South Carolina: Romney 29, Gingrich 24, Paul 15, Santorum 14

posted at 6:22 pm on January 13, 2012 by Allahpundit

Strikingly similar to what Rasmussen found earlier today so it’s a safe bet that this is what the vote actually looks like right now. Make a mental note of this spread so that we can use it later to measure how well Newt’s Bain attacks played in the state. Barring some sort of calamitous Romney stumble at Thursday’s debate, that’s probably the only thing capable of moving the needle dramatically over the next week. Interestingly, Mitt’s net favorables are already down seven points over the past week while Newt’s are up four points. Hmmmmm.

Things haven’t changed too much at the top in the last week. Romney is down 1 point from his pre-New Hampshire standing, while Gingrich has gained a point. There’s more movement in the middle. Paul has gained 6 points to move into 3rd place, while Santorum has dropped by 5 points. Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman have each picked up a single point and remain in 5th and 6th place respectively.

Why is Romney winning South Carolina? Voters there are overwhelmingly focused on the economy this year and that’s working to his advantage. 39% say jobs and the economy are their top issue, closely followed by 34% who pick government spending and reducing the debt. Asked who they trust most on economic issues 35% pick Romney to 25% for Gingrich, 16% for Paul, and 10 for Santorum. And despite the attacks on it this week Romney’s business background is an asset for him. 58% have a favorable opinion of his record in business to just 27% with a negative view of it…

South Carolinians, more so than we’ve found in New Hampshire and Iowa, are concerned about electability. 50% say they’re most concerned about a candidate’s ability to beat Barack Obama, while 37% place a bigger priority on the candidate’s positions on the issues. New Hampshire voters were more concerned about issue stances by a 55-37 margin on that question and Iowa voters were by a 54/31 spread. The more voters care about electability, the better Romney’s chances are and he leads Gingrich 35-27 with those folks.

Rasmussen also detected Santorum’s support fading, and no wonder: PPP notes that just four percent of voters say social issues are their top concern, and even there, Santorum leads Romney by just two points. What’s odd is that it’s Paul, not Gingrich or Perry, who seems to be picking up Santorum’s slack. I don’t know how to explain that unless a big chunk of Santorum’s boost after Iowa was simply undecideds who were disaffected with both Romney and Gingrich giving him a first look. Some of them didn’t like what they saw, but rather than switch to Perry or Huntsman, both of whom seem dead in the water and likely to be out 10 days from now (Huntsman’s staffers are reportedly already looking for the exits), they’re moving towards the lone remaining guy who’s in it for the long haul. That’s as good a sign as you can get that there’s no last-second surge coming for Perry. If he dropped out now and endorsed Gingrich, that could pull Newt almost even for the lead, but I think he’s determined to play this out. You know who that benefits?

CNN is out with a new national poll tonight and Romney leads there too, of course: Mitt 34, Newt 18, Paul 15, Santorum 15. How’s he doing it? With electability, yes, but there’s more to it than that. Scott Rasmussen notes that Mitt Romney might actually be … the tea-party candidate:

Looking ahead to the Florida primary, 94 percent of tea party Republicans say they will vote for whomever wins the GOP nomination. Only 77 percent of non-tea party Republicans are willing to make the same pledge. This commitment to party loyalty comes even though tea party activists are less convinced than others that Romney is the strongest general election candidate. Similar results have been found in survey after survey in the 2012 primary season.

The pragmatism of the tea party is confirmed by exit polling data conducted for The Associated Press and major television networks in New Hampshire. Among those who support the tea party, 44 percent said the ability to beat President Obama was the most important quality they wanted in a candidate. Nothing else came close.

However, among those who oppose the tea party, only 19 percent put electability first. Fifty-three percent of this group said experience is the most important quality. In other words, the supposedly more pragmatic Republicans think it’s more important to have a candidate with experience in the current political system than it is to have a candidate who can beat Obama.

Saying that you’ll vote for whoever’s the nominee in the interest of beating Obama isn’t the same as saying you hope Romney’s the nominee, but remember that Mitt won easily among tea partiers in New Hampshire. If TPers are convinced that he’s the most electable option in the field, it only stands to reason that they’d start holding their noses and voting for him now in order to play their strongest hand against The One in November. The tea party’s not supposed to be an “anybody but Obama” movement — it wasn’t even an “anybody but Coons” movement in Delaware in 2010 — but maybe, after trillions in new debt and O’s endless rhetoric about people paying their “fair share,” that’s how it’s shaken out. Just get Obama out and get anyone else in.

One other detail from PPP: 34 percent of voters say they’d be “unwilling to vote for a candidate who had supported an individual mandate for health care at the state level.” Good thing no one’s told them there’s a candidate like that running this year! Exit quotation from a Romney advisor, commenting on conservatives’ failure to consolidate against him: “A real movement would have found a horse.”


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