The crowds at Newt Gingrich's rallies are big, loud, and happy, while Mitt Romney's events are smaller and subdued. Yet polls seem to show the opposite - that Romney's gaining while Gingrich has peaked. What gives? Our guide to today's polls and why they matter.
Pollster: Quinnipiac; CNN/ Time/ ORC
Methodology: Survey of 601 likely Republican voters January 19 through January 23, with 347 of them polled post-South Carolina primary; Phone interviews of 369 likely Republican voters January 22 to January 24.
Why it matters: To The New York Times' Nate Silver, it looks like Gingrich might have peaked already -- his lead has dropped sharply in two days. Silver says "urge may have reached its apogee over the weekend — timed perfectly for his big win in South Carolina, but not necessarily for one in Florida next week." And two right-leaning robopolls find Romney's well ahead Thursday. On the other hand, Silver has written that polls often lag behind changing public opinion. Three newspapers published stories Thursday marveling at the size of the crowds for Gingrich's campaign appearances, especially compared to Romney's. The Times' Michael D. Shear points out that on Tuesday, two Gingrich events drew 1,500 and 5,000 people, followed by a crowd of 4,000 Wednesday. Romney, on the other hand, got crowds of a couple hundred. The Orlando Sentinel's Scott Powers went to different events in Florida Wednesday and found Gingrich got a rowdy crowd 700 while Romney got a polite crowd of 400. Politico calls this "the Tea Party vs. the cocktail party."
Caveat: This shows the race is volatile, NBC News' First Read says, making predictions impossible and raising the stakes of Thursday night's debate. The audience will be able to clap this time, which helps Gingrich.
Pollster: NBC News/ Wall Street Journal
Methodology: Phone survey of 1,000 adults from January 22 to January 24.
Why it matters: While these numbers aren't great, First Read notes it's a one-year high on the economy. The Wall Street Journal's Sara Murray and Janet Hook write that more optimistic views on the economy spell trouble for Romney, who made his economic expertise the central issue of his campaign. The Journal's Republican pollster said "as attitudes about the economy improve, so does President Obama's standing," while his Democratic partner in polling said Obama "still has a very long road ahead of him, but for the first time in a long time he finds that he has the wind at his back." Right-leaning Rasmussen finds a smaller, but still steady, improvement in Obama's numbers. The poll found a seven-month high in the number of people saying the country was headed in the right direction.
Caveat: "There have been upticks like this before and the White House won’t be celebrating – remember, when there appeared to be “green shoots” in 2011 or 2010, something out of the president’s control -- whether it was the BP oil spill, the Greek debt crisis, or the Arab Spring -- derailed that optimism," First Read says.
Methodology: Survey of 1,518 registered voters from January 19 to Janaury 23.
Why it matters: There's a reason conservative pundits are attacking Gingrich -- and conservative lawmakers are weighing calling their donors to tell them to cut Gingrich off. A Suffolk University poll released Wednesday also found Gingrich a weaker candidate -- and Romney still beating Obama by 5 percentage points. Conservatives fear not only that Gingrich would lose the election, but that he'd make the Republican Party so unpopular that Democrats could recapture a majority in the House of Representatives, Politico's Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen report.
Caveat: On the other hand, polls released earlier this week show Romney's general election appeal is waning. Among independent voters, 51 percent view him unfavorably, while 23 percent view him favorably.