(UPDATED 12/5/11 with NBC/Marist Polls in Iowa and New Hampshire)
(Click chart for full size)
With a lot of attention focused on the collapse of the Herman Cain campaign and the sudden rise of Newt Gingrich I think we’ve missed an important downturn in Mitt Romney’s standing in the first four states. Since mid-September he has experienced significant downturns in all four states that will vote in January. Romney is down about 10 in Iowa, 5 in New Hampshire, 10 in South Carolina and 14 in Florida. His recent increase in effort in Iowa may have less to do with trying to win than with attempting to shore up weakening support there.
While the declines have not been as precipitous as the surges and then collapses of other candidates, the loss in support over the last two months has been striking. New Hampshire has declined less than the other four states, but if Romney wins New Hampshire but loses Iowa, South Carolina and Florida he will certainly be in serious trouble.
Romney’s national polling is also down some 7 points over the last couple of months, though his national numbers have fluctuated by this much before.
The record of surge and then collapse by other candidates makes Gingrich’s current path less than entirely convincing evidence for the long run. But as the GOP has tried all the alternatives to Romney there seems to be some toll on him. The Gingrich surge has the advantage of facing a somewhat weaker “front runner” than his predecessors. And whatever his potential for shooting from the hip, Gingrich does not suffer from the lack of experience and knowledge issues that damaged the Perry and Cain campaigns. And Gingrich’s surge has already exceeded that of the previous would-be-front-runners.
While Romney remains the GOP establishment’s preference, if somewhat reluctantly, the grass roots continue to have enough problems with him to power the surges and now to erode his support across the board. Even if the alternative remains uncertain (see recent elite discussion of Huntsman as the “most conservative” candidate, a theme that might make him more acceptable to the roots) Romney’s serious trouble closing the deal has made this the most uncertain GOP nomination contest in decades.
Here are the plots of the entire GOP field in each of the first four caucus and primary states. (Click for full size images.)