Gallup: Romney lead “collapsing” to 10 points nationally

posted at 1:20 pm on January 20, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

This certainly isn’t the meme a candidate wants the day before a critical primary:

Gallup’s Editor-in-chief Frank Newport appeared on MSNBC to talk about the polling organization’s national tracking poll of the GOP primary race, which is changing rapidly in the last few days of the campaign for South Carolina. Newport said when their new data comes out at 1 pm eastern, “…we’ll see this gap closing more. Romney was up 23 points over Newt Gingrich. Now it will be down about ten points, so clearly things are collapsing.” …

“We have seen more movement, more roller coaster kind of effect this year than any other Republican primary in our history of tracking,” Newport said. “I think anything is possible. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility if Romney recovers. We’ll wait and see.”

So how much did the gap close in today’s 1 pm report? This much:

That’s certainly an ugly trend for Romney, and a sign of hope for Gingrich.  There are, however, a couple of things to keep in mind about this poll.  First, it’s among registered voters, not likely voters, which means that the trends are probably solid but not the figures; likely voter models are more predictive.  Second, the ABC interview with Marianne Gingrich didn’t air until after the last surveys in this tracking poll took place.  It’s entirely possible that the personal-baggage eruption might have some of Gingrich’s new support rethinking that choice, especially since it appeared in two polls yesterday that evangelicals comprised a large part of that swing.

Nevertheless, the shift has Team Romney worried, and they’re seeing at least some part of it in their own internal polling.  CNN reports today that they’re busy resetting expectations in South Carolina:

With Newt Gingrich creeping up in the polls and potentially on the cusp of a South Carolina victory, one of Mitt Romney’s senior advisers sought to change expectations ahead of Saturdays’ pivotal presidential primary.

Though his campaign has competed aggressively in the state and is hungry for a win here, Romney strategist Stuart Stevens said the idea of a loss to Gingrich on Saturday is not far-fetched. …

“The idea should be does he have a chance in South Carolina,” Stevens claimed.

When it was noted that Romney had a 10-point lead over Gingrich as recently as Tuesday, Stevens shook his head.

“These things were always going to close,” he said. “I think it’s very competitive. I think it’s a four-way race. The whole race is very fluid.”

A 10-point lead in a four-man race is still a substantial margin, but it’s the momentum that should worry Romney.  His two relatively poor debate performances this week — almost entirely caused by his mishandling of the tax-return issue — has to be a big part of the momentum, which means that they can correct it if Mitt Romney can recover on the question.  That may be too late for South Carolina, but he needs to get his act together for Florida.  Romney was expected to have it tough tomorrow, but he was expected to cruise in Florida.  A tight race there will shake confidence in his ability to close the deal, and that’s another meme that Romney can ill afford now.

Update: Er … Romney’s lead is collapsing to 10 points, not his support.  I fixed the headline.  Big thanks to the AJC’s Kyle Wingfield for pointing that out.  Also, changed “since” to “in today’s” above the graph.  And then I got myself more coffee …

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