Poll: N.J. voters prefer Romney over Gingrich

NEW BRUNSWICK – Newt Gingrich may be getting a lot of the headlines lately, but in New Jersey, Republican voters want former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney – who is backed by Gov. Chris Christie – to run against President Barack Obama, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. While former House Speaker Gingrich has built a following here, registered Republicans and independents leaning Republican prefer Romney by 28 percent to 20 percent over Gingrich.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul runs a distant third at 5 percent; no other candidate gets more than 3 percent. More than one-third (37 percent) have no preference.

The poll also finds that Obama holds a strong lead in head-to-head matchups with all three GOP front-runners. While Romney does best, Obama leads him by 51 percent to 32 percent. The president doubles Gingrich, 54 percent to 27 percent, while Paul loses, 50 percent to 29 percent.

“New Jersey reflects the rise of Newt Gingrich seen elsewhere, though he has not managed to dethrone Mitt Romney, who has led in every poll we’ve done,” said poll director David Redlawsk, a professor of political science at Rutgers University. “At the same time, Romney has yet to break out of the 20s in our open-ended question and more than a third have no preference at all. Gingrich is just the latest in a series of threats, which included Sarah Palin and Chris Christie early in the year, and Rick Perry and Herman Cain more recently.”

Results are from 823 registered voters drawn from a survey of 907 adult respondents conducted from Dec. 15-18, with a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percentage points.

Despite Christie’s support, Romney can’t break away from the pack, the poll shows.

Although Romney leads among Republican voters, Gingrich ties the former Massachusetts governor among conservatives, at 26 percent.

Moderate Republicans prefer Romney to Gingrich by 2 to 1 (28 percent to 14 percent), but are also much more likely to be unable to name any candidate.

Almost half (46 percent) are unsure of their final choice compared to 30 percent of conservatives, according to the poll.

Republican candidates do best in the northwestern part of the state, with Romney and Gingrich both leading Obama in exurban New Jersey, while Paul draws even, the poll shows. Obama is strongest in north Jersey urban areas, leading all Republicans by about 40 points or more, though he leads in all parts of the state outside northwestern New Jersey.

“Obama’s strength reflects that New Jersey is still a Democratic state when it comes to presidential elections,” said Redlawsk. “Overcoming that for any Republican may be tough. Of course, the election is nearly a year away, and New Jersey voters have yet to become engaged in it. Once the Republicans have a nominee, we should expect to see things tighten.”

Poll: N.J. voters prefer Romney over Gingrich