Polls: Newt Gingrich Surging Before South Carolina Vote

Politics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 19, 2012   |   1:56PM   |   Columbia, SC

Two new polls in South Carolina show pro-life former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is surging in the Palmetto state in advance of Saturday’s primary election.

Gingrich has now surged ahead of Mitt Romney in the final Rasmussen Reports survey of the South Carolina Republican Primary race with the vote just two days away. The latest telephone survey of Likely GOP Primary Voters in the state finds Gingrich with 33% support to Romney’s 31%. Two days ago, before the last debate, it was Romney by 14 percentage points.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul now runs third with 15% of the vote, followed by former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum at 11% — both candidates are also pro-life and Romney is running as a pro-life candidate. The polling firm notes: “Paul’s support is steady while Santorum’s support has dropped five points since Monday.  At the beginning of the month, just after Santorum’s strong showing in the Iowa caucuses, he ran second to Romney with 24% of the vote.”

Perry, who dropped out today, came in last place with the support of two percent of Republicans.

“The new findings come following Gingrich’s strong performance in a debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Monday night. Sarah Palin also signaled support for Gingrich which could have a significant impact in South Carolina. Two years ago, her endorsement of Nikki Haley transformed the race for governor. Ironically, now that Haley is governor, she has endorsed Romney while Palin is backing Gingrich for the moment,” Rasmussen says in its analysis.

“Nearly one-in-three primary voters (31%) in South Carolina say they still could change their minds, and it’s unclear how Perry’s withdrawal, the growing dispute over Romney’s taxes or a televised interview this evening with one of Gingrich’s former wives might impact the contest.  Six percent (6%) still haven’t made a choice yet.  Sixty-two percent (62%) now are certain of how they will vote on Saturday, including nearly 70% of those supporting Gingrich, Romney, Santorum and Paul. Just 37% of Perry voters have made up their minds at this point,” the polling firm says.

Meanwhile, a new Insider Advantage survey puts the numbers this way:  Gingrich 32, Romney 29, Paul 15, Santorum 11, Perry 3.

That survey has Gingrich and Romney doing best with the oldest voters and Gingrich leading among younger voters. Women prefer Romney while men prefer Gingrich and Newt draws the support of independents and conservative Democrats while Romney fares best with Republican voters.

Also, a third poll, conducted by the PPP polling firm, has the South Carolina race at:  Gingrich 34, Romney 28, Paul 15, Santorum 14, Perry 5.

The candidates will debate again in South Carolina this evening in a forum that could prove to be one of the most negative of the campaign as the attacks on each of the candidates heat up.

Looking more at the Rasmussen poll, Gingrich holds a two-to-one lead over Romney among both Very Conservative and Tea Party Republicans in the state. The former Massachusetts governor holds a far more modest lead among Somewhat Conservative voters and those who are not members of the grassroots movement. Evangelical Christians prefer Gingrich by 37% to 21% margin, with Paul and Santorum at 16% and 15% respectively. Romney leads among all other religious groups.

Despite continuing criticism of Romney’s record as a businessman, 62% of all South Carolina primary voters now feel his business record is primarily a reason to vote for him, while just 22% view it as chiefly a reason to vote against him. Sixteen percent (16%) are not sure. By a narrow 36% to 31%, primary voters think Romney would do a better job than Gingrich managing the economy. Seventeen percent (17%) feel Paul would do a better job.

Romney continues to be the most popular of the GOP candidates in South Carolina but just barely. Sixty-six percent (66%) of likely primary voters view him favorably, but now 64% say the same of Gingrich. Santorum is viewed favorably by 58%, Perry by 49% and Paul by 40%.

Just 62% of all likely primary voters in South Carolina think Romney will win the GOP presidential nomination, down from 69% two days ago. Twenty-two percent (22%) believe Gingrich will be the nominee.

Forty-two percent (42%) say Romney would be the strongest challenger to President Obama, but that’s down from 49% earlier in the week. Thirty-four percent (34%) now think Gingrich would be the strongest challenger. A plurality (48%) still believes Paul would be the weakest challenger the GOP could choose.

Eighty-one percent (81%) say their vote on Saturday primarily will be for their favorite candidate, but 14% say it will be primarily a vote against one of the other candidates.

Even if their favorite doesn’t win the nomination, however, 81% plan to vote for the Republican candidate in the fall. Seven percent (7%) will vote for Obama if their favorite isn’t the nominee, and eight percent (8%) will vote third party. As has been the case all along, Paul’s supporters are by far the most likely to vote third party if he doesn’t get the GOP nomination.