Still no single clear leader in Republican presidential contest

Romney often under fire from conservatives for changing positions on issues including LGBT rights

Romney.Mitt.2

Mitt Romney

STEVEN R. HURST  |  Associated Press
editor@dallasvoice.com

WASHINGTON — Republicans are growing significantly less satisfied with the field of candidates to challenge President Barack Obama next year, and they are about evenly split in their support for Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, a new Associated Press-GfK poll finds.

Despite Obama’s low approval ratings and deep vulnerability over his handling of the U.S. economy, the poll of all people surveyed, including Democrats and independents, found Romney and the president statistically even. Obama leads Gingrich 51 percent to 42 percent.

With three weeks remaining before the Iowa caucus, the first contest where voters actually declare their choice of a candidate, Romney’s argument that his Washington outsider status sets him apart has not blocked Gingrich’s stunning climb to the top of the field.

A similar AP-GfK poll of Republicans in October found Gingrich well behind the leading candidates, with 7 percent. Romney had 30 percent.

The new poll conducted earlier this month finds Gingrich preferred by 33 percent of Republicans and Romney by 27 percent. However, that finding falls just within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 6 percentage points.

Gingrich,Newt

Newt Gingrich

All other candidates are in single digits.

The poll also found a considerable drop in satisfaction with the overall Republican field. In October, 66 percent of Republican adults were satisfied, and 29 percent unsatisfied. Now, 56 percent are satisfied and 40 percent unsatisfied.

Voter preferences in early voting states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina do not necessarily match those in national polls. The Iowa caucus is Jan. 3. The New Hampshire primary is one week later.

At a time when polls show plummeting public approval of government, the 68-year-old Gingrich has a long history in the capital as a member of Congress, speaker of the House of Representatives and, since 1998, a lucrative, Washington-based consultant, speaker and author.

Except for four years as Massachusetts governor, Romney, 64, has spent his career in business and management. He ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1994 and for president in 2008.

Both men have earned millions of dollars over the years.  Romney has built his campaign largely on the argument that his business background makes him better suited for the presidency than anyone else, especially on creating jobs in an economy where unemployment remains at 8.6 percent. But in a recent debate in Iowa, Romney at first struggled to name issues on which he and Gingrich disagree.

After citing Gingrich’s support for a mining colony on the moon and changes to child labor laws, Romney said: “The real difference, I believe, is our backgrounds. I spent my life in the private sector. I understand how the economy works.”

Among Republicans who say they prefer a non-Washington candidate, Romney has a modest edge over Gingrich. Gingrich has a larger advantage among those who say they prefer Washington experience in a nominee.

Romney’s better showing in a head-to-head matchup with Obama may give him some ammunition with Republicans whose top priority is ousting the president. Otherwise, Republicans appear to see Romney and Gingrich as similar in many important ways. The two men polled about evenly on the questions of who would be a strong leader, has the right experience, understands ordinary people’s problems and can bring needed change. Romney holds a clear edge on who is most likable. Gingrich leads on the question of who “has firm policy positions.” Romney is often asked about his changed positions on abortion, gay rights, gun control and immigration. Gingrich, however, also has shifted views on key issues.

AP Deputy Polling Director Jennifer Agiesta and News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 16, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

What’s Brewing: Marriage updates from Maryland, New Hampshire; poll shows U.S. evenly divided

Sam Arora

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. A marriage equality bill once thought to be assured of passage in the Maryland House remains stalled in committee, with lawmakers who once supported the measure now wavering under intense pressure from the religious right. The most notable flip-flopper is Democrat Sam Arora, who campaigned on his support for the bill but now says he’ll vote against it on the floor.

2. New Hampshire lawmakers put off until next year consideration of proposals to repeal marriage equality, saying they want to focus on fiscal issues first. A House committee voted 15-0 to retain the repeal bills until 2012, and LGBT advocates are disappointed the measures weren’t killed outright. 

3. But Ti-i-i-ime is on our side, yes it is. A new Pew poll shows the nation is now evenly divided on marriage equality, with a strong trend of increasing support. According to the poll, 46 percent say same-sex marriage should not be legal, while 45 percent say it should, with a 3 percent margin of error that makes for a statistical tie. Just two short years ago, a Pew poll found that 54 percent of Americans opposed marriage equality, while only 37 supported it.

—  John Wright

NC poll: Most support rights for same-sex couples

MIKE BAKER | Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. — More than half of North Carolina residents now support legal recognition of same-sex couples, and more than one-quarter believe they should have full marriage rights, according to a poll released Monday, Feb. 28.

The Elon University survey found that 29 percent of respondents in the state support civil unions or partnerships for gay couples but not full marriage rights. About 28 percent of people support full marriage rights.

Meanwhile, only 35 percent of respondents opposed all legal recognition for same-sex partners, down from 44 percent when the question was asked two years ago.

“That’s a substantial move,” said Elon Poll Director Hunter Bacot. “We’re seeing people becoming more comfortable with the issue.”

About two dozen Republican senators in North Carolina have proposed a constitutional amendment to ban gay unions. Similar measures have previously been filed in the General Assembly but gone nowhere, but Republicans now control both chambers of the Legislature for the first time in more than a century.

The Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights group, has given money to a North Carolina group opposing the constitutional change.

The Elon poll was conducted last week and surveyed 467 North Carolina adults. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.6 percentage points.

—  John Wright

Poll: U.S. divided in thirds on gay marriage

When it comes to same-sex marriage, the nation is divided roughly into thirds, according to a new poll from Daily Kos.

Thirty-four percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, 31 percent favor civil unions and 31 percent are opposed to any legal recognition for gay couples, the poll showed.

The poll has a margin of error of 3.1 percent, and Daily Kos says it will be asking the question every four weeks.

Not surprisingly, younger people and Democrats were more likely to support marriage equality, while Republicans, Teabaggers and older people were more likely to oppose it:

But there are some surprises in this poll, if one believed the claims that African Americans and Latinos are less tolerant than whites. In fact, this poll suggests the exact opposite. Of course, the sample sizes for both those demographics is small, so these numbers could just be a function of a large margin of error. It’ll be interesting to track them over time to see if they hold up as the number of Latino and African American respondents add up over time.

—  John Wright

BREAKING: Poll results show broad support for gay rights among Texas voters

An overwhelming majority of registered voters in Texas say they support a significant expansion of gay rights, according to the first-ever in-depth statewide poll on LGBT issues.

The scientific poll commissioned by Equality Texas surveyed voters on 12 key issues, from civil unions to workplace discrimination to school bullying. On 10 of the 12 questions, a majority of respondents said they would support an expansion of gay rights. The only two issues on which the LGBT community didn’t receive majority support were same-sex marriage and recognition of same-sex marriages from other states.

“Equality Texas envisions a state where all Texans are treated equally, with dignity and respect,” the group said in a press release. “This first-ever statewide poll on these rights clearly shows our vision is already shared by the vast majority of Texans. This concrete data demonstrates a bipartisan shared vision that crosses all demographic lines: political party affiliation, race, age and geographic location.”

Equality Poll 2010, conducted by The Glengariff Group Inc. and released earlier today, surveyed 1,000 registered voters between Aug. 29 and Sept. 2. The poll has a margin of error of 3.1 percent.

Here’s a snapshot of key findings:

To read a summary of the poll, go here. To read the full poll data, go here. We’ll have much more on the poll in Friday’s Dallas Voice.

—  John Wright