As news about the economy worsens and President Barack Obama’s polls start to steadily sink, a new Gallup Poll indicates former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s stock has risen significantly among Republicans:

Republicans’ support for Mitt Romney as their party’s 2012 presidential nominee has increased significantly to 24%, compared with 17% in late May. As a result, Romney has widened his advantage over Sarah Palin in the latest update on rank-and-file Republicans’ nomination preferences.

Romney appears to have gotten a boost in recent weeks after the official announcement of his candidacy. Gallup’s prior update of May 20-24 came just after former co-leaders Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump announced they were not candidates for the nomination; that poll showed Romney and Palin in a virtual tie. Since then, Romney’s support has increased and Palin’s has been flat, leaving Romney with an eight-percentage-point advantage.

That is the largest numerical lead Gallup has measured for any candidate since it first began measuring nomination preferences in September. In that initial September poll, Romney held a seven-point advantage over the field of candidates. Romney or Huckabee held slim margins of no more than four points in subsequent polls.

No candidate besides Romney has shown a significant increase in support since the May update, though Rick Santorum, who also recently announced his official candidacy, saw his support rise from 2% to 6%. Meanwhile, support for Newt Gingrich, whose campaign has been off to a rocky start since his official announcement last month, is now at 5%, a slight decline since May. The high point for Gingrich was 13% in November.

The poll shows that:

  • Romney’s advantage over Palin had been two points in May but it’s now 8 points.
  • If Palin is excluded from the race he has a 17 point advantage over other GOP competitors.
  • He enjoys particularly strong support among older, better educated Republicans.
  • I’ve long contended that Romney could be one of the Republican Party’s stronger candidates in a general election because he could peel off some moderate to conservative Democrats (some still do exist), independent voters, and even with all of his positions shifts would could regain the support of moderate Republicans (the ones called RINOS by Tea Party movement members) since as Governor he was widely seen as a member of their ranks. Plus, in a still ailing economy — voters “hired” Obama in 2008 specifically to fix the economy — he still has some cred.

    On the other hand, Gallup issues this note of political caution with the poll:

    Romney may be emerging as a front-runner in a GOP race that has been characterized to date by its lack of a leading candidate. Republican nomination contests usually have a clear front-runner, and that candidate often goes on to win. But that did not hold true in the last presidential election cycle, when Rudy Giuliani led in national preference polls throughout 2007 but performed poorly in the actual nominating contests in 2008. Additionally, even if Romney were to expand his lead into the double digits in the coming months, he still would rate as one of the weakest Republican front-runners in recent GOP nominating history.

    Romney remains behind lesser-known candidates Cain and Bachmann in Gallup’s measure of positive intensity toward candidates, though his score seems to be on the rise.

    JOE GANDELMAN, Editor-In-Chief
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    Copyright 2011 The Moderate Voice
    • ShannonLeee

      “He enjoys particularly strong support among older, better educated Republicans”

      My favorite kind of Republican.

    • slamfu

      Is it possible that the GOP is going to shake loose the stranglehold of the Tea Party morons and actually nominate the strongest candidate? Seeing signs of sanity in politics has left me somewhat speechless.