By Patrick Murray
The Monmouth University Polling Institute
FRESH OFF VICTORIES in Iowa and New Hampshire, Mitt Romney has a clear lead in South Carolina’s upcoming primary according to the Monmouth University Poll. The former Massachusetts governor registers 33 percent support among likely Republican voters in Saturday’s primary. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich places second at 22 percent. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum (14 percent) and Texas Congressman Ron Paul (12 percent) are in a close contest for third place. Rick Perry trails with 6 percent Jon Huntsman earned 4 percent before he pulled out of the race on Monday.
Gingrich (30 percent) does best among those who call themselves very conservative, leading both Romney (25 percent) and Santorum (21 percent) among this voting bloc. But Romney does particularly well among voters who see themselves as somewhat conservative (39 percent and moderate or liberal (38 percent). Gingrich also does well among those who say they strongly support the Tea Party movement – a group that represents more than one-third of the likely electorate – with 31 percent, to 29 percent for Romney. However, Romney bests Gingrich among those who support the movement only somewhat (39 percent to 17 percent) and either oppose or have no strong opinion about the Tea Party (31 percent to 15 percent.
Evangelical Christians, making up a majority of likely GOP voters in South Carolina, have been considered a weak group for Romney. He appears to be holding his own, though, earning 29 percent of this group’s vote to 26 percent for Gingrich and 19 percent for Santorum. Romney is the clear leader among non-evangelical voters at 37 percent to 17 percent for Gingrich and 9% for Santorum.
“Governor Romney appears to be consolidating his status as the one to beat. While he doesn’t enjoy an outright majority, he performs well with every major voting bloc possibly because the field is still crowded,” said Patrick Murray, director of the non-partisan Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, New Jersey.
The poll asked likely South Carolina GOP primary voters which factor is more important in their decision – voting for someone who shares their values or someone who can defeat President Barack Obama. More voters choose values (51 percent) over electability (43 percent. Among these values voters, 23 percent support Romney, 19 percent Paul, 17 percent Santorum, and 15 percent Gingrich. Romney is the clear favorite, though, with voters more concerned about electability in November – earning 47 percent of this group’s vote to 28 percent for Gingrich, 12 percent for Santorum, and 6 percent for Paul.
Nearly all (89 percent) voters are aware that South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has endorsed Mitt Romney, but it’s unlikely to sway anyone at this point. Most (71 percent) say her endorsement makes no difference to their vote. Of the remainder, more say it makes them less likely (21%) rather than more likely (8 percent) to support Romney. Among those intending to vote for Gingrich, Santorum and Paul, between 25 percent and 33 percent say Gov. Haley’s endorsement makes them less likely to support Romney and just 2 percent to 5 percent say it makes them more likely. Among Romney voters, 15 percent see the Haley endorsement as positive and 8 percent see it as negative, but the vast majority (76 percent) say it makes no difference in their choice.
South Carolina primary voters intend to stay loyal to the GOP even if their preferred candidate does not win the nomination. More than 7-in-10 (72 percent) say they will definitely vote for the Republican in November and another 12 percent say they will probably support the GOP nominee. Just 8 percent say they will vote for another candidate, 3 percent say they will not vote, and 4 percent are not sure what they will do. Between 75 percent and 83 percent of Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum supporters say they will definitely support whoever takes the Republican nomination. Just 53 percent of Ron Paul voters say the same.
The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone with 963 likely South Carolina Republican primary voters from January 12 to 15, 2012. This sample has a margin of error of + 3.2 percent.