Newt Gingrich heads into South Carolina election day as the clear front runner in the state: he's now polling at 37% to 28% for Mitt Romney, 16% for Rick Santorum, and 14% for Ron Paul.
Gingrich's lead has actually increased in the wake of his ex-wife's controversial interview with ABC. Although one night poll results should always be interpreted with caution, he led the final night of the field period by a 40-26 margin. One thing that continues to work to his advantage are the debates. 60% of primary voters report having watched the one last night, and Gingrich has a 46-23 lead with those folks.
The other reason his ex-wife's interview isn't causing him much trouble is that there's a lot of skepticism about it. Only 31% of voters say they think her accusations are true while 35% think they are false and 34% are unsure. 51% of voters say that they have 'no concerns' about what came out in the interview.
The skepticism of Republican voters toward the media is helping Gingrich as well. Just 14% of likely voters have a generally favorable opinion of the media, while 77% view it negatively. Gingrich's attacks on the media have clearly played well with the party base.
Gingrich is leading with pretty much every key segment of the Republican electorate. He's up 41-21 on Romney and Santorum with Evangelicals, he has a 52-18 advantage on Romney with Tea Partiers, he leads Santorum 44-21 with 'very conservative' voters with Romney at 20%, and he's up 39-26 with men.
In the final week of the campaign Gingrich rose from 24% to 37% in PPP's polling while Romney basically stayed in place, going from 29% to 28%. Romney saw a 15 point decline in his net favorability in the closing stretch from +24 (57/33) to just +9 (51/42). Gingrich saw a modest increase in his numbers over the final week from +14 (51/37) to +17 (54/37).
Usually when we poll in the closing days before an election and find someone ahead by 9 points we'll say with a pretty high degree of confidence that person's going to win. I'm not comfortable saying that about South Carolina. A primary election with a lot of new news in the closing days for voters to absorb is fertile ground for a final result that's at odd with the polls. Mark Blumenthal's piece today for Huffington Post about 'expecting the unexpected' tomorrow is well worth a read. Gingrich will probably win tomorrow- but there's a higher than normal chance for a surprise given everything that's gone down in the last 48 hours.
Full results here