Tag Archives: South Carolina

Gingrich In A Rout? Polls and Predictions For South Carolina Tonight

Based on surveys taken before last Monday’s South Carolina debate, Mitt Romney led Newt Gingrich in the RealClearPolitics aggregate poll by a comfortable 10%, 32.3% to 22%, and seemed poised to sweep the first three events in this nominating process,  thus cementing the inevitability mantra that both pundits and some scholars were chanting. Five days and two debates later, Gingrich is on the cusp – if the latest polls are accurate – of winning a blowout victory in South Carolina.  The aggregate poll has him up by 5%, 33.5-28.5%, over Romney, but the latest ARG poll released today has Gingrich up by a whopping 14%, 40-26% over Romney, with Paul a distant third.  That poll is identical to the results from the final day of PPP’s three-day tracking poll.  If this holds up, Gingrich will have gained 18% in five short days, while Romney would have dropped 6% – a turnaround of 24%.  This is a stunning reversal in such a short time period.  And Gingrich’s margin could grow – 20% of survey respondents say they could change their mind, and 60% of Romney supporters list Gingrich as their second choice (all from the PPP poll).  Among Santorum supporters, 38% say they may change their mind – and 42% of them list Gingrich as their second choice.

Barring a Bachmann miracle, then, it appears that Gingrich is poised to cap a remarkable turnaround with a convincing victory in the biggest state to go to the polls so far.   With that in mind, what should we look for in tonight’s results, and what are the implications for the race after South Carolina?

  1. Electability: It has been a central tenet of this campaign that Romney has the best chance of any Republican to beat Obama in the general election.  But the final polls show Gingrich closing that gap, with this YouGov poll indicating that 72% think Gingrich is very likely or somewhat likely to beat Obama, compared to 80% who think this of Romney.  Fifty percent of those polled say their support was based primarily on this factor, with 48% saying it was based on the issues.
  2. The gender gap: Romney has been consistently outpolling Gingrich among women, but in South Carolina that gap has almost been erased, with all three of the most recent polls, including  YouGov, PPP and the ARG, showing Gingrich leading Romney among women.  In fact, in the ARG poll Gingrich does better among women than he does among men.  This suggests the Marianne issue may not have the gender-based legs that some anticipated.
  3. Class:  There is a distinct class bias in Romney and Gingrich’s support, with polls indicating that Romney does better among South Carolina voters earning more than $80,000, but Gingrich winning all incomes groups below that number.
  4. Favorability:  Romney has consistently been viewed more favorably than the more polarizing Gingrich, but that gap also closed in South Carolina.  Gingrich’s final favorable/unfavorable numbers in the PPP poll are 54/37 – Romney’s are 51/42.  Will that favorable ratio hold for Gingrich as we head to Florida?
  5. The issues: Gingrich made inroads on Romney’s strong suit – the economy – with about equal numbers choosing each candidate as best able to handle economic issues.

Note that these are all from the latest polls – it remains to be seen whether they will hold up in tonight’s exit polls.  But they do provide some evidence that Gingrich has closed the gap on a number of advantages formerly associated with Romney – at least in this state.

What to look for tonight.

Given the polling numbers, I expect the networks to call this almost immediately when the polls close at 7 p.m.  If they don’t, there’s hope for Romney that this will be less than a rout.   South Carolina is really three somewhat distinct voting areas: the low country, the midlands, and the upstate area.   Expect Gingrich to dominate upstate – the region where Huckabee did very well in 2008 (Greenville-Spartanburg), while Romney needs to draw heavily in the midland and coastal areas (the swath from Charleston up through Columbia).

Remember, McCain won only 33% of the vote here in 2008, with Huckabee a close second at 30%.  Right now Gingrich is on track to beat McCain’s total and his winning margin, but by how much depends in part on turnout.  Predicted turnout is about 450,000 – anything higher will likely benefit Gingrich.  In 2008, independents were 18% of the vote – I expect that to increase with no Democratic primary (South Carolina is an open primary state).  However, I expect Paul to draw as much support from this group as Romney does, which may give Paul enough of a boost to finish a strong third.

Keep in mind that one of the other important stories tonight is whether Santorum can beat Paul for third place. If he can’t, and he finishes in single digits, it will make it hard for him to raise money and compete in Florida, which has very expensive media markets. Remember, Santorum’s victory in Iowa was the result of his ability to engage in old-fashioned door-to-door campaigning. He won’t be able to recreate that scenario in Florida, so doing well tonight is critical for him.

With that background, here are my predictions, per tradition:

Gingrich 41%

Romney 26%

Paul 18%

Santorum 14%.

Polls close at 7 p.m.  I’ll be on shortly before for some live blogging.

Huntsman, South Carolina and the State of the Race Before Tonight’s Debate

The only surprising aspect of Jon Huntsman’s decision to drop out of the campaign was its timing; as I noted during my live blogging of the New Hampshire primary, the results there showed little support for Huntsman among Republicans, making it clear that his days in this race were numbered.   Alas, his decision to drop out and endorse Romney will have at best a marginal impact on the race, most likely by giving a slight boost to Romney’s level of support.   In South Carolina, Huntsman was polling in the low single digits, and was even bested by faux candidate Stephen Colbert in one survey.  Most importantly, since Huntsman was largely competing with Romney for voters, his departure does little to solve the collective action problem that has prevented the Tea Party/fiscal conservatives from coalescing behind a non-Romney candidate.  Unless that dilemma is resolved along the lines I’ve suggested, Romney is likely to back into still another primary victory, thus lending further support to the media/party leader frame regarding Romney’s inevitable march to coronation.

Although polling in South Carolina remains fluid at this juncture five days before Saturday’s primary, with about a third of the voters still undecided, every recent poll shows Romney leading there, and Gingrich in second.  The good news for Gingrich is that fully 58% of South Carolinians surveyed by PPP don’t want Romney as the nominee.  Among those polled, moreover, Gingrich led as the second choice of 20% of respondents, beating out every other candidate.  Twenty-seven percent of Mitt’s supporters say they might switch to someone else – the highest of any candidate.  So there’s room for Gingrich’s support to grow.

The bad news for Gingrich, however, is that in a choice between Gingrich and Romney, Romney wins 48-37%, with 15% undecided.  Note that Gingrich does better in a head-to-head matchup with Romney than does any other Republican – except for Rick Santorum, who essentially matches Gingrich in the Romney matchup.  This suggests to me that Gingrich’s “baggage” is making evangelical Christians – who comprise more than 50% of likely South Carolinian voters – reluctant to support him, even as they oppose Romney. (In 2008 evangelicals constituted 60% of the Republican primary vote.)   If Gingrich is to close the gap, he has to win over these voters between now and Saturday.  But that is going to be very hard to do if both Santorum and Perry stay in the race.  Note that the social conservatives outnumber the roughly 30% who classify themselves as Tea Party supporters – a group with whom Gingrich polls well (keeping in mind that the two groups aren’t mutually exclusive).

So, where does the race stand, heading into tonight’s crucial South Carolina debate (on Fox News at 9 p.m., and yes, I’ll be live blogging.)   Santorum has seen his initial burst of polling support coming out of Iowa recede, and he’s now drawing about 12-15% in most polls, a distant third (with Paul who has similar polling numbers) to Romney’s roughly 30% and Gingrich’s 22%.  Note that the biggest issue for most social conservatives in South Carolina is the economy – not cultural issues, which Santorum has emphasized more than the other candidates. Perry, so far, is getting very little polling traction in South Carolina, with his numbers consistently in the single digits.  Despite this, he has more money than Santorum and has already vowed to continue campaigning in Florida, where he is already running advertising.

And so the basic problem for these three – Gingrich, Santorum and Perry – remains how to win over the support of the plurality of voters who oppose Romney.   Although Gingrich has previously described South Carolina as a must win state, my guess is he will back off that assertion if he finishes a strong second on Saturday.  He will use that to stake his claim as the primary non-Mitt alternative and hope that Santorum and/or Perry will aid his cause by dropping out before Florida’s Jan. 31 primary.

Keep in mind, however, that South Carolina is an open primary.  This means independents can participate.  Because there is no Democratic primary, I expect the percentage of independents who participate to easily eclipse the 18% who voted in 2008.  And those voters are largely backing either Romney – or Ron Paul.   And that’s why, once again, Paul is the potential spoiler in this race.  As I’ve noted in previous posts, he has expanded his coalition beyond his libertarian core and is drawing additional support from Tea Partiers concerned about the burgeoning budget deficit and government spending.  Polls show he is running about even with Romney among those who cite the deficit and government spending as the top issue, slightly ahead of Gingrich.

Bottom line?  Given the number of undecided voters, tonight’s debate is potentially critical to all the participants except perhaps for Paul, who seems destined to get his 15% from the Paulistas no matter what.  But I don’t expect it to resolve the core dilemma before Saturday that has enabled Romney to stay ahead of the field despite what appears to be lukewarm support.  For that to happen, at least two more of the three anti-Mitts need to be winnowed.

I’ll be on tonight, shortly before 9.  As always, I invite you to join in!