Eight takeaways from the latest surveys, which show Mitt Romney squaring off against Herman Cain and the tea party
1. The TIME/CNN/ORC polls released Wednesday afternoon from the first four states on the 2012 Republican calendar paint a consistent picture of the Republican race. These polls show that the GOP race is being shaped by parallel but disparate movements: a more moderate and secular wing of the party is coalescing around Mitt Romney, while a more economically and culturally conservative wing continues to resist him, but remains more divided than the roughly other half of the party. That pattern is sufficient to place Romney in the lead comfortably in New Hampshire and Florida, and within the margin of error in Iowa and South Carolina, according to the surveys.
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2. One consistent dividing line in all four polls is attitudes toward the tea party. In each of the states except New Hampshire, Romney polls higher among voters who are neutral or opposed to the tea party than those who say they support it. Herman Cain, in mirror image, polls substantially better among tea party supporters in all four states.
3. Cain leads Romney among tea party supporters in South Carolina (29-23) and Iowa (29-17) and ties him in Florida (26-26); only in New Hampshire does Romney lead Cain among tea party supporters (43-23). But Romney maintains the overall advantage in those states in large part because he has established bigger leads among the non-tea party wing of the party: among voters neutral or opposed to the tea party, Romney leads Cain 35-13 in Florida; 30-16 in Iowa; 39-8 in New Hampshire and 27-17 in South Carolina. In each case that's a larger advantage than Cain's edge among the tea party backers.