The big change in the poll was Romney's decline in his strongest group: the Republicans who don't identify with the tea party. Over the previous three months, Romney had steadily consolidated those voters: he increased from 16 percent among them in late August to 35 percent in mid-October. But in CNN's early November poll, he slipped to 29 percent with those more managerial and pragmatic voters, and in this survey he took another tumble - down to 19 percent among them. That's allowed Gingrich to place closer to Romney among non-tea party supporters than any Republican since September, when Texas Gov. Rick Perry began to fall off after a strong start in the polls following his late entrance to the campaign.
With the tea party wing of the GOP, Romney remains essentially stuck in place: he draws 19 percent of them in the new survey, a statistically insignificant uptick from his 17 percent in the previous two surveys. Taking the longer view, his numbers among those voters have varied only between 12 and 19 percent since June. Gingrich, who has now led among Republicans who identify with the tea party in the past two surveys, is the sixth candidate to lead among that group this year. In the latest survey, he's followed among tea party backers by Cain at 21 percent, and Romney at 19 percent. Perry, who drew nearly 40 percent of them in each of three surveys from late August to late September, has dropped to just seven percent.
It's too early to say whether the fall recorded in this survey for Romney among non-tea party Republicans is a polling anomaly. But this survey, like other polls released this week, suggests that one asset for Gingrich is that he is appealing beyond the tea party core. The bigger question for Gingrich may be whether he can hold that tea party support when his rivals, inevitably, begin to focus on his previous support for an individual mandate in health care, amnesty for illegal immigrants, and action against climate change - all positions he's either disavowed or sought to explain on his website in recent days.