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Inside the Boiler Room: Romney's stagnant support

Mark Murray and Domenico Montanaro debate the reasons why Mitt Romney's poll numbers remain the same, despite the monthly changes in poll numbers for other candidates.

Thanks to Jody, Iowa for the question! Keep an eye out for two other great questions that we will answer early next week.

Video edited by NBC's Natalie Cucchiara and Annie Emberland. Transcribed by NBC's Annie Emberland.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: I'm Domenico Montanaro and welcome to another edition of Inside the Boiler Room. I'm here with my colleague Mark Murray. Mark, let’s get right to the question. Jody from Iowa this time, says "Mitt Romney's poll numbers are stuck at around 23 to 25 percent. Despite the almost monthly new leader, Romney's numbers do not move. Why do you think the GOP support for him has remained stagnant?"

MARK MURRAY: It's a very good question. There's been so much volatility in this GOP race. We've seen Herman Cain’s numbers go up 22 percentage points since our poll in August. We've seen Rick Perry's poll numbers decline 22 percentage points. But Mitt Romney, strikingly, has actually stayed exactly the same, 23 percent in August, 23 percent now. If you look inside the numbers, it's not all bad new for Mitt Romney. Of course, this kind of story kind of creates the narrative on why aren't people starting to flock to him, and that is a legitimate story, and it's a legitimate question. When you look inside our NBC/Wall Street Journal poll numbers, among Tea Party supporters, among very conservative Republicans, Romney might not be their first choice. And, right now, their first choice is Herman Cain, but he's acceptable to them, and so that's important. Mitt Romney's strategy to be able to win this Republican primary is just to be able to be steady eddy, and to withstand and play for the long haul. And if he does so, that's his formula for getting the nomination.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: That 23 to 25 percent might be enough to actually win the nomination. You know, the reason he doesn't have that great numbers is because he ran four or five years ago, and he took a lot of shots. You know, his changing position on things like abortion, you know--there are a group of people who are able to get past the psychological threshold of something like that and say, you know, I don't particularly care about that. They're say a northeastern establishment Republican, likes his business credentials. They like him. They don't really care about the social issue stuff. They think he's a good manager, fix the Salt Lake City Olympics. They like the guy. There's another half of the party--the social conservative wing--that would really like to hang their hat on somebody else...anybody else....somebody else, right? But that somebody else, we've seen, has changed month after month after month. Whether it's Rick Perry, Herman Cain, or whoever else, at some point, people have to make that decision--who do I go for? Now, Mitt Romney is going to continue on the steady course that he's had--like you called him, steady eddy. They're already looking at the delegate math. Their figure to be--to have that first state in New Hampshire--to be, to win that--maybe they'll win Nevada, Michigan, maybe do pretty well in Florida, and maybe split, or do better than split, win enough delegates to win the nomination in a longer contest that maybe they don't clench until May or March or April or something like that. But, they think that they can withstand, because they've been so steady, they'll be there.

MARK MURRAY: The conservative doubts about Mitt Romney are real. I mean, it was just six years ago that he supported abortion rights. Six years ago, he supported stem cell research. Think, for example, if the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination right now, six years ago, had opposed abortion rights, had opposed stem cell research, had opposed immigration reform, and had said they were against gay marriage or even gay rights. Well that's one of the reasons why Romney might be having problems with the conservatives right now. But for him--look, if that conservative vote gets split up many different ways--so, 10, 15 percent for Perry, 10, 15 percent for Cain, Bachman gets 5 to 10 percent, that's how Romney is able to win--even in a state like Iowa. But if that conservative vote solidifies--coalesces around one person--that's when Mitt Romney's in trouble.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: But so far, there hasn't been anyone to do it. Thanks Jody for the question.

MARK MURRAY: Thanks Jody.