WASHINGTON -- The first new poll of likely Republican caucusgoers in Iowa since the Christmas holiday shows little change. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) continues to run slightly ahead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (24 to 20 percent), followed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (13 percent), Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) (11 percent), Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Sen. Rick Santorum (10 percent each), former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (4 percent) and former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer (2 percent).
The automated poll, conducted by the Democratic Party-affiliated firm Public Policy Polling (PPP), was conducted on Monday and Tuesday and shows little or no change in vote preferences compared to its last survey, conducted 10 days earlier. That poll showed Paul leading Romney by three points (23 to 20 percent), with Gingrich in third (14 percent).
PPP's surveys, like the others, have shown support for Newt Gingrich rising from the single digits to a high of 27 percent in early December and then falling back to 13 percent on the current survey. In early December, PPP found Gingrich's personal rating peaking at 62 percent favorable, 31 percent unfavorable. Four weeks of pounding by negative ads have helped reverse that to 37 percent favorable, 54 percent unfavorable on the current survey.
Meanwhile, Ron Paul's support comes from what the PPP analysis describes as "a coalition of voters that's pretty unusual for a Republican in the state." Romney leads with traditional caucus-goers and Republicans, while Paul's lead depends on a 39-to-12 percent advantage among likely caucus-goers who say they are independents or Democrats and a 35-to-11 percent lead among voters under 45 years of age.
"The independent/young voter combo worked for Barack Obama in securing an unexpectedly large victory on the Democratic side in 2008," the PPP analysts write, "and it may be Paul's winning equation in 2012." PPP also finds that Paul's supporters are "more passionate" than Romney's, as Paul's lead over Romney is slightly larger (28 to 21 percent) among voters who say their minds are completely made up.
The biggest uncertainty about polling in Iowa this election cycle will be whether the passion of Paul's younger and independent supporters that has been captured in the poll will translate into turnout on caucus night.
Meanwhile, the PPP poll shows no uptick in support for any of the candidates running at the back of the pack, although Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum are all within range of a third place finish. Santorum has the highest personal rating (56 percent favorable, 29 percent unfavorable) and is the most frequent second choice for president (at 14 percent). As such, the PPP analysis concludes that Santorum is the one candidate with "potential to grow his support in the final week."
The PPP poll was conducted on Monday and Tuesday among 565 registered voters who said they plan to vote in the Republican caucuses. Like many of the firms polling in Iowa this year, PPP uses an automated, recorded voice methodology which reaches landline telephones only.