Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich scored a huge victory in the South Carolina Republican primary this weekend. He performed well in the debates and data suggests that drove his rise in the polls — his numbers picked up after he revved up the partisan crowd and Romney faded into the background. And then he won the actual vote by nearly thirteen points.
That’s all well and good. Republican voters are certainly happy with the fire that Gingrich is providing, as the one common thread that GOP voters share this cycle is a desire to see President Obama run out of office. But if that is their goal, then Newt’s surge doesn’t make much political sense. See the chart below.
Newt Gingrich Favorability, National
Gingrich’s favorability among general election voters — the metric that many pollsters argue is the key to understanding how the public feels about a candidate — is not high. It certainly improved when Newt surged nationally in early December, gaining more media attention as Republicans and GOP-leaning independents started to feel better about him. But since he was crushed by negative ads in Iowa, leading to a fourth place finish there and in New Hampshire, Newt’s favorability numbers have again plunged — his unfavorability score hit 58 in a CNN poll, 56 in a Fox News survey, and 60 in Public Policy Polling (D) data.
So in the short term, Republicans in South Carolina were content to reject Romney as their nominee — he’s the best candidate against President Obama in both national and state polling by far, but by the numbers, he’s always had trouble making the sale to the conservative wing of his own party. Exit polls showed that Republicans voting for the “best candidate to beat Obama” actually went for Gingrich. But if the chart above says anything at all, it’s that the embrace of Gingrich is a problem for Republicans in 2012. And that has to have Democrats smiling.
Kyle is the Editor of TPM Media’s PollTracker. He graduated from Beloit College (WI) and began working in politics before getting an M.A. in magazine journalism from New York University, where he interned at TPM and the website of The New Yorker.