Newt Gingrich: Where does his support come from?

Newt Gingrich is the latest Republican presidential hopeful to shoot to the top of the polls – happily gathering support from former Herman Cain and Rick Perry backers.

Adam Hunger/REUTERS
Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich listens to a question at Rivier College in Nashua, New Hampshire Monday.

Newt Gingrich is the latest Republican presidential hopeful to shoot to the top of the polls. A USA Today/Gallup survey released today confirms his new status: The poll has him essentially tied with Mitt Romney for the GOP frontrunner spot.

But who, specifically, are his new voters? Is he getting disaffected Herman Cain voters? The usual anti-Romney crowd? Tea party people? Who?

Well, he’s getting some folks from all those categories. But interestingly, his support now seems to rest on a number of pillars of strength, including ex-Rick Perry voters, GOP voters old enough to remember him as Speaker of the House, and highly educated Republicans.

You can see these trends in the Gallup poll breakdown.

Newt’s rise began back in September, at a time when Texas Governor Perry was getting around 29 percent in the polls. Perry’s gone on a steep slide since then. Today Gallup has him as the choice of only 8 percent of Republican voters.

Gingrich and Mr. Cain rose as he fell. Cain rose faster, but has since declined slightly in the wake of sexual-harassment charges. Gingrich, who was already on the way up, appears to have corralled some of the ex-Cain supporters.

Interestingly, if you cross-slice his support, Gingrich gets stronger as voter age increases. He gets only four percent of the 18- to 29-year-old crowd, for instance, but grabs a hefty 34 percent of Republican voters 65 and over, according to Gallup.

“Gingrich’s support is heavily concentrated among Republicans who are at least 50. This pattern may reflect the fact that he has been out of office for more than a decade, and thus a less familiar figure to young Republicans,” writes Gallup’s Jeffrey Jones.

He also gets the highly educated crowd. Among GOP voters with postgraduate degrees, his support has risen from 10 percent to 28 percent in the USA Today/Gallup survey.

The highly educated "had been the education group that gave him his lowest support; now they give him the highest,” writes USA Today’s chief political scribe Susan Page.

Hmm. Perhaps older people don’t mind it so much when Gingrich floats some of his out-there solutions, such as paying poor elementary kids to serve as janitors in their schools so that they can earn pocket money and have a stake in the school’s appearance.

Other recent polls show similar demographic results. A Fox News survey released last week shows Gingrich leading all Republicans among GOP voters with at least a college degree, for instance. He also leads among self-described conservatives, and is tied with Mitt Romney at 25 percent among Republican voters who make more than $50,000 per year.

The Fox News poll also asked an unusual question: Which Republican hopeful would GOP voters most trust with nuclear weapons?

The answer? You guessed it. Ashton Kutcher! Just kidding. It was Newt. Fully 30 percent of the Republican electorate picked him as the candidate whose hand they’d most want near the button. Among other contenders, only Romney was even close, at 17 percent.

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