Hill Poll: GOP gives Gingrich edge, Romney shows Nov. appeal

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) holds significant advantages over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) among GOP and conservative voters with three weeks to go before the Iowa caucus, this week’s The Hill Poll has found.

But the GOP’s two leading presidential candidates divide opinion much more evenly among the voting public as a whole, a finding that will only stoke the debate about which man is more electable on a nationwide basis.

The Hill Poll indicates that right-of-center voters view Gingrich as the better choice on a wide range of issues.

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Asked whether Gingrich or Romney would be better at making a wise decision in a crisis, Gingrich was the choice of 53 percent of self-identified Republican voters, while only 32 percent opted for Romney. On the same question, voters who described themselves as conservative favored Gingrich 46 percent to 32 percent.

On the question of who has a better all-around ability to lead the nation, a similar pattern was revealed. Gingrich enjoyed a 15-point lead among both Republicans and conservatives. (Republicans favored him 49 percent to 34 percent; conservatives opted for him 47 percent to 32 percent.)

Gingrich also retained his lead when a more personal question was asked. Offered the hypothetical choice of inviting one of the two for dinner in their home, 49 percent of Republicans would choose to dine with Gingrich compared with 34 percent who would choose Romney. (Conservatives again showed a similar split, opting for Gingrich 44 percent to 30 percent.)

Perhaps most worrying for Romney, whose electoral appeal is largely built upon an image of managerial confidence, Gingrich was also given the edge among conservative and Republican voters on the question of which candidate would be better equipped to spur the nation’s economic recovery.

Republican voters favored Gingrich by a 13-point margin (47 percent to 34 percent) when asked who would be better at improving the economy and reducing unemployment. The gap was somewhat narrower among self-identified conservatives, but Gingrich still held a 7-point edge (43 percent to 36 percent).

The Hill Poll also illuminated one potentially serious chink in Gingrich’s armor, however. For all that conservatives appear to like him and what he stands for, they seemed markedly less persuaded of his strength as a general election candidate.

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Asked to put their own views aside, conservatives were almost evenly split on whether Romney or Gingrich would be a stronger opponent against President Obama. Thirty-eight percent favored Gingrich and 35 percent Romney. The 3-point gap lies within the poll’s margin of error.

The Hill Poll’s broader findings could fuel conservative uncertainty. Among all voters, Romney is viewed as the stronger general election opponent by a small margin — 37 percent to 33 percent — while a full 30 percent said they did not know which candidate would be the more formidable.

The overall voting population is effectively evenly split between Romney and Gingrich on other questions as well. Asked whom they would prefer to invite for dinner, 35 percent of all voters went for Romney and 35 percent for Gingrich.

Asked who would be the stronger opponent against Obama, women went for Romney by 13 points (42 percent to 29 percent), while men favored Gingrich by 6 points (37 percent to 31 percent).

On the question of who would make a better decision in a crisis, women broke for Romney by 9 points (41 percent to 32 percent); men broke for Gingrich by 10 points (42 percent to 32 percent).

The biggest gender divide of all came on the question of whom voters would prefer to invite home for dinner. Women preferred Romney to Gingrich by 16 points (43 percent to 27 percent). Men opted to break bread with Gingrich by 19 points (45 percent to 26 percent). One potential explanation for the split could lie with Gingrich’s colorful personal history, which includes three marriages and infidelity.

The Hill Poll was conducted by Pulse Opinion Research on Dec. 8. Pulse surveyed 1,000 likely voters, and the margin of error was 3 percentage points.

Click here to view data from The Hill Poll.