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Latest Iowa Poll After Christmas: Paul 24%, Romney 20 %, Gingrich 13%, Bachmann 11%, Perry/Santorum 10%

The last week and a half has brought little change in the standings for the Iowa Republican caucus: Ron Paul continues to lead Mitt Romney by a modest margin, 24-20. Newt Gingrich is in 3rd at 13% followed by Michele Bachmann at 11%, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum at 10%, Jon Huntsman at 4%, and Buddy Roemer at 2%.

Paul’s strength in Iowa continues to depend on a coalition of voters that’s pretty unusual for a Republican in the state.  Romney leads 22-20 with those who are actually Republicans, while Paul has a 39-12 advantage with the 24% who are either independents or Democrats. GOP caucus voters tend to skew old, and Romney has a 34-12 advantage with seniors. But Paul’s candidacy looks like it’s going to attract an unusual number of younger voters to the caucus this year, and with those under 45 he has a 35-11 advantage on Romney. The independent/young voter combo worked for Barack Obama in securing an unexpectedly large victory on the Democratic side in 2008 and it may be Paul’s winning equation in 2012.

Paul continues to have much more passionate support than Romney. 77% of his voters are firmly committed to him, compared to 71% for Romney. Among voters who say their minds are completely made up Paul’s lead expands to 7 points at 28-21. If Paul’s lead holds on through next Tuesday it appears he’ll have won this on the ground- 26% of voters think he’s run the strongest campaign in the state to 18% for Bachmann and 10% for Santorum with just 5% bestowing that designation to Romney. There’s also an increasing sense that Paul will indeed win the state- 29% think he’ll emerge victorious with 15% picking Romney and no one else in double digits.

Although Romney’s support has held steady at 20% over the last week his favorability numbers have taken a hit, something that could keep him from moving into first place over the final week. He was at +9 (49/40) but has dipped now into negative territory at -3 (44/47). Additionally Romney is the second choice of only 10% of voters, barely better than Paul’s 9%. It’s certainly still close enough that he could win, but there’s nothing within the numbers this week to suggest that he should win. One of Romney’s biggest problems continues to be his inability to hold onto his 2008 voters. Only 48% of them are still with him.

In a development that probably no one would have expected a year ago Romney is winning big with regular Fox News viewers, getting 27% to 16% for Gingrich, 15% for Bachmann, and just 12% for Paul. But Paul leads Romney 38-13 with the 48% of likely caucus voters who don’t regularly watch Fox News.

Newt Gingrich just keeps on sliding. He’s gone from 27% to 22% to 14% to 13% over the course of our four Iowa tracking polls.  His favorability numbers are pretty abysmal now at 37/54 and only 32% of likely voters think that he has strong principles to 45% who believe he does not. Once the darling of Tea Party voters in the state, he’s now slipped to third with that group behind Bachmann and Paul.  There’s not much reason to think Gingrich can return to his former strong standing in the state in the final week.

Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum continue to all be clustered right around 10%. Santorum actually has the best favorability numbers of any of the candidates at +27 (56/29). He’s also the most frequent second choice of voters at 14%.  Whether he can translate any of this into a top 3 finish remains to be seen, but he’s someone who would seem to have the potential to grow his support in the final week.

One thing that’s hurt Santorum’s ability to really make a move is that the Evangelical vote is incredibly fragmented with 6 different candidates getting between 12 and 21%. Paul actually leads the way with that group at 21% to 16% for Romney and Bachmann, 15% for Santorum, 14% for Gingrich, and 12% for Perry.

Bachmann  leads the way with Tea Party voters 24-21 over Paul but the fact that you can be winning Tea Partiers but only in 4th place overall speaks to the diminished power of that movement compared to 2010 within the Republican electorate…only 26% of likely caucus voters consider themselves to be members.

Iowa looks like a 2 person race between Paul and Romney as the campaign enters its final week.  If Paul can really change the electorate by turning out all these young people and independents who don’t usually vote in Republican caucuses, he’ll win. If turnout ends up looking a little bit more traditional, Romney will probably prevail. And given all the strange twists and turns to this point don’t be surprised to see yet another surprise in the final week…and based on the innards of this poll the person best positioned to provide that surprise in the closing stretch is Santorum.

Full results here