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What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls
South Carolina: Gingrich 33%, Romney 31%, Paul 15%
Saturday, January 21, 2012 

And then there were four. The South Carolina Primary claimed two of the Republican presidential hopefuls this past week – Jon Huntsman and Rick Perry – before a single vote was cast. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are now running nearly even, but with all the charges in the air, who knows if that will last until the votes are counted this evening? 

Gingrich surged ahead of Romney 33% to 31% in the final Rasmussen Reports survey of the South Carolina Republican Primary race taken Wednesday evening.   Two days earlier, before a strong debate showing by Gingrich and Sarah Palin’s endorsement of the former House speaker, it was Romney by 14 percentage points. 

Texas Congressman Ron Paul ran third on Wednesday with 15% of the vote, followed by former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum at 11%. Paul’s support held steady while Santorum’s support dropped five points since Monday.  At the beginning of the month, after Santorum’s strong showing in the Iowa caucuses, he ran second to Romney with 24%. Perry pulled two percent (2%) support Wednesday evening but has since dropped out of the race. 

Still, nearly one-in-three primary voters (31%) said they could change their minds, and it’s unclear how Perry’s withdrawal, the growing dispute over Romney’s taxes or a televised interview Thursday evening with one of Gingrich’s former wives might impact the contest. 

There’s been a similar tightening of the national race for the Republican presidential nomination with Romney still on top but Gingrich just three points behind – 30% to 27%. Santorum, who was running second two weeks ago, has now dropped to 15%, and Paul captures 13% support from likely GOP primary voters nationwide. Perry was still in the race at that time but earns just four percent (4%). While Romney’s support is essentially unchanged, Gingrich’s jumped dramatically, up 11 points from 16% two weeks ago. This suggests that many voters are still looking for an alternative to Romney and currently see Gingrich as that candidate. 

One group looking for that alternative is the Tea Party. Who are the Tea Party voters these days? Among other things we’ve found in our recent data: 59% are men, 41% women; 61% are over the age of 50, a bit older than the population at large, and they’re more closely affiliated with the GOP than they were when the movement first began nearly three years ago. 

A generic Republican candidate continues to lead President Obama in a hypothetical Election 2012 matchup as has been the case nearly every week since late May. Romney also remains the only named GOP hopeful who runs competitively against the president. 

Gingrich is within single digits of Obama – 47% to 38% - in their latest matchup. Last week, the president held a similar 46% to 38% lead over Gingrich, but it was the first time since early December that the incumbent didn’t post a double-digit lead over this Republican challenger. 

The president has a 10-point lead over Santorum – 48% to 38% - in their most recent face-to-face matchup. 

With several of Romney’s rivals questioning his tenure at the Bain Capital investment firm, voters are closely divided over whether his business career is a plus or a minus, but most Republicans see it as a plus. Additionally, a plurality of all voters think Romney would do a better job than Obama dealing with the economy. 

Americans still put a lot more faith in the private sector than in government when it comes to making the economy work. Seventy percent (70%) of adults think a free market economy is better than one managed by the government. 

But Americans give mixed marks to the type of capitalism practiced in this country. Just 34% view the U.S. economy as free market capitalism. Thirty-nine percent (39%) say the country has a system of crony capitalism in which the most successful businesses have a close relationship with influential government officials. 

As far as the GOP presidential race is concerned, “where the numbers move as the campaign unfolds may depend on whether Romney is seen as free market Mitt or a crony capitalist,” Scott Rasmussen explains in his latest syndicated column, “For Romney, Will Free Markets or Crony Capitalism Be on Trial?”  “To be seen as a defender of free markets, the former Massachusetts governor will have to do more than point to his track record as a venture capitalist. He will need to challenge the status quo rather than defend it.” 

Most voters will continue to rely on either cable or traditional television news to stay up with politics this year, but the Internet will provide the election coverage for a quarter of the nation. 

Republicans continue to hold a small lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot as they have virtually every week since June 2009. 

More voters support a candidate who promises to raise taxes only on the rich over one who opposes all tax hikes, but roughly half feel tax increases of any kind would hurt the nation’s economy. 

Concern that the government will do too much responding to the bad economy has reached its highest level in seven months after falling to a three-year low in December. Most voters (57%) also continue to think one of the things the government has already done - bail out banks, auto companies and insurance companies - was bad for the country. 

The Rasmussen Consumer and Investor Indexes ended the week just slightly below where they were a year ago. Two-out-of-three consumers and investors believe the country is currently in a recession.

Belief among homeowners that home values will increase during the next few years is the strongest it has been in a year, as is confidence that their homes are worth more than what they still owe. Twenty-one percent (21%) now believe their home will be worth more in a year, the highest result measured since February 2011. Still, 27% say their home will be worth less in a year’s time, while 51% expect its value to remain about the same. Forty-five percent (45%) believe their home will be worth more in five years, also the highest level of confidence in the past year. 

Fifty percent (50%) of Americans think they will be paying higher interest rates a year from now. The number of Americans who predict higher interest rates is up nine points from December’s recent low of 41% but has mostly run in the 50s since mid-2009. 

The national Occupy movement is the latest to question the fairness of U.S. society, but most Americans continue to reject that point of view. Sixty-one percent (61%) of voters think U.S. society is generally fair and decent. Just 29% disagree and think it is basically unfair and discriminatory. 

Americans celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this past Monday and still hold an overwhelmingly favorable view of the murdered civil rights hero. But a plurality also continues to believe the federal holiday honoring King’s birthday is not good for the racial situation in this country. 

Perceptions of race relations in the United States have grown a bit more negative. Thirty-three percent (33%) now believe race relations are getting better, but that’s down from 38% last January and the lowest finding in several years. Thirty-two percent (32%) think those relations are getting worse, while 29% say they’re about the same.

Read this article with links at Rasmussen

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