One would think so from the news:
From an article entitled “Romney Slipping in South Carolina, holds just 2-point lead over Gingrich” [emphasis mine]:
Despite a historic sweep of the first two nominating contests in the GOP field, Mitt Romney holds just a two percentage-point lead in South Carolina, his smallest lead of 2012.
Romney is the favorite of 23 percent of South Carolina voters, narrowly edging Newt Gingrich’s 21 percent, according to the latest poll from Insider Advantage…
The numbers could indicate that Gingrich’s aggressive strategy — which has included controversial attacks on Romney’s business and abortion records — is gaining him traction by hurting the GOP front-runner.
In the three other major South Carolina polls completed in the new year, Romney was earning 37 percent, 27 percent and 30 percent, according to Real Clear Politics — meaning his 23 percent in the latest poll marks a precipitous decline.
And from an article entitled “Gingrich Surging in South Carolina” we have [emphasis mine]:
The InsiderAdvantage poll of South Carolina likely Republican primary voters shows Newt Gingrich surging.
There’s plenty more where that came from—article after article. But I like to do research, and my research tells me something interesting about Romney’s support in South Carolina, and especially that particular pollster’s (“Insider Advantage”) figures.
Take a look and you’ll see that this is Romney’s record in South Carolina in previous Insider Advantage polls:
Gingrich 8 [this was before Gingrich’s boomlet when Cain ran into trouble]
Gingrich 19 [this was about a week after the Cain sexual harassment story broke]
Gingrich 38 [this was very shortly before Cain dropped out of the race]
If you study the South Carolina poll results over time—and not just the Insider Advantage polls, either—you’ll see that Gingrich owned South Carolina from the time Cain started to fade until right after Iowa, a period of a little over two months. Then Romney came into a brief (about a week long) ascendancy, a post-Iowa bounce—but not in any Insider Advantage poll, because none were taken in South Carolina by that pollster post-Iowa till now. The previous most recent Insider Advantage poll in South Carolina (December 18) showed Newt with a commanding lead over Romney; the new Insider Advantage poll there shows gains for Romney and losses for Gingrich.
So who’s “surging,” and who’s dropping “precipitously?” One could just as easily make a case that the answer is the opposite of what all the stories allege, because the stories are comparing apples and oranges—the Insider Advantage polls with other polls—and haven’t paid attention to the trends over time.
Now it’s certainly possible that Gingrich will be surging in South Carolina, and that Romney is dropping precipitously. Attack ads often work. And of course, polls are hardly a perfect measure of anything. But they’re the best measure we have of public sentiment leading up to an election, and these polls show that Romney was never popular in South Carolina until the beginning of January (after Iowa), and we have no after-Iowa Insider Advantage polls with which to compare the latest results.
By the way, how reliable is Insider Advantage as a pollster? I dug up some old polls for comparison and (for example) on December 18, 2011, Insider Advantage had Romney “imploding” in Iowa:
GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney’s decision to campaign negatively in Iowa appears to have backfired, with a new Newsmax-InsiderAdvantage poll showing the former Massachusetts governor plummeting to fourth place in the Hawkeye State — a swift decline that pollster Matt Towery [of Insider Advantage] describes as “imploding.”
Romney’s lead in New Hampshire is evaporating as well, Towery adds.
If you look at other polls around that same time in New Hampshire, you’ll see the Insider Advantage is an outlier, understating Romney’s total compared to the other polls. And then there’s this from Nate Silver, one of the few writers who seems to have done his homework:
InsiderAdvantage has a mixed track record and rates fairly poorly in the FiveThrityEight pollster ratings, which is one reason to interpret these numbers with some care. In addition, Matt Towery, the head of InsiderAdvantage, formerly served as the head of Mr. Gingrich’s political organization from 1992 until Mr. Gingrich left Congress.
Let me repeat, because I want to make it crystal clear: this post isn’t about trying to prove that Romney’s doing well in South Carolina right now. I await further polls on this; I really don’t know. My point is the odd spin so many in the media have given this particular Insider Advantage poll, and their lack of ability and/or desire to look at the bigger picture.
[NOTE: I want to point out the clever little way in which the Justin Sink, the author of the very first article I quote in the post, tries to subtly guide the reader when he writes “[Romney’s] smallest lead of 2012.” It is certainly true, but how many readers will stop to think that 2012 is not even 2 weeks old? How many will go back and see that, for several recent months in 2011 and right up till January of 2012, Romney didn’t lead in South Carolina at all, Gingrich did?]