Last night's results in Nevada were bad news for Newt Gingrich and PPP's first day of polling in Colorado and Minnesota indicates things may only get worse for him in the coming days.
In Colorado Mitt Romney looks primed for another big Western win to match his one in Nevada. He leads with 40% there to 26% for Rick Santorum, 18% for Gingrich, and 12% for Ron Paul.
Minnesota looks like a toss up with any of the four candidates having some shot at winning. Santorum holds a small edge there with 29% to 27% for Romney, 22% for Gingrich, and 19% for Paul.
What both states have in common is that Gingrich has fallen precipitously since our last polls in them. In Colorado Gingrich was in first place with a 19 point lead in early December. His support has declined 19 points since then and his net favorability has dropped 33 points from +41 (64/23) to only +8 (49/41). Gingrich has had a similarly large decline in Minnesota, but there it's much more abrupt. We polled the state only two weeks ago but in that time he's dropped 14 points from 36% to 22%, and his favorability has 26 points from +34 (59/25) to +8 (47/39). That after glow from South Carolina has worn off real fast.
Tuesday has the potential to be a big day for Rick Santorum. In addition to these two polls, a Missouri survey we conducted last weekend found him with 45% to 34% for Romney and 13% for Paul. Given how quickly things have moved in this race I wouldn't assume Santorum still has that lead, especially given the momentum Romney has after big wins in Florida and Nevada. But nevertheless it looks like Santorum has a decent chance at wins in Minnesota and Missouri, and a second place finish in Colorado. 72 hours from now he may have supplanted Gingrich as the top alternative to Romney.
There were 3 key groups of voters that fueled Gingrich's victory in South Carolina and that continued to be strong for him in Florida, but in both Colorado and Minnesota they have shifted toward Santorum. Santorum is winning Tea Party voters (35-34 over Romney in Colorado, 38-29 over Gingrich in Minnesota), Evangelicals (37-30 over Romney in Colorado, 36-27 over Gingrich in Minnesota), and those describing themselves as 'very conservative' (38-29 over Romney in Colorado, 41-25 over Gingrich in Minnesota). Win those groups and you're always going to have a decent chance in a Republican contest.
Minnesota provides Paul's best chance at a victory since Iowa. Independents are allowed to vote there, which should boost his numbers, and in contrast to most states he has a positive favorability rating at 48-41. A big key for him will be the age of the electorate- he's leading the way with voters under 45, but in last place with voters over 45. He'll need to pick that up to have a chance at the upset.
The state of the race is extremely volatile in both states. 33% of voters in Colorado and 37% in Minnesota say they could change their minds between now and Tuesday, a much higher rate than we've seen willing to shift this late in other states. One big advantage Romney has is that his voters are more committed than those of the other candidates. In Colorado among voters whose minds are completely made up he's at 45% to 25% for Santorum, 18% for Gingrich, and 13% for Paul. And in Minnesota although he's in 2nd place overall, he's first with folks whose votes are locked in at 29% to 25% for Santorum, 24% for Gingrich, and 22% for Paul. People who know definitively how they're going to vote seem more likely to show up so that bodes quite well for Romney.
Romney looks headed for another easy win in Colorado and could pull one out in Minnesota as well. He has a few key things going for him. He remains extremely formidable with seniors, leading Santorum 43-23 with them in Colorado and 42-28 with them in Minnesota. And although he continues to struggle with the furthest right segment of Republican voters he's now firmly established himself as the candidate of choice for those describing themselves as 'somewhat conservative.' He leads Santorum 51-19 with those folks in Colorado and Gingrich 34-23 with then in Minnesota.
Tuesday has the potential to be a huge day for both Romney and Santorum. A sweep for Romney would do much to enhance the feeling that he's unstoppable. Wins for Santorum in Minnesota and Missouri would make it clear he's a more viable alternative to Romney than Gingrich and give him a lot of momentum for the road ahead. And it looks like it will be another dark day for Gingrich, whose campaign it appears peaked two weeks ago in South Carolina.
Full results here