Something happened in South Carolina last weekend that few people expected. While many figured that current frontrunner Mitt Romney would have difficulty in South Carolina, most people, including myself, did not expect the results to be this shocking. In a stunning turn of events, Newt Gingrich placed first in the South Carolina primary with 40.4 percent of the vote, far ahead of Romney who placed second with 27.8 percent of the vote.
While it is true that the Romney following was bracing itself for a possible setback here, I don’t believe that anyone expected a 14 percent chasm difference to manifest itself overnight. Had it been a near miss, it could have easily been said that some stroke of luck on Gingrich’s part helped propel him forward. What then could have caused such a significant shift in such an insignificant amount of time? Let’s start with the obvious: in as conservative of a playing field as South Carolina, religious beliefs and conservative ideals play a big role. A New York Times exit poll shows that evangelicals and those who valued “true conservatism” heavily favored Gingrich. Furthermore, those who believed that it’s important for a candidate to share their religious beliefs sided with Gingrich, whereas those who didn’t went with Romney. A hot-button issue, abortion, also caused stark differences in voting patterns. While the majority of those who thought abortion should at least be legal in most cases voted for Romney, those in the opposite camp voted for Gingrich. Voters supporting the Tea Party went with Gingrich, while those opposing went with Romney.
Conservative ideals aside, something more significant must have happened in the days leading up to the primary. Various polls conducted on Jan. 15 through 20 show Romney having a significant edge on Gingrich up until a few days before Jan. 21. The numbers are as follows (Gingrich/Romney): Jan. 15 (20 percent/31 percent), Jan. 16 (21 percent/35 percent), Jan. 17-18 (33 percent/32 percent), Jan. 18 (33 percent/30 percent), Jan. 19 (32 percent/28 percent), and Jan. 20 (40 percent/26 percent). As you can see, within five days, the results flip in a shocking manner. This lines up with the exit polls finding that 55 percent of voters decided in the last few days that they would vote for Gingrich. What is difficult to explain here is that both candidates’ religious and political ideologies were clearly known well in advance of the primaries, so that cannot be the reason (unless South Carolinians had a revelation en masse, on the eve of the primary, that Romney is a Mormon and that Mormonism is not the same thing as born-again Christianity or evangelicalism). One logical explanation for this could be the fact that the super PAC ads supporting Gingrich, which were extremely prevalent in South Carolina, were viciously attacking Romney outright. But the interesting thing is that the super PAC supporting Romney also ran articles ripping Gingrich, so it’s pretty hard to distinguish how one could be more effective than the other. It might indeed be more effective, but to the extent of tipping the votes this significantly? I don’t think so.
I think one of the most significant — if not the most significant — reasons for this substantial and unprecedented flip is something that cannot be quantized by voting patters and percentages. Rather, it is something inherently human, mostly guided by instincts, and very rebellious in nature. For a while now, it’s been agreed upon by most politicos that Romney will be the ultimate and inevitable nominee of the Republican Party. Political analysts put Romney’s likelihood of winning the primaries at the mid-ninety percent region, with Gingrich at a likelihood of winning at about five/six percent. It could be that the word “inevitable” pushed the voters to a state of rebelliousness and made them go against the establishment. Not wanting to bow down to how things have been for some time now, South Carolinians may have had a sudden urge to resist the system, push back, and go with another candidate that was more in tune with their political and religious beliefs and a seemingly viable alternative to Romney. Recent national polls also showed a similar change as Romney’s support decreased nationally while Gingrich’s support went up.
It is important to note that Romney is still leading in the nationals by a wide margin and is seen by many, including Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, as the only candidate that could stand a true fighting chance against Obama. Many voters that went with Obama in ’08 are now considering going with Romney for the sole purpose of not having Obama as President for another term.
With its more diverse and dense population, Florida is the next state in line to have its primary. Current polls show that Romney is ahead of Gingrich, but we have just witnessed how quickly the tides can turn. I will stand by what I said in my last article and argue that Romney will in fact be the “inevitable” victor of the primaries. This is not because he is the perfect Presidential candidate — neither is President Obama — but because he would be the most electable and most competitive candidate the GOP has to offer.