(Photo: REUTERS/Scott Audette)
A recent study conducted by Gallup suggests that, among the Republican presidential candidates, Mitt Romney would have the best chance to beat President Barack Obama in the November general election. Romney is followed closely by Ron Paul, then Rick Santorum. Newt Gingrich has, by far, the worst chance to beat Obama, the poll suggests.
Gallup calculates that Romney has the highest positive intensity score at negative one, which is similar to Obama's negative three. Ron Paul's score is about the same as Romney's and Obama's, when accounting for the plus or minus three percentage point margin of error, at negative four. Santorum had a negative seven.
Gingrich's positive intensity score was by far the worst at negative 20, suggesting that there are a large number of Americans who hold strongly unfavorable views of Gingrich.
Gallup's Jan. 12–15 survey of 2,010 American adults asked whether they had a generally favorable or generally unfavorable opinion of each of the candidates. That question was followed by asking if they felt strongly about their answer.
Positive intensity scores are calculated by subtracting the percentage of strongly unfavorable views by the percentage of strongly favorable views.
Gingrich's low positive intensity score is driven, in part, by Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. Among this group, Gingrich has a negative 40 positive intensity score.
It is not only Democrats, though. Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, Gingrich's positive intensity score is only plus one. By comparison, Romney and Santorum both have a plus 12. Paul is slightly worse than Gingrich at negative one.
Twenty-seven percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents have an unfavorable view of Gingrich and 12 percent have a strongly unfavorable view. These numbers are similar to Paul's, but unlike Gingrich, Paul, for a Republican, has high favorable views among Democrats.
Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, 33 percent had a favorable view and five percent had a strongly favorable view of Paul.
Romney's overall positive intensity score is highest because his favorability among Democrats is similar to Paul's, while also maintaining high favorable and low unfavorable ratings among Republicans.
Since a presidential candidate will likely need to draw some votes from the opposite party and some independent voters to win the general election, positive intensity scores are considered a good measure of how each candidate will do in the general election.
"Gallup's Positive Intensity Scores indicate Romney, by virtue of his greater appeal to national adults in addition to Republicans, is currently better positioned to compete with Obama than any of his remaining Republican rivals," Jeffrey Jones of Gallup writes.
The survey was conducted before Saturday's South Carolina primary. Most voters in that contest did not agree with Gallup's results. Of those who said the most important quality in a candidate is to beat Obama, 51 percent voted for Gingrich.
A candidate's favorability scores can, of course, change before the general election. For instance, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted Jan. 18-22, just after the Gallup poll, shows both Romney and Gingrich's unfavorable ratings up and favorable ratings slightly down.
The next debate is Thursday on CNN, followed by the Florida primary on Jan. 31.