Newt Gingrich’s surge in the first two primary states continues in South Carolina, according to a new poll released Tuesday by Winthrop University.
Thirty-eight percent of likely Republican primary voters said they would vote for Gingrich, leading Mitt Romney, who received 22 percent. Rick Perry came in third at nine percent. Herman Cain, who had not announced his campaign’s suspension when polling began, had seven percent; Michele Bachmann took five percent. Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman all scored below five percent.
The results represent a marked shift in South Carolina since September, when the last Winthrop poll had Perry and Romney in a virtual tie (30 percent to 27 percent) and Gingrich at just five percent.
Winthrop political science professor Scott Huffmon, who directed the poll, noted that while Gingrich has experienced a quick rise like previous temporary frontrunners, Romney has remained relatively stable in this poll and others.
“The real question is, is Newt Gingrich the not-Mitt Romney candidate or is this support really for Gingrich? And Gingrich needs to pin that down,” Huffmon said.
The former House speaker recently bolstered his presence here, adding seven new staffers in early November for a total of nine (the most of any campaign here) and opening five campaign offices.
Gingrich also completed a three-day trip here at the end of November where he was met with huge crowds and throngs of media, just as the Winthrop poll was being conducted (Nov. 27-Dec. 4).
Huffmon said Gingrich benefits from surging now, as opposed to earlier in the year, because more voters are paying attention to the primary field.
“He’s got a wider audience to try to and loop in more solid supporters than some of the previous not-Mitt-Romney candidates,” Huffmon said.
The Winthrop poll also suggested that in South Carolina, the concept of “membership” in the Tea Party has diminished since September. While 28 percent of Republican voters said they considered themselves members of the Tea Party then, that number was cut in half to 15 percent in this poll.
The poll, conducted Nov. 27 - Dec. 4, has a 5.45 percent margin of error for the Republican primary voter sample.