Screen readers: Two navigational links to follow.Skip to site navigation.Skip to page content.
The University of Iowa News Services
The University of Iowa News Services Home News Releases UI in the News Subscribe to UI News Contact Us

University of Iowa News Release


Dec. 12, 2011

Hawkeye Poll: Gingrich still leads, but support may be softening

Newt Gingrich continues to retain his frontrunner status in Iowa among candidates seeking the Republican presidential nomination, but his support in the state may be declining, according to a University of Iowa Hawkeye Poll released today.

With the Iowa caucuses just three weeks away, Gingrich retains his lead over Mitt Romney, with 29.8 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers indicating that they would vote for Gingrich and 20.3 percent of the respondents supporting Romney if the caucuses were held today. Ron Paul placed third with 10.7 percent. Among other candidates, Michelle Bachman had 8.5 percent, Rick Perry had 8.2 percent, Rick Santorum had 5.3 percent, Herman Cain had 4.4 percent, and John Huntsman had 1.5 percent.

Cain's announcement to suspend his campaign occurred midway through polling. A comparison of responses before and after his announcement on Dec. 3 shows his support decreasing from 6.5 percent to 2.9 percent. After Cain's departure from the race, the survey found support for Gingrich dropping from 37.7 percent to 24.4 percent. The prime beneficiaries appear to be Paul, whose support increased from 7.1 percent to 13 percent; Perry, who went from 4.8 percent to 10.4 percent; and Santorum, who went from 2.7 percent to 7.0 percent. The percentage of respondents who were not sure who their choice would be also increased from 5.6 percent to 13.8 percent. Cain supporters appear to spread out among the other candidates in the race.

Frederick Boehmke, associate professor of political science in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and faculty adviser of the Hawkeye Poll, says that although Gingrich is currently in the lead, he may be losing support.

"Gingrich's 29.8 percent share among likely GOP caucus-goers still gives him a nine-point lead over Romney, but our results show that his support may be starting to slide as it has with previous frontrunners," Boehmke says. "The gap has closed to 5.1 percentage points even though Romney's support has changed very little."

Gingrich's lead over Romney is smaller among "very likely" caucus-goers, with 29.0 percent stating they would vote for him if the caucuses were held today compared to 22.6 percent who identified Romney as their preferred candidate. This gap widened among those "somewhat likely" to attend the caucuses, with 31.2 percent supporting Gingrich and 16 percent supporting Romney if the caucuses were held today. Among "very likely" caucus-goers, Bachmann placed third with 11.2 percent of respondents.

Similar results occur among "strong" Republicans—28.9 percent would vote for Gingrich and 23.1 percent would vote for Romney if the caucuses were held today. Gingrich's lead is larger when looking at Iowans who identify as Republican but "not strongly." Of those, 35.9 percent would vote for Gingrich and 20.7 percent would vote for Romney in the caucuses. Of those who identified as "not strong" Republicans, 8.6 percent said they would support Paul.

"Gingrich faces at least two obstacles according to our data," Boehmke says. "His run at the top may be starting to tail off as it has for previous front-runners. He also faces the challenge of turning out his supporters on caucus night, which will be critical since the gap between him and Romney is narrower among 'very likely' GOP caucusers and 'strong' Republicans."

Caroline Tolbert, professor of political science in CLAS and co-author of the 2011 book Why Iowa?, says campaigning in Iowa matters for support on caucus night.

"Bachman, Santorum, and Ron Paul have campaigned extensively in Iowa, while Gingrich has spent little time in the state. Romney built a strong network of support in Iowa four years ago that voters remember today," Tolbert says. "Candidate support among strong Republicans and very likely caucus-goers is our best predictor of success in the caucuses, given expected low turnout. While Gingrich is polling well, his minimal staff and grassroots organization in Iowa suggests he may be unable to turnout supporters on Jan. 3 to the same degree as the others."

In Iowa, Independents can register to caucus on caucus night. Of those who identified as Independent leaning Republican, Gingrich still leads (32.3 percent), but Paul (18.5 percent) is preferred over Romney (13.2 percent). Paul fared well among all Independent groups (19.6 percent).

Tea Party supporters may be mobilized this election. Seventy-four percent of likely Republican caucus-goers support the Tea Party. Among respondents who "strongly" or "somewhat" support the Tea Party movement, Gingrich's support is more than twice as high as Romney's. Sixteen percent of supporters would vote for Romney, while 33.8 percent would vote for Gingrich. Bachman had the backing of 11.5 percent of Tea Party supporters and Paul 10.8 percent.

"Gingrich has become the Tea Party candidate in this race, and this bodes well for him," Tolbert says. "Turnout of Tea Party supporters on caucus night could be key to his success in the state."

Romney does better among those who did not express support of the movement, with 38.6 percent of those who "neither support nor oppose" and 36.9 percent of those who "oppose" the movement supporting him.

Preference between the two front-runners varied due to basic demographic factors. Romney received slightly more support among female Iowans than among male Iowans; 23.7 percent of female Iowans would vote for Romney if the caucuses were held today, while 17.6 percent of male Iowans indicated the same preference. In contrast, more male Iowans expressed support for Gingrich (34.4 percent compared to 24.1 percent of female Iowans).

Romney's greatest support came from respondents aged 70 or older (27.9 percent), with other age groups ranging from 11.7 percent (aged 18-34) to 18.8 percent (aged 55-69). Preference for Gingrich was steady across all age groups. If the caucuses were held today, 25.2 percent of Iowans aged 18-34, 35.8 percent aged 35-54, 24.6 percent aged 55-69, and 31.5 percent aged 70 years or older would vote for Gingrich.

Detailed analysis of the poll follows. Topline results for the polls are available at: Poll methodology is available at:


Satisfaction with the candidates

Of likely caucus-goers, 11.4 percent either supported "someone else," said they "don't know" who they supported, or refused to respond.

Among likely caucus-goers, 35.0 percent were "very satisfied" with their choices for the Republican nominee, 52.9 percent were "somewhat satisfied," and 12.0 percent were "not satisfied." Of Romney's supporters, 33.5 percent were "very satisfied" with the choices compared to 42.0 percent of Gingrich's supporters.

"These results suggest a very fluid race," Boehmke says. "No one candidate has put together a strong coalition of very satisfied voters. Until they do, support will likely continue to shift between candidates all the way through caucus night."


Effect of gay marriage attitudes

Iowans' attitudes toward gay marriage had some influence upon their preference for a Republican presidential candidate. Romney received support from approximately 25 percent of respondents who said gay couples should be able to legally marry or be in civil unions, and 14.4 percent of respondents who said gay couples should have no legal recognition. Gingrich had more support from respondents who answered in favor of civil unions (31.7 percent) or no legal recognition (30.4 percent), and far less support from respondents in favor of legal marriage for gay couples (17.0 percent).


Despite Gingrich's current success, it could come down to a close race in Iowa. With only 35 percent of likely caucus-goers indicating that they are "very satisfied" with their candidate choices and 11.4 percent of likely caucus-goers still undecided or supporting a candidate other than the major candidates, success in Iowa will depend on who can turn out their supporters on caucus night.

Four years ago, the Hawkeye Poll was the first to see Barack Obama moving closer to then-leader Hillary Clinton among Democratic caucus-goers, and to indicate Mike Huckabee was gaining traction with Republicans. Obama and Huckabee would go on to win the state's first-in-the-nation caucus in January 2008.

The Iowa caucuses will be held Jan. 3, 2012. For related stories and information, visit the UI Election 2012 website at


About the Hawkeye Poll

The list of GOP candidates included: Bachmann, Cain, Gingrich, Huntsman, Paul, Perry, Romney, Santorum, "someone else," and "don't know."

Caucus-goers are self-identified. Participants were asked how likely they were to caucus, and for which party. A total of 277 respondents indicated they were "somewhat likely" or "very likely" to attend the 2012 Republican caucuses. The margin of error for the likely caucus-goer subsample is plus or minus 6.0 percent.

Respondents were asked whether they were "very likely," "somewhat likely," "not very likely," or "not at all likely" to attend the 2012 caucuses. Among all registered voters contacted, 42.1 percent said they were "not at all" likely to caucus, while another 19.7 percent said they were "not very likely." These two groups were not considered likely caucus-goers. The remaining 37.8 percent said they were "very likely" (22.9 percent) or "somewhat likely" (14.9 percent) to caucus. A second screen then asked which party's caucus the voter planned to attend. Of the initial screen of likely caucus-goers, 1 percent could not name a party and were dropped. Approximately 36.6 percent of the original registered voter sample is thus classified as "likely caucus-goers." Of the total original registered voter sample, about 23.4 percent are considered likely Republican caucus-goers.

The poll was conducted by the Hawkeye Poll Cooperative, comprised of UI faculty and graduate students in political science. The faculty adviser for the poll is UI Associate Professor of Political Science Frederick Boehmke. The poll used the facilities of the Iowa Social Science Research Center, directed by UI Sociology Professor Kevin Leicht. UI Professor of Political Science Caroline Tolbert is a member of the Hawkeye Poll Cooperative and author of Why Iowa? The poll is a teaching, research, and service project of the Department of Political Science in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. CLAS and the Provost's Office fund the poll.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242

MEDIA CONTACTS: Frederick Boehmke, Hawkeye Poll, 319-335-2342 (office), 716-866-9277 (cell),; Caroline Tolbert, Hawkeye Poll, 319-335-2358 (office), 319-621-8452 (cell),; Tom Snee, University News Services, 319-541-8434 (cell),; Kelli Andresen, University News Services, 319-384-0070 (office), 319-330-9951 (cell),; Natasha Altema, Hawkeye Poll, 404-625-3372 (cell), 319-335-3844 (office),