the numbers guy

A week out, Romney continues to hold slim but significant lead in SC

Posted on: January 14, 2012

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.

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1 Response to "A week out, Romney continues to hold slim but significant lead in SC"

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