Debate performance propels Gingrich in South Carolina, according to Marist poll

A new Marist poll of likely Republican voters in South Carolina’s “first-in-the-South” primary on Saturday shows Romney leading Gingrich by ten percentage points, 34 percent to 24 percent, but the numbers do not clearly reflect the momentum on Gingrich’s side after a commanding debate performance on Monday in which he, at one point, received a standing ovation. Ron Paul is in third with 16 percent, followed by Rick Santorum with 14 percent. Rick Perry, who will drop out of the race and endorse Gingrich before the debate, got 4 percent in the survey, and his endorsement may bolster Gingrich’s numbers even more heading into Saturday.

The survey was conducted on Monday and Tuesday, but the numbers on Tuesday (post-debate) were dramatically different from Monday’s pre-debate numbers.

“Romney has not closed the deal in South Carolina,” Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion said in a statement.  “Monday night’s debate has changed the political landscape, and it’s now a much more competitive contest.”

On Monday, Romney led Gingrich by a 15 point margin, 37 percent to 22 percent. On Tuesday, Gingrich shaved 10 points off Romney’s lead, narrowing the gap Romney’s lead to 5 percentage points (31 percent to 26 percent)

Some key findings from the survey:

Romney led Gingrich among Republicans, 39 percent to 26 percent, before the debate. After the debate, Romney only led Gingrich by a slim one point margin, 31 percent to 30 percent among Republicans.

Among self-described “very conservative voters,” Gingrich led Romney, 33 percent to 23 percent, before the debate. After the debate, Gingrich increased his lead over Romney among these voters (35 percent to 19 percent).

Among Tea Party voters, Romney led Gingrich, 35 percent to 27 percent, before the debate. After the debate, Gingrich led Romney among these voters, 34 percent to 27 percent.

Among evangelical Christian voters, Romney led Gingrich, 36 percent to 22 percent, before the debate. After the debate, Gingrich led Romney, 27 percent to 22 percent.

Further, 55 percent of those surveyed said they are “strongly committed to their choice of candidate” while 29 percent “somewhat support their pick” while 15 percent may still vote for a different candidate on Saturday.

These findings place even more importance on tonight’s presidential debate for they show how much a debate performance can influence the dynamics of the race.