Ron Paul
Ron Paul may be just behind Newt Gingrich in Iowa, but national polls still show him lagging far behind his Republican rivals. Bloomberg

A new national poll by NBC News/Wall Street Journal is likely to put a damper on Ron Paul supporters celebrating the primary candidate's virtual tie with Newt Gingrich in Iowa: despite nearing first on a state-wide scale, Paul's appeal nationally is still greatly limited, and a head-to-head with President Obama shows him coming off the worst of the three top candidates.

Paul at Nine Percent

The NBC/WSJ poll, which surveys Republican voters and those likely to vote Republican in the next election, has former House Speaker Newt Gingrich expanding his lead over former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, with 40 percent of the GOP vote compared to Romney's 23 percent.

Texas Rep. Paul, meanwhile, comes in third with a paltry nine percent. In a three-way race, he fares somewhat better, but both Gingrich and Romney have greater leads. In a race between the three contenders, Gingrich comes in at 53 percent, Romney claims 31, and Paul is left with 13 percent of the decided vote.

Ron Paul vs. Barack Obama

For those who argue, with merit, that Ron Paul's support in Iowa seems to be coming from younger, undecided and independent voters, the same group that did so much for Barack Obama in 2008, there is still more sobering news ahead.

In a head-to-head contest between President Obama and the three top candidates for the 2012 election, Ron Paul comes off the worst of the top three. In an Obama-Romney race, the split is 47-45; in an Obama-Gingrich election, the numbers are 51-40; and in an Obama-Paul race, Obama beats Paul 50 percent to Paul's 37 percent.

National Polls' Influence

Such numbers only take into account those planning to vote Republican in the next election. These polls cannot truly factor in the independent or undecided voters that Iowa polls indicate are favoring Paul. If the 2008 primaries are any indication, meanwhile, it's that grassroots movements that gather momentum state by state can end up toppling the assumed candidate on a national scale.

If Ron Paul wins Iowa, then these national polls may not be as strong an indicator of his chances as they seem.

One need only look at Mitt Romney's continued presence in the race, however, coupled with the string of anti-Romneys who've tried to replace him, to note that for many in the mainstream GOP, a candidate who can beat Obama is more important than a candidate they believe in.

Low national numbers give the impression that Ron Paul is not seriously being considered for the Republican nomination. And in the race for the 2012 presidency so far, perception has been everything.

Despite devoted supporters and strong state-by-state turnouts, Paul's polls need to pick up nationally if he hopes to stay in the race. Otherwise, the the GOP presidential hopeful is likely to see his 2012 election dreams disappear.