Newt Gingrich is the clear front-runner for the 2012 Republican nomination -- and the biggest beneficiary of Herman Cain’s departure from the race. Mitt Romney, again, holds steady with about a quarter of GOP primary voters in his camp.A Fox News poll released Thursday shows Gingrich up 13 percentage points since mid-November. Cain suspended his campaign on December 3.
In the latest snapshot of the race, Gingrich receives the backing of 36 percent of GOP primary voters. That’s up from 23 percent last month -- and is three times the 12 percent he had in late October. It also represents the largest share of the vote that a candidate has received in six months of Fox News polling. The previous high was 26 percent for Romney over the summer.
That puts significant distance between the former House speaker and former front-runner Romney, who receives 23 percent in the new poll. Last month, 22 percent supported Romney and 15 percent Cain.
Romney has consistently polled in the low-to-mid 20s among GOP primary voters. In six months of Fox News polling, Romney’s highest backing came in July and August, with 26 percent. He hit a low of 20 percent in late October.
Ron Paul also picked up bit of support with Cain out of the race. Paul now receives 12 percent, up from 8 percent three weeks ago.
Rick Perry comes in at 8 percent. Last month, he had 7 percent.
Among voters who are part of the Tea Party movement, Gingrich receives 44 percent. That far outdistances Paul (15 percent) and Romney (11 percent).
Despite leading the GOP pack, there’s a lack of enthusiasm for both Gingrich and Romney.
Some 34 percent of GOP primary voters say, if Gingrich were the nominee, they would vote for him and support him “enthusiastically,” while nearly half (49 percent) would “just vote for him.” Another 13 percent would vote for someone else or not vote at all in the general election.
The results are similar if Romney were to become the nominee: 28 percent of GOP primary voters would support him “enthusiastically,” while about twice that number -- 55 percent -- would “just vote for him.” Twelve percent would back someone else or stay home.
The poll also asked Republican primary voters their second choice. Just over half of Gingrich backers -- 52 percent -- say Romney is their second choice. Under half of Romney supporters -- 48 percent -- pick Gingrich as their second choice.
Overall, slightly more voters would rather spend every day of the next year with Romney (36 percent) than Gingrich (32 percent) if they had to pick between the two. Some 24 percent would refuse to spend that much time with either Republican contender.
Republicans would choose to spend every day with Gingrich over Romney by 11 percentage points (46 percent-35 percent).
The Fox News poll is based on landline and cell phone interviews with 911 randomly chosen registered voters nationwide and was conducted under the joint direction of Anderson Robbins Research (D) and Shaw & Company Research (R) from December 5 to December 7. For the total sample, it has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. For the subgroup of 356 GOP primary voters, it is plus or minus 5 percentage points.