I’m coming out and saying it: I think Newt Gingrich will win South Carolina this weekend.
I’m shocked that I’m saying it, but the forces all seem to be coming together to create a perfect storm favoring Gingrich to surge past Romney. Specifically:
1) A good debate performance on Monday night – one that Gingrich himself can’t stop talking about – combined with (and maybe contributed to) increased strength in the polls. This mini-surge is timed perfectly: conservatives unhappy with the seeming-inevitability of Romney are already concerned about splitting their vote among conservative candidates (Santorum, Gingrich, and Perry) and Gingrich is trying to capitalize on this.
2) Rick Perry dropped out to endorse Gingrich. Yes, Perry was only polling in the low single digits in South Carolina (mainly coming in between 4-6 percent), but if this race is getting tighter as the polls suggest, this could matter.
3) A new count suggests that Santorum actually won the Iowa caucuses, albeit with inconsistencies. Yes, it’s too little too late for Santorum (in my opinion) – and having those two weeks of being the nominal winners has already helped Romney. But, I do think it matters, in conjunction with what else is happening today.
4) The combination of the three above outcomes are shifting our media coverage and how people are talking about politics (Slate’s a good example). This media coverage on Gingrich’s potential surge is going to play right into his hands, making the surge more likely to be sustained, at least through Saturday when voters go to the polls. The media attention helps Gingrich in many ways, but mostly by giving conservatives who don’t want Romney hope that a Gingrich vote isn’t a wasted one – and gives them someone to coallesce around.
My prediction of Gingrich winning is predicated on a good debate performance tonight, something he is definitely capable of. And I have to say, it’s shocking to me that I’m even making this prediction: in my public opinion class on Tuesday, all but one student predicted a Romney win (one went for Paul), with margins of victory ranging from 4-12 points (with the average at just over 7% – admittedly, a sample size of 20). Today, many of the same students wanted to drop that margin of victory down – although no one volunteered to switch over to predicting Gingrich.
Well, I’m going to be bold: I predict a Gingrich victory in South Carolina (Nate Silver has them at 50/50 for the win). Although who knows – both for myself and for my class in public opinion, I’m hopeful that the Republican race goes on.
EDIT: Another reason to suspect a Gingrich victory – a dramatic increase in searches on Google!