A Public Policy Polling poll shows Mitt Romney leading the pack -- with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich closing the gap one week from the first-in-the-south presidential primary in South Carolina.
Polling data suggests that Romney's slim leader status may be buttressed by the Palmetto State electorate's current take on his ultimate electibilty in the 2012 national contest.
The poll released yesterday shows the former Massachussetts governor at 29 percent support, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at 24 percent and a tight battle for third and fourth place with Texas Cong. Ron Paul at 15 percent and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum with 14 percent.
More so than PPP found in Iowa and New Hampshire, voters in South Carolina are concerned about whether the person they back can actually defeat President Barack Obama.
Fifty percent say they are concerned about that, and there is a strong feeling in South Carolina that Romney will be the nominee. Thirty-seven percent say they are more concerned about where the candidate they support stands on the issues
Voters there are by a large majority focused on the economy. When voters in South Carolina were asked who they have the most trust in concerning economic issues, Romney enjoys 35 percent support, Gingrich 25 percent, Paul at 16 percent and 10 percent for Santorum.
Despite efforts this past week to attack Romney's business background, an overwhelming 58 percent have a favorable opinion of his record in business with only 27 percent having a negative opinion.
Romney also appears to be benefitting from the voter population being older in South Carolina. PPP indicates Romney's biggest strength continues to be his popularity among senior citizens.
The poll shows Romney with 35 percent support among South Carolina seniors compared to Gingrich at 25 percent support. PPP projects seniors will account for nearly 30 percent of the vote.
While the new poll shows an increasing sense among South Carolina voters that Romney will land the GOP presidential nomination, there is a way for things to turn in a different direction.
PPP notes that overall, 58 percent of primary voters in South Carolina don't want Romney to be the party's nominee. The poll suggests that if those people got behind Gingrich in any meaningful way, Gingrich would become the favorite in next Saturday's primary.
What could be the one area where voters might think twice about going for Romney appears to be their concerns about his position on healthcare.
The poll showed 34 percent would not be willing to support a candidate who had backed an individual mandate for healthcare at the state level.
Romney is getting only 16 percent support among voters on that issue alone but PPP says his opponents have not yet taken advantage of his low support in this area.
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