Now that Rick Perry has dropped out of the presidential race and the feel in South Carolina is that Gingrich may be surging (again), where are Perry supporters likely to go? How much of a role will Perry’s endorsement of Newt Gingirch play? Nate Silver, at 538.com has one take on this here. Here is another snapshot, using new nationwide data released by YouGov yesterday, before the debate.
By far, the second choice for the nomination among former Perry voters is Mitt Romney (42.9% choose Romney). Gingrich comes in a close second for 28.6% of Perry voters. This pattern is echoed across all voters except those who prefer Ron Paul. The movement toward Romney as a second choice for most voters is evidence of Romney’s inevitability as we wrote about last week, here.
Where do Perry Voters Go?
But, back to Perry for a moment. Data from this week and last week suggest that his endorsement of Gingrich may be coming a week too late. Last week, Perry’s supporters overwhelmingly (42.9%) preferred Santorum as their second choice, but a week of Mitt Romney looking like the eventual, electable nominee has led Perry supporters to jump on the Romney “bandwagon.”
Last Week's Second Choices
This dynamic – the bulk-movement of supporters of all the other candidates to Romney as a second choice – is a great example of momentum. It may not feel like Romney has the momentum in the race, but the data tell us that he does. (More on Romney’s inability to convey this on the campaign trail later.)
More important than these dynamics, however, is perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when thinking about what role Perry’s exit and endorsement will play in the race: Very few people were actually voting for Perry. The switch to Romney as Perry’s voters’ second choice appears large in percentage points, but in real numbers, fewer people were voting for Perry this week than last; and the change in these voters’ second preference is being driven by a very small number of people.
In other words, aside from CNN having to reset the debate stage, Perry’s exit from the race is basically a non-event.