Mitt Romney has edged ahead of Newt Gingrich, 27% to 23%, for the national lead among Republican voters for the first time since Gallup Daily tracking of the Republican race began on Dec. 1. Ron Paul remains in deep third place with 11% of the GOP vote, followed by Rick Perry at 8%.
Former Speaker of the House Gingrich began December with a dominant lead over the rest of the field with 37% support, compared with Romney's 22% and single-digit percentages for all other candidates. Gingrich's support began to fall after the first week of December, landing at his current 23% for the five days of interviewing conducted Dec. 22-23 and Dec. 26-28.
The collapse in Gingrich's lead has been accompanied by slight gains for other candidates, as well as a small increase in the percentage of Republicans who don't have a specific choice for their party's nomination.
Americans perceive Jon Huntsman, Mitt Romney, and Ron Paul as closest to themselves ideologically, and Michele Bachmann and Barack Obama as furthest away.
A USA Today/Gallup poll asked Americans to rate their own ideology -- and the ideology of the eight major presidential candidates -- on a 5-point scale with 1 being very liberal and 5 being very conservative. Americans' mean score on this scale is 3.3, meaning the average American is slightly to the right of center ideologically. Huntsman's score matches that at 3.3, but that mean rating excludes the 45% of Americans who did not have an opinion of Huntsman. Of the better known candidates, Romney's and Paul's 3.5 scores are closest to the average American's ideology.
Obama's mean ideology rating ends up furthest away from Americans' own mean score because Republicans place him far to the left, with an average of 1.7, compared with 2.5 among independents and 2.8 among Democrats. In fact, Obama is the only candidate whose ideology is perceived very differently by party groups; Republicans, Democrats, and independents generally perceive each of the Republican candidates' views similarly.