A new Public Policy Polling survey of the South Carolina Republican electorate (Jan. 11-13; 803 South Carolina GOP primary voters) entered the public domain over the weekend, and it shows former House Speaker Newt Gingrich making another climb back up the candidate preference charts.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leads the poll, but again with a percentage under one-third of the Republican vote (29 percent). Gingrich now closely follows at 24 percent. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) is third with 15 percent, and Pennsylvania ex-Sen. Rick Santorum is in a virtual dead heat with the Texas congressman at 14 percent. Again, as has been the pattern around the country and especially so in South Carolina, a clear majority of the respondents favor a candidate other than Romney to be the eventual Republican nominee but fail to coalesce around one alternative candidate.
Answering the question as to whether or not the polling sample would favor Mr. Romney as the nominee or someone else, 58 percent responded that they want a candidate other than the one-term former Massachusetts governor. Thirty-four percent, about five points higher than the number choosing him on the ballot test question, said they want Romney to win the nomination.
An interesting series of questions asked the respondents who they most trust to handle issues within a certain public policy sector. In relation to whom they believe would best handle economic issues, Mr. Romney topped the universe of candidates with 35 percent, followed by Mr. Gingrich at 25 percent. Pertaining to foreign policy, this particular South Carolina polling sample believes that Mr. Gingrich is the most trustworthy (41 percent), followed by Mr. Romney (22 percent). On the social issues front, it’s former Sen. Santorum who places first (23 percent), followed closely by Messrs. Romney (21 percent) and Gingrich (19 percent). Therefore, it appears the issues most closely identified with a particular candidate do resonate with the South Carolina voters at least to a degree.
In terms of who the individuals want as their second choice, Mr. Gingrich again does well. A full 20 percent of those questioned say the former House Speaker and Georgia congressman would be their second choice to become the Republican presidential nominee. Messrs. Santorum and Romney both scored 17 percent on this question. The answers to this question again suggest that Gingrich is gaining strength among South Carolinians, since his numbers across the board are noticeably improving from his disappointing showings at the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire primary.
In the remaining week of the South Carolina campaign, can Gingrich amass enough support, likely requiring him to convert voters that now support Mr. Santorum and Texas Gov. Rick Perry (standing at 6 percent in the poll), to overtake Romney and win the Palmetto State primary? It doesn’t appear so, but the PPP findings suggest that Gingrich does have hope to do so if things break his way in the next couple of days.
Should Romney hold on to win South Carolina, perhaps his weakest state in the country, it may deal a death blow to the other candidates or, at the very least, increase his already substantial momentum in Florida, which is the next stop for the candidates on Jan. 31.
If Gingrich, or one of the other candidates, somehow builds a coalition to topple Romney this Saturday, then the whole race would scramble again and a long battle possibly touching all 50 states might conceivably ensue. It will be an interesting week in the south.