CNN/Time Poll: Romney and Santorum soar in South Carolina
January 6th, 2012
12:00 PM ET
3 years ago

CNN/Time Poll: Romney and Santorum soar in South Carolina

(CNN) - Mitt Romney's numbers in South Carolina are surging, and he now has a solid lead over his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, according to a new survey of likely GOP primary voters in the Palmetto state.

And a CNN/Time/ORC International poll released Friday also indicates that former Sen. Rick Santorum's support in South Carolina has soared, while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's numbers have nose-dived.

Full results (pdf)

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South Carolina holds the first in the South contest in the race for the nomination, with its January 21 contest coming 11 days after the New Hampshire primary. Since 1980, when the state switched from a caucus system to a primary, the winner of the South Carolina GOP primary has always gone on to win the Republican nomination.

According to the poll, 37% of likely GOP primary voters in South Carolina say they are currently backing Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who is making his second bid for the White House. Romney has nearly doubled his support from CNN's last survey in the Palmetto State, which was conducted early last month. The new poll was conducted Wednesday and Thursday, after Romney's eight-vote victory over Santorum in Tuesday night's Iowa caucuses.

Santorum and Gingrich are battling for second place, with Santorum at 19% and Gingrich at 18%. But they appear to be going in opposite directions, with Santorum's support up 15 points from last month and Gingrich down 25 points from early December. Gingrich, once the front-runner in Iowa and in national polling, finished fourth in the Iowa caucus results.

Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who is making his third run for the White House, has doubled his support, from 6% to 12%. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who may be making a last stand in South Carolina, has the backing of 5% of likely primary voters, down three points from last month. Perry had a disappointing fifth-place finish in the caucuses.

Former Utah Gov. and former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, who is campaigning almost exclusively in New Hampshire, is at 1%. The poll also indicates that 4% of likely GOP primary voters are unsure of who they're backing.

So what's behind Romney's surge in South Carolina?

"As in New Hampshire, Romney benefits from an open primary," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "There is no party registration in South Carolina, so all registered voters can participate in the GOP primary on January 21. Romney does better among self-described independents than among voters who call themselves Republicans. But that support comes with a catch - independents are the voters who are most likely to say that they could change their minds."

The poll indicates an education divide, with Romney doing better among college graduates than among voters with no college degree - a group that is often considered synonymous with "blue collar" voters.

But again, that may indicate a bit of trouble for Romney, since college grads are more likely to say that they have not made up their minds.

"It's the same story among women," adds Holland. "Romney does better among women than men, but women are more likely to say that they might change their minds. It all adds up to widespread support for the former Massachusetts governor, but also indicates that Romney's support may be 'softer' than the bloc who currently supports Santorum, Gingrich or Paul."
Conservatives come in many flavors in South Carolina and that may also affect Romney's chances to win in the Palmetto State. Voters who are both born-again Christians and tea party supporters are least likely to support Romney, but he still tops the rest of the field with 31% support. He does a little better (36%) among Tea Party voters who are not born-again, and better still (41%) among born-again Christians who do not support the tea party, again topping all other candidates.

"That indicates that the race in South Carolina may be decided by economic factors and views of government rather than the religious and cultural issues that have dominated the state's primaries in the past. Not surprisingly, Romney does best among likely voters who are neither born-again nor supporters of the tea party - consistent with his bloc of support among self-described independents," adds Holland.

As always, keep in mind that a poll taken this far in advance of a primary is not a prediction of what will happen. Voters may be influenced by the New Hampshire primary on January 10 and with roughly half still not definite about who they will support, there is a lot of time for a lot of movement to take place among South Carolina voters.

The poll was conducted for CNN and Time magazine on January 4-5 by ORC International, with 485 South Carolina voters who are likely to vote in the Republican primary questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

– CNN Political Editor Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.

Also see:

Huntsman hits Romney ahead of N.H. primary


Boston Globe backs Huntsman


FIRST ON CNN: Santorum to make large ad buy in South Carolina

Santorum tangles with Gingrich, same-sex marriage supporters

McCain courting former South Carolina backers for Romney

soundoff (151 Responses)
  1. bilk7

    To all the people who seem to think Romney can beat Obama........do you think that Obama and the DNC are really just going to sit back and not challenge Romney's record of job eliminations, business closures, shipping work overseas and the fact that when he was Governor, the state of Massachusetts ranked 47th in job creation? This and his constant flip flopping on every other iissue will come out and he wil llose to Obama!

    January 6, 2012 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
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