Mitt Romney still holds first place in the South Carolina Primary field, while his opponents jockey for second with the voting eight days away.
The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Republican Primary Voters in South Carolina finds Romney ahead with 28% support, but now former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is in second place with 21% of the vote. Support for former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum who was in second a week ago has fallen back to 16%, putting him dead even with Texas Congressman Ron Paul who also earns 16%.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, whose continued candidacy likely depends on the Jan. 21 South Carolina vote, now captures six percent (6%) support, while former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman runs last with five percent (5%). One percent (1%) like some other candidate in the race, and eight percent (8%) remain undecided. (To see survey question wording, click here.)
Romney’s support remains virtually unchanged from the 27% he earned a week ago, but the field challenging the front-runner has seen some movement. Santorum is down eight points, Gingrich is up three, and Paul is up five.
Romney’s rivals continue to question his political conservatism and his business practices in a state with a strong conservative bent. Among likely primary voters who describe themselves as Very Conservative, Gingrich and Santorum each earn 23% of the vote, while Romney runs third with 18%. However, among Somewhat Conservative voters in South Carolina, Romney leads by 16.
In Florida, the state following South Carolina on the campaign schedule, Romney has a huge 22-point lead. In that state, he holds a slight lead over Gingrich and Santorum among Very Conservative voters.
Much can change in the closing days before the South Carolina primary, with just 52% who say they are certain of their vote at this time. Forty-one percent (41%) still could change their minds, and eight percent (8%) have no initial preference so far. Those primary voters who’ve already made up their minds include 63% of Paul’s supporters, 61% of both Romney and Gingrich voters and 57% of Huntsman’s backers. Just 44% of Santorum’s voters and 33% of Perry’s have made their final decision.
In Iowa, a late surge by Santorum nearly swept him to victory. In New Hampshire, Paul and Huntsman made gains in the final days of the campaign. Scott Rasmussen notes, “One half of Huntsman voters in New Hampshire and one-third of Paul’s said that they would like to see more candidates enter the race. This suggests whoever is perceived as the most effective tactical alternative to Romney could see a last-minute surge in South Carolina as well.
This South Carolina survey of 750 Likely Republican Primary Voters was conducted on January 12, 2012 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 4 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology.
Regardless of the candidate they support, 68% of likely GOP primary voters in the Palmetto State expect Romney to be the eventual nominee, with no one else even close. A plurality (43%) thinks Romney would be the strongest GOP candidate to oppose President Obama, followed by Gingrich who is seen as the strongest challenger by 23%. This is comparable to the views of Republican voters nationwide. Paul is seen as the weakest challenger to Obama by South Carolina primary voters and GOP voters nationally.
Romney is viewed favorably by 68% of likely South Carolina Republican primary voters, followed by Santorum at 63%, Gingrich at 56%, Perry at 48%, Paul at 43% and Huntsman at 35%.
Among Tea Party voters, Gingrich runs first on the ballot with 26% support, followed by Santorum at 20%, Paul at 18% and Romney in fourth with 16%. But Romney outpolls Gingrich two-to-one – 35% to 17% – among those who say they are not part of the grass roots movement.
Romney also leads among all religious groups except Evangelical Christians. Among these voters, Gingrich picks up 25% support, Santorum 23% and Romney 20%.
Eighty percent (80%) of all likely GOP primary voters in South Carolina will vote for the Republican candidate in November even if their favorite doesn’t win the nomination. But six percent (6%) plan to vote for Obama and seven percent (7%) for a third party candidate if their favorite falls short. As is found nationally and in other states, a sizable number (26%) of Paul supporters in South Carolina say they will vote third party if that’s the case.
Only nine percent (9%) of primary voters in the state at least somewhat approve of the job Obama is doing as president, and 84% think it’s at least somewhat likely that the Republican nominee will win in November. The latter includes 51% who say it is Very Likely.
Mitt Romney 28%
Newt Gingrich 21%
Rick Santorum 16%
Ron Paul 16%
Rick Perry 6%
Jon Huntsman 5%