With polls opening in less than 24 hours for the important South Carolina presidential primary election, the final Palmetto Poll shows Newt Gingrich leading over Mitt Romney in a gritty battle fraught with personal attacks and breaking news about the candidates’ personal lives.
That’s the finding of the third Clemson University 2012 Palmetto Poll, a sample of 429 South Carolina GOP voters who indicated they plan to vote Saturday. The telephone poll was initiated Jan. 13 and recalibrated Jan. 18-19 to measure changing dynamics. Twenty percent of the likely voters remain undecided.
“We expect a reaction by the electorate to the personal revelations about Gingrich to be registered on Saturday, however, we do not think it will be substantial enough to erase the lead Gingrich has over Romney,” said Clemson University political scientist Dave Woodard.
“Our head-to-head matchup of the candidates has consistently shown Mitt Romney competitive. The margin for Romney has evaporated this week, and we believe that Gingrich — who led our December poll with 38 percent to Romney’s 21 percent — will win the South Carolina primary,” he said.
Among poll respondents who had chosen or were leaning toward a candidate, this third Palmetto Poll showed Newt Gingrich (32 percent) leading the field over Mitt Romney (26 percent), up slightly from a month ago. Ron Paul came in third (11 percent), about even with his December poll rating. Rick Santorum remained in fourth place (9 percent), despite a significant jump over his ranking last month.
After choosing a candidate, respondents gave a wide variety of answers as to what they liked most about the person they selected, but the two most popular appeared to be: “he has honesty and integrity” and “his overall political ideology” — meaning conservative principles.
“Much has been made of the ‘electability’ issue of the candidates, but in our poll the response: ‘He has the best chance of beating President Barack Obama,’” was the fourth choice of voters, after “‘He has better ideas for strengthening the economy,’” said Clemson political scientist Bruce Ransom.