Romney's unfavorability rating has jumped sharply in January -- and among independents, it's now 51 percent. It's going to be hard to convince Florida conservatives -- and voters in the state primaries that follow -- to hold their nose and vote for the electable candidate if that candidate doesn't look electable anymore. Here's our guide to today's polls and why they matter.
Findings: Mitt Romney's popularity has dropped sharply this month. His unfavorable rating is 49 percent, while his favorable rating is 31 percent. Among independents, 51 percent don't view him favorably while 23 percent do -- and only two weeks ago, more independents liked him than disliked him.
Pollster: ABC News/ Washington Post
Methodology: Phone interviews with 1,009 Americans from January 18 to January 22. Cell phone users included.
Why it matters: Romney's major selling point is that he's electable -- and that his more conservative rivals will send independent voters running away in terror in the general election. But while Newt Gingrich has long been unpopular nationally, Romney is catching up to him. Gingrich's unfavorable rating is 51 percent, only 2 percentage points more than Romney's. Their scores do not compare well to where the candidates were in 2008, Ari Melber notes with the screengrab below:
Worse for Romney, New York's Jonathan Chait writes, "Obama has designed his entire campaign as a counterposition to Romney... Now, it’s not like it would be hard for Obama to switch gears and design a campaign contrasting himself with Gingrich. The Obama campaign would almost certainly still prefer to run against Gingrich. But the electability gap between the two leading contenders is dwindling."
Caveat: Americans are not the same as likely voters. And it's a long time till November, obviously.
Findings: Gingrich takes the lead in Florida with 38 percent. Romney is 5 percentage points behind with 33 percent. Santorum is trailing with 13 percent and Paul has 10 percent.
Pollster: Public Policy Polling
Methodology: Robocalls to 921 likely Republican voters on January 22 and January 23.
Why it matters: This is more evidence of momentum for Gingrich --PPP found Romney ahead by 15 points as late as January 16, and other polls showed Romney ahead by a large margin. But two robopolls found Gingrich pulling ahead Monday. Further, PPP says Gingrich's voters are more firm than Romney's: 78 percent of Gingrich's voters say they are definitely voting for him, while 73 percent of Romney's voters have decided for sure. Among people who've decided for sure who they're voting for, Gingrich leads 45 percent to Romney's 36 percent. Nationally, Gallup's daily tracking poll shows Gingrich has overtaken Romney, with 31 percent to his 27 percent.
Caveat: More than 200,000 Floridians voted early, and among those who said they'd voted already (16 percent of the polling sample) they went for Romney by 43 percent to 40 percent. PPP is a Democratic firm.
Findings: About half of Americans think investment income should be taxed at the same rate as wages. But more than half of Republicans think the rate on capital gains and dividends should be lowered.
Pollster: New York Times/ CBS News
Methodology: Survey of 1,185 adults from January 20 to January 23.
Why it matters: Mitt Romney's tax rate has become an issue in the Republican primary -- he released his taxes Tuesday, showing he paid a 14 percent federal tax rate for 2010 but will likely pay about 15 percent this year. That's a lot lower than most wealthy people pay. Earlier this year, Obama called for a "Buffet rule" -- that rich dudes like Warren Buffet shouldn't pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries. But we couldn't really expect Buffet to release his tax returns for the whole country to examine. Thanks to Newt Gingrich's goading, however, Romney has offered himself as the financial specimen for the rest of us to dissect. Obama is making the most of that, seating Buffet's secretary next to the first lady at Tuesday's State of the Union address, in which he'll call for changes to the tax code.
Caveat: While the poll indicates Romney's tax rates might matter in the general election (more than half of independents want capital gains and dividends taxed at the same rate as wages), it shows it's not a big issue in the Republican primary. And yet, Gingrich is surging ahead of Romney anyway.