By Justin Sink
A new Monmouth University poll of South Carolina voters shows Republican front-runner Mitt Romney maintaining a double-digit lead over the remainder of the GOP field, further increasing the likelihood of the Massachusetts governor winning the South Carolina primary and Republican nomination.
Romney earned 33 percent support of likely Republican voters, 11 percent higher than Newt Gingrich, whose 22 percent of support was good enough for second. Rick Santorum, whom Romney was able to narrowly edge in the Iowa caucuses, is earning 14 percent of voters, locking him into a struggle for third place with Ron Paul. The Texas congressman was earning 12 percent of those polled.
Rick Perry, meanwhile, was unable to crack double digits, earning 6 percent of support, and the recently departed Jon Huntsman was pulling 4 percent of voters.
The majority of Gingrich's support came from South Carolina voters who described themselves as very conservative — the former Speaker earned three in 10 of these voters — and those who say they strongly support the Tea Party movement. Meanwhile, Romney earns nearly four in 10 of voters who classify themselves as either somewhat conservative or moderate or liberal.
Some of Romney's success can also be attributed to surprise support among Christian voters. The former governor is winning 29 percent of self-described evangelicals, better than Gingrich's 26 percent and Santorum's 19 percent. Romney also leads among voters who say the candidate who shares their values is the most important factor in picking a candidate — a surprise for Romney, who usually trails on that metric. Twenty-three percent of values voters picked Romney, versus 19 percent for Paul, 17 percent for Santorum and 15 percent for Gingrich.
As usual, for the 43 percent of voters who say electability is the most important factor, Romney emerges as the clear choice. Nearly half of voters worried primarily about electability chose the former governor, versus just 28 percent for Gingrich and 12 percent for Santorum.