Examining Newt’s Victory in South Carolina

January 23rd, 2012

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The early exit poll results reveal two crucial factors behind Newt Gingrich’s victory in South Carolina:

                (1) The Base

Gingrich consolidated the far-right base of the Republican Party. In South Carolina, 36% of Republican voters described their views as “very conservative.” Their support for Gingrich (47%) was greater than their support for Santorum (24%) and Romney (19%) combined.

Two thirds of South Carolina voters were evangelical Christians. That’s three times as many evangelicals as in New Hampshire and even more than in Iowa. Gingrich consolidated the evangelical vote in South Carolina. He got 44% of evangelicals, more than Santorum and Romney combined (21% each).

Bottom line?  South Carolina has made Gingrich the principal conservative alternative to Romney.

                (2) Electability

Gingrich?  Electable?  He looks that way to South Carolina Republicans.

Nearly half the voters said they wanted a candidate who could beat Obama (more than in Iowa and New Hampshire). In Iowa and New Hampshire, Republican voters looking for a winner went strongly for Romney. In South Carolina, a majority of them voted for Gingrich.

That was Gingrich’s big breakthrough. In Iowa, only 20% of those looking for someone to beat Obama voted for Gingrich. In New Hampshire, 12%. In South Carolina, a whopping 51%!

What made Gingrich suddenly look like a winner in South Carolina?  Two things: (1) He showed fight. That happened in the debates. The more the debates mattered, the more you voted for Gingrich. (2) Romney suddenly looked vulnerable. Again, the debates. The tax return issue is damaging the perception of Romney as electable.

To repeat: Gingrich?  Electable?  Remember what Barney Frank said the day he announced his retirement: “I do not think I have lived a good enough life to see the Republicans nominate Newt Gingrich.”