Poll watcher: Romney, Santorum surge in S.C.; Gingrich drops

Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have surged in South Carolina while Newt Gingrich has taken a nose dive since December, according to a new poll by CNN and Time magazine. The poll shows Romney leading with 37 percent support among likely voters (up from 20 in early December), Santorum with 19 percent (up from 4) and Gingrich with 18 percent (down from 43).

Rep. Ron Paul also has made gains, from 6 to 12 percent in one month. Texas Gov. Rick Perry – who is banking on a strong performance in South Carolina to rejuvenate his campaign after finishing in fifth place in Iowa – wins 5 percent of likely voters; he held 8 percent last month.


Many South Carolina voters are open to switching candidates: 56 percent say they could change their mind or have no current preference, while 44 percent say they’re locked in. And while all the candidates have visited the state (Santorum leads with 27), the candidates are just now flooding the state with television ads.

(Be sure to check out the Post’s fantastic Republican Primary Tracker for tallies of candidate visits in each state, profiles of the GOP electorates and more as contests get closer.)

The margin of error for the overall results is 4.5 percentage points; it’s larger among subgroups.

Methodology note: The CNN/ORC poll dialed only landline phones, though the latest estimates (from 2010) show 26 percent of South Carolina adults are only reachable via cellphone. A December NBC News/Marist poll found Ron Paul performing 5 percentage points better among likely voters reached by cellphone, while Gingrich and Romney performed somewhat worse among this group.

Santorum Climbs in N.H. – Santorum appears to be getting a modest bounce in New Hampshire after virtually tying Mitt Romney for first place in Tuesday’s Iowa caucuses. He earns 11 percent support – up from 5 percent in polling just before the caucus – in the latest Suffolk University/7News tracking poll of likely primary voters released Friday.

Romney earns 40 percent and continues to hold a wide, if not insurmountable, lead over Ron Paul (17 percent), Santorum, Gingrich (9 percent), Jon Huntsman (8 percent) and other candidates. The Post’s Chris Cillizza notes that three quarters of Romney backers say they probably won’t change their mind before next Tuesday’s primary.

Consumer confidence improves (but still bad) –As the gloomy jobs picture brightens with positive employment numbers for December, Bloomberg’s Consumer Comfort Index climbed to its highest level since July this week. The improvement is due to stronger ratings for personal finances as well as the economy overall, while ratings of the buying climate are largely unchanged. The overall index – at -44.8 on a scale of -100 to 100 – is far worse than long-term average, wading through the doldrums after plummeting in 2008.

More than six in 10 Americans in a December Washington Post-ABC News poll said they were optimistic about their family’s financial situation over the next year, but a smaller 44 percent had a positive outlook on the nation’s economy. Perhaps expressing more confidence in Washington leadership, over half of Democrats were optimistic about the economy’s prospects, while nearly two in three Republicans were pessimistic.

Friday video: How polling works – How come you’ve never been called by a pollster? How can 1,000 people represent the views of an entire country? Fox News gets answers from interviews Pew Research Center’s Scott Keeter and Fox polling director Dana Blanton.

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Scott Clement is a survey research analyst for The Washington Post. Scott specializes in public opinion about politics, election campaigns and public policy.

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