As we wait for the Southern Nights primary, Bloomberg has a new national poll of the Republican presidential contest that shows Mitt Romney with a solid ten-point lead over Rick Santorum, and 24 points over a fading Newt Gingrich.  However, both the GOP results and overall survey have some serious flaws that call this conclusion into serious question.  The Bloomberg report hits the highlights well enough:

A Bloomberg National Poll shows Romney with the support of 37 percent, compared with 27 percent for Santorum. Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s backing is 13 percent while U.S. Representative Ron Paul draws 11 percent.

“He’s a businessman and has a better idea of how to run something,” said Republican poll participant Beverly Link, 68, a clerical worker from Maumee, Ohio. “So many things about our country should be run more like a business, instead of just throwing money at everything.”

Bloomberg then uses the next six paragraphs dissecting Romney’s work at Bain Capital as a potential hurdle in a general election.  They asked three questions about Bain in the survey after the candidate-selection question, and another about the Mormon Church before it.  In contrast, they asked no questions about Barack Obama’s crony capitalism, nor of Newt Gingrich’s Freddie Mac work.  They only asked one question about Santorum specifically, and that was whether he should focus on the economy or on values (82/11 on the economy).  That looks suspiciously like a poll built to fuel a particular story line or two, rather than an honest assessment of the race.

The composition of the poll is also questionable.  The overall survey was taken of just over 1,000 adults, rather than registered or likely voters.  The GOP primary questions relied on a subsample of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, a very small sample for a national poll.  The D/R/I split in the poll was actually very close to reality, at 35/34/27, but the small sample and the general-population type make its worth as a predictive model quite low.

Interestingly, even with the strange focus on Romney, he polled quite well on the internals.  He gets a better favorability rating than the other candidates in the race in the full survey — oddly, Bloomberg didn’t ask about Barack Obama, although they did ask the favorability question of John Boehner, the Tea Party, and … the Mormon Church.  As I noted above, that question came before the candidate question, which could have undercut Romney’s support.  However, Romney won or placed second in all of the intangible questions, and scored a majority for the ability to beat Barack Obama.

Romney will certainly be happy with these results, and the defects of the poll would normally play against him.  I’d wait to see other polling before putting too much stock into the Bloomberg survey, however, and I’d especially wait for a pollster to survey a much larger sample of likely voters.