Continued from page 1

Among all people surveyed in the AP-GfK poll, including Democrats and independents, Mr. Romney fares better than Mr. Gingrich in head-to-head matchups with Mr. Obama. Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney are statistically even, but Mr. Obama leads Mr. Gingrich 51 percent to 42 percent.

That may give Mr. Romney some ammunition with Republicans whose top priority is ousting Mr. Obama. Otherwise, Republicans appear to see Mr. Romney and Mr. Gingrich as similar in many important ways. The two men polled about evenly on the questions of who would be a strong leader, has the right experience, understands ordinary people’s problems and can bring needed change.

Mr. Romney holds a clear edge on who is most likable. Mr. Gingrich leads on the question of who “has firm policy positions.” Mr. Romney often is asked about his changed positions on abortion, gay rights, gun control and immigration. Mr. Gingrich, however, also has shifted views on some key issues over the years.

The poll found sharp drops in popularity for Mr. Perry and Mr. Cain over the past two months. Mr. Cain has suspended his campaign.

Dmitry Kan, a Republican who owns an advertising firm in Acton, Mass., is not enthusiastic about the field.

“There is not much choice,” he said. “It looks like it’s going to be either Romney or Gingrich.”

Mr. Kan, who is 24 and emigrated from the former Soviet Union in 1992, said he is leaning toward Mr. Gingrich but might change his mind. He said he respects Mr. Romney’s business background, but “seeing how it works these days, I think Gingrich’s ability of political prowess might work better.”

Mr. Kan said Mr. Gingrich “did some difficult stuff back in the 1990s, back in the Clinton administration. Hopefully he will be able to somehow break through the gridlock.”

Catherine Sebree, 41, a homemaker from The Woodlands, Texas, likes Mr. Romney.

“I appreciate the values that he stands for,” she said. “I believe that he is the person that will put family first and will help to strengthen our nation and hopefully help out with the budget deficit.”

Ms. Sebree embraces Mr. Romney’s non-Washington background. “I think that the people that are experienced in Washington have screwed up enough that it’s time to try some different methods,” she said.

The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted Dec. 8-12 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved land-line and cellphone interviews with 1,000 adults nationwide and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The poll included interviews with 460 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. The margin of error for these results is plus or minus 6 percentage points.

AP Deputy Polling Director Jennifer Agiesta and News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.