highest level of support from GOP primary voters nationally achieved by any candidate so far. And support for Santorum has nearly quadrupled in the last month, putting him firmly in the second tier with Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. Romney has the backing of 40 percent of Republican primary voters. He’s followed by Santorum at 15 percent, Gingrich at 14 percent and Paul at 13 percent. Rick Perry captures 6 percent and Jon Huntsman 5 percent.  Romney’s support is up 17 percentage points since last month’s Fox poll. Gingrich -- who led last month -- has dropped by 22 points.

Newt's plummeting poll position is partially attributable to a series of negative ads run by Mitt Romney and Ron Paul supporters in Iowa.  An angry Gingrich has responded by launching kitchen-sink attacks against Romney, including the promotion of a dishonest film that badly distorts Romney's tenure at private equity firm Bain Capital.  Even though Gingrich has requested that a supportive Super PAC remove the controversial film from its website, GOP voters now perceive the former Speaker's campaign as the "nastiest" and most negative of the entire field.  This result must burn Newt, considering that (a) his scorched-earth tactics were prompted by incoming negative attacks, and (b) he'd previously run a conspicuously positive race.  He hastily abandoned that strategy, went hard negative, and is paying the price.
On the Democratic side of the ledger, President Obama's approval rating has rebounded slightly over early December, but remains underwater at 45/47.  He fares far worse among independents, at 36/52.  The president's personal favorability continues to outpace his job approval rating, but that gap is narrowing.  Forty-six percent of Americans now hold an unfavorable view of Barack Obama.  Americans aren't pleased with the state of the nation, either; 65 percent of respondents say they are unsatisfied with the country's direction, and 56 percent describe themselves as either "disappointed" or "angry" with the Obama administration. 
A mere 43 percent of Americans believe this president deserves a second term, yet a slim majority says he'll win this fall's election anyway.  Not exactly a glowing assessment of the GOP field.  Along those lines, Obama leads every possible Republican opponent in hypothetical head-to-head matchups.  He bests Santorum and Gingrich by double digits, but is locked in a virtual tie with Romney at 46/45.  If Ron Paul decides to run as a third party candidate, the breakdown would swing in Obama's favor (42 Obama/35 Romney/14 Paul).  Ed Morrissey runs the numbers and analyzes the poll's overall sample HERE.

UPDATE - Rasmussen's latest numbers suggest that Gingrich's full court press on Bain has bolstered Romney among Republican voters:

The Republican presidential front-runner has come under increasing attack from some GOP rivals for his work at Bain Capital, a major investment firm, and 34% of Likely U.S. Voters now think Romney’s track record in business is primarily a reason to vote against him. However, slightly more (39%) feel that business record is primarily a reason to vote for him, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. Twenty-seven percent (27%) are undecided. As Saturday’s critical South Carolina Primary approaches, it appears the criticism of Romney by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Governor Rick Perry, in particular, is not resonating with Republican voters nationally. Fifty-five percent (55%) of those voters believe Romney’s record in business is primarily a reason to vote for him versus only 20% who see it as a reason to vote against him.

The poll shows Romney with a nine-point lead over Obama on economic issues.

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