Monmouth Poll: Romney leads Gingrich by 7 in Florida

Today’s Monmouth University Poll of GOP Primary voters in Florida shows former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney registering 39% support while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has 32%. 

Among those who support the Tea Party movement, support is split at 38% for each of the two leading candidates.  However, Gingrich does better among those who say they strongly support the Tea Party with 49% to 24% for Romney.  It’s the mirror image among those who support the Tea Party only somewhat – 51% for Romney to 27% for Gingrich.  Romney also bests Gingrich among voters who either oppose or have no opinion about the Tea Party (42% to 18%).

In the same poll, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum (11%) and Texas Congressman Ron Paul (8%) are well behind the top two contenders. 

Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray said there are decided age and gender gaps in the voting intentions of Sunshine State Republicans.  Men give a slight edge to Gingrich over Romney (38% to 33%), while women prefer Romney over Gingrich by a sizable margin (45% to 26%).  Voters age 65 and older prefer Romney, by a 48% to 33% margin.  The contest is closer among those age 45 to 64 (36% Romney to 31% Gingrich) and age 18 to 44 (33% Gingrich to 29% Romney).

Gingrich (40%) does well among those who call themselves very conservative, leading both Romney (34%) and Santorum (15%) among a voting bloc that comprises nearly 4-in-10 likely voters.  But Romney does better among the bulk of voters who see themselves as either somewhat conservative (44% to 34% for Gingrich) or moderate to liberal (44% to just 19% for Gingrich). 

Gingrich has an advantage among evangelical voters – 41% to 28% for Romney.  Santorum trails with 17% among this group.  Gingrich’s problem is that evangelical Christians represent less than 4-in-10 likely Florida voters, compared to a sizeable majority in South Carolina.

“Governor Romney appears to be ahead for the moment, but we have seen voter preferences turn on a dime in this contest.  Debate performances and ad buys in Florida will determine whether he can solidify his lead or whether Speaker Gingrich can pull out another stunner,” said Murray, director of the non-partisan Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch.

Sunshine State Republicans were also asked their opinion of having home state Senator Marco Rubio as the party’s pick for Vice President.  Nearly 2-in-3 (64%) think this would be a good idea.  Just 17% say it would be a bad idea and 19% have no opinion.  Both Romney voters (65%) and Gingrich voters (77%) say having Rubio in the number two slot would be a good idea.

The poll asked likely Florida GOP primary voters which factor is more important in their presidential candidate choice – someone who shares their values or someone who can defeat President Barack Obama.  They are split between electability (50%) and values (48%).  Romney leads Gingrich with both groups, but interestingly, more so among values voters (36% to 26%) than electability voters (42% to 38%).  This is partly because Paul (15%) and Santorum (12%) eat more into Gingrich’s share of values voters.

Florida has one of the highest unemployment rates (9.9%) in the country.  The Monmouth University Poll found more GOP voters here wanting the next president to place a higher priority on creating jobs (53%) over reducing the federal deficit (43%).  This preference holds for both Romney voters (57% to 40%) and Gingrich voters (52% to 44%).

Florida primary voters intend to stay loyal to the GOP even if their preferred candidate does not win the nomination.  Nearly 3-in-4 (74%) say they will definitely vote for the Republican in November and another 11% say they will probably support the GOP nominee.  Just 7% say they will vote for another candidate, 1% will not vote at all, and 6% are not sure what they will do.  Between 74% and 86% of Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum supporters say they will definitely support whoever takes the Republican nomination.  Just 45% of Ron Paul voters say the same.

The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone with 540 likely Florida Republican primary voters from January 24 to 25, 2012.  This sample has a margin of error of + 4.2 percent.