Gallup pollsters marvel that the Republican presidential contest is the most volatile for the GOP since polling began, with four front-runners emerging and changing positions seven times since May in Gallup polling.
The phenomenal jockeying rivals only the Democrats in 2003, when six front-runners slipped into, and fell out of, the lead nine times, Gallup notes in a new report released today
In the 2012 GOP horse race, Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich occupied the top spot at various times last year, “with Romney's standing rising and falling as other candidates surged and faded,” Gallup’s analysis says.
Here’s the way the GOP lead has stacked up at various times, based on Gallup polls and Gallup Daily tracking last year:
- May-June — Romney
- July — Romney and Perry
- August — Perry
- October-early November — Romney and Cain, tied
- Mid-November — Romney and Gingrich, tied
- Early- to mid-December — Gingrich
- Late December — Gingrich and Romney, tied
Toss two more names into the mix, and the race has been even more fluid, Gallup observes: “Mike Huckabee led the Republican field, or tied Romney and Sarah Palin for the lead, in Gallup polls at the start of the year; however Huckabee and Palin ultimately declined to run.”
Not since 1964 has the Republican Party had as many serious contenders, Gallup’s analysis states, adding that “many of the shifts in national Republican preferences in the 1964 race occurred after the primaries began, rather than in the year leading up to it.
“Nelson Rockefeller and Barry Goldwater were the only Republican front-runners in Gallup polling in 1963. Then, during the primary season in 1964, Richard Nixon, Henry Cabot Lodge, and William Scranton all emerged in the lead or tied for the lead, before Goldwater won the nomination at a hard fought convention.”
The bottom line, on the eve of the Iowa caucuses Tuesday, Gallup notes, is that the Hawkeye State voting signals the “close of the preliminary phase of the 2012 Republican nomination contest and the start of actual voting that could result in additional national preference swings before the nomination is settled.
“Historical comparisons of primaries can be problematic, given differences in the number of candidates and number of poll conducted each election. It still seems clear that this phase of the 2012 Republican nomination process has been the most volatile for the GOP since the advent of polling.”
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