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Archive for January 2012

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich’s comprehensive 12.5% victory in South Carolina, in which he won 43 of 46 counties, has already had a major impact on the polls in Florida.

Mitt Romney held a solid lead last week in Florida, with one poll putting him up by 26 points. This week, post-South Carolina, things look somewhat different.

Here’s PPP – a 15 point Romney lead has turned into a 5 point Gingrich lead, a swing of 20 points:

And here’s Rasmussen’s verdict, in which a 22 point Romney lead has become a 9 point Gingrich lead – a truly remarkable swing of 31 points in ten days:

Florida votes next Tuesday (31 January), so there remains almost a week to go, with a CNN debate tomorrow evening just around the corner, and plenty of campaigning still to come.

However, on this evidence Mr Gingrich looks to be in pole position and, with back-to-back wins in SC and FL under his belt, all bets will be off heading towards Super Tuesday.

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While doing my best to sift through the South Carolina runes a week ago, I noted that I would be watching the polls closely to see whether Newt Gingrich could consolidate conservative support, and emerge as the clear conservative standard-bearer by winning over supporters of Rick Santorum and Rick Perry.

Over the past few days, a slew of opinion poll evidence has answered that question decisively in the affirmative. Here’s the unanimous verdict of the final polls taken before the voting starts:

All of the most recent polls agree that Mr Gingrich is now in pole position to win the primary. You have to go back to the Politico/Tarrance poll taken Tuesday and Wednesday to find the last poll which placed Mitt Romney in the lead.

What on earth happened? When even the NY Times’ Nate Silver describes himself as “surprised a great deal”, you know it must have been quite some week in politics.

Well, for starters, Mr Gingrich was at least partly the author of his own success, after pulling off a pair of very strong performances in the week’s two debates. Mr Romney, by contrast, had moments at each debate which his campaign will almost certainly prefer to forget.

In particular, seasoned observers were left scratching their heads when Mr Romney, who badly fumbled a question on publishing his tax returns on Monday evening, was left by his advisers without an effective answer to the same question when it predictably came up again at Thursday’s CNN debate.

Mr Romney’s team ended up spending much of the week battling a negative media narrative about his wealth and effective tax rate. Mr Gingrich, by contrast, was helped by the impact of Rick Perry’s endorsement. Polls taken since Mr Perry dropped out of the race show a modest but clearly identifiable boost for Mr Gingrich.

The same cannot be said for the short-term impact of former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman’s endorsement of Mr Romney. That said, the lack of a challenge from his left should deliver strategic benefits for Mr Romney’s campaign over the long run, freeing up the option of resorting to a rightward shift if that’s what’s needed to tackle Mr Gingrich in Florida and beyond.

Finally, with the first early-morning voters starting to cast their ballots as I write, Mr Gingrich seems to have all the late momentum. The final day of the Public Policy Polling survey (PDF) shows Mr Gingrich leading Mr Romney by a whopping 9 points. The same poll shows Mr Gingrich leading 41-21 among Evangelicals, 52-18 among Tea Partiers and, crucially, ahead of Rick Santorum 44-21 among ‘very conservative’ voters.

PPP also provided the NY Times with a detailed breakdown of their night-by-night results which show that, over the three days of polling, Mr Gingrich led Mr Romney by 4 points on Wednesday evening, 6 points on Thursday and by 14 points in interviews conducted Friday.

With such a preponderance of polling evidence, not to mention a strong gut feeling I’ve had since watching Monday’s debate, I feel confident in saying that former Speaker Gingrich will be heading to Florida with a victory tonight under his belt. His margin of victory remains to be seen, although I don’t expect viewers to be burning the midnight oil before they know the winner.

What also remains to be seen is the impact a success for Mr Gingrich will have on the race as a whole. Florida, with it’s large population of migrants from northern states, is kinder territory for Mr Romney’s more moderate brand of conservatism. Post-Iowa, Mr Romney surged into a solid lead in Florida, where some recent polls have him up by as much as 26 points.

Those numbers could well be misleading. Mr Gingrich, should he pull off a solid victory in SC tonight, has a lot of upside potential in Florida. He led there until Iowa, and voters who switched from Mr Gingrich to Mr Romney after Iowa may feel tempted to switch back after tonight.

A solid margin of victory for Mr Gingrich over Mr Santorum tonight will also help reinforce his increasingly convincing assertion that he is now the only conservative capable of stopping Mr Romney. The first polls out of Florida after tonight’s result may tell a very interesting story indeed.

Fresh off his impressive win in New Hampshire, and his wafer-thin 8 vote victory in Iowa, GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney faces a much tougher challenge in socially conservative South Carolina, which votes a week from today on Saturday 21 January.

Mr Romney took the lead in SC following the Iowa caucuses, having previously trailed Newt Gingrich by over 15 points. Mr Romney has held that lead in every poll since Iowa, with the three most recent polls giving him a margin over Mr Gingrich of between 2 and 7 points:

Mr Romney will be delighted if he holds this lead throughout the week – a win in SC, even by a narrow Iowa-style margin, would make him clearly the prospective nominee. But Mr Romney is still polling stubbornly in the mid-to-high 20s and, if he does pull out the victory, it will be because the anti-Romney majority is so splintered.

What’s going to be key over the next few days is whether this anti-Romney vote consolidates behind a single standard bearer. With this in mind, it’s interesting to note the relative performance, since the NH primary, of Mr Romney’s main competitors – Mr Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Dr Ron Paul.

Mr Santorum received a substantial bounce in South Carolina from his much better than expected performance in Iowa, surging from the low single digits to the high teens. Two polls, conducted in the immediate aftermath of Iowa, suggested that he had even overtaken Mr Gingrich.

However, since his less-than-impressive 9.3% result in New Hampshire, the air seems to have gone out of Mr Santorum’s South Carolina surge. His polling figures in SC have declined significantly over the past week from around the 20% mark to the mid-teens. He is now 5 points or more behind Mr Gingrich in all three of the most recent polls.

Dr Paul meanwhile has seen his figures improve to the point where he’s essentially now level with Mr Santorum. However, he will be hard pressed to repeat the >20% performances he achieved in Iowa and New Hampshire – South Carolina is less fertile political territory for Dr Paul’s brand of libertarianism.

I believe next Saturday’s primary will be decided by whether or not the social conservative vote consolidates behind a single standard bearer – most likely Mr Gingrich, who has a number of factors on his side, not least his 20 years as a congressman from the neighbouring state of Georgia.

I’ll be watching the polls closely over the next few days for signs that Mr Gingrich is consolidating his conservative support. Mr Romney’s lead, while significant, is still so narrow that he could lose if Mr Gingrich succeeds in persuading perhaps 1 in 5 of Mr Santorum’s supporters to switch votes.

If he can, it may be another long and exciting night next Saturday before we finally know the winner.

If I had to bet the house on it, I’d say Rick Santorum will win Iowa in three days time:

  • He’s the last conservative left standing after all the others have each burnt out.
  • He’s peaking at the perfect time.
  • Mitt Romney’s support is less motivated and his positive polling numbers won’t translate 1:1 on caucus night.
  • There’s a ceiling on Ron Paul’s support, but not on Santorum’s.

I see Mr Santorum consolidating support from former supporters of Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Gingrich etc.

His longer-term viability is another matter, but I believe he’s most likely to win on Tuesday night.



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