Gingrich Leads Romney 33% to 29% in Latest South Carolina Poll

January 20, 2012, 11:22 PM UTC

Gingrich Leads Romney 33% to 29% in Latest SC Poll

Republican primary voters think Romney is most likely to beat Obama, but prefer Gingrich and Santorum on non-economic issues.

With the South Carolina Republican presidential primary only one day away, Newt Gingrich leads Mitt Romney by four points, according to a new poll of likely South Carolina primary voters conducted by YouGov. The poll shows that Gingrich enjoys the support of 33% of likely voters, while Romney has the support of 29%. Ron Paul and Rick Santorum are nearly tied for third place, with Paul at 18% and Santorum at 16%.

Which candidate will you vote for in the Republican primary election for President?

Newt Gingrich 33%
Mitt Romney 29%
Ron Paul 18%
Rick Santorum 16%

Only a few weeks ago, Romney held a comfortable lead in most media polls. However, it appears that the "anybody-but-Romney" vote has coalesced around Gingrich in South Carolina. In head-to-head matchups, Romney loses to both Gingrich and Santorum, though the outcomes are fairly close. If forced to choose between Gingrich and Romney, the poll respondents chose Gingrich by a 54% to 46% margin. Against Santorum, Romney also loses by the same margin.

If you had to choose one, which of these two individuals would you want to be the Republican nominee for President?

  Romney vs.   Romney vs.   Romney vs.  
  Gingrich Santorum Paul
Mitt Romney 46% 46% 66%
Other candidate 54% 54% 34%

Romney rates high in terms of electability. Most likely primary voters in South Carolina believe that Mitt Romney has the best chance of any of the candidates to defeat President Barack Obama in the general election in November. 80% of respondents say that Romney is "very likely" or "somewhat likely" to defeat Obama, compared to 72% for Gingrich, 50% for Santorum, and only 28% for Paul.

Which of the following candidates do you think can beat Obama in the general election?
  Very likely   Somewhat likely   Somewhat unlikely   Very unlikely   Not sure
Mitt Romney 53% 27% 9% 6% 5%
Newt Gingrich 46% 26% 14% 11% 4%
Ron Paul 14% 14% 23% 45% 5%
Rick Santorum 18% 32% 23% 20% 6%

On the other hand, voters tended to prefer candidates other than Romney on non-economic issues. Republican primary voters trust Santorum most on social issues like abortion and gay marriage, followed by Gingrich and Paul. Gingrich is preferred over all the other candidates on foreign policy issues by a large margin, while Romney is narrowly preferred on economic issues (which are Santorum's weak point). 

Which of the Republican candidates do you trust the most on ...?

  Mitt Romney   Newt Gingrich   Ron Paul   Rick Santorum  
Social issues 19% 23% 18% 33%
Foreign Policy issues 24% 45% 19% 9%
Economic issues 34% 32% 20% 10%

Overall, South Carolina Republicans are almost equally divided on which is more important-a candidate's ability to defeat Obama or his positions on the issues. Not surprisingly, Romney leads Gingrich by 41% to 35% among those who care most about electability, but loses by a 30% to 17% margin among those who say "a candidate's position on the issues is most important."

Controversies over Romney's record at Bain Capital and his income taxes appear to have had limited impact on South Carolina primary voters. Only 13% disapprove of "the job Mitt Romney did at Bain Capital" and only 21% think that he did not "pay his fair share of federal taxes."

The poll was conducted by YouGov, a leading online polling organization, which accurately forecasted the outcomes of recent national elections. According to the National Council on Public Polls (NCPP), YouGov's online polls outperformed both live interviewer and automated telephone polls in the 2010 midterm elections. In both 2010 and 2008, YouGov accurately predicted the national vote split to within one percent.

The poll is based on a sample of 759 registered voters who were interviewed January 18-20, of whom 339 were classified as likely Republican primary voters. The respondents were selected from an opt-in panel and matched to the demographics of South Carolina registered voters. The estimates have a margin of error of ±6.1%.