New Polls Make It Harder to Pretend the GOP Race Isn't Over

Mitt Romney is ahead in South Carolina, the state where the Not Romneys are supposed to have the best chance to stop him. Here's our guide to today's polls and why they matter.

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Mitt Romney is ahead in South Carolina, the state where the Not Romneys are supposed to have the best chance to stop him. South Carolinian voters were expected to be skeptical of Romney's moderate record, Mormon faith, and infrequent use of the word "y'all." He's trailed the alternating Not Romneys there all fall, until now. Here's our guide to today's polls and why they matter.

Findings: 37 percent of likely Republican primary voters in South Carolina now support Mitt Romney.
Pollster: CNN/ Time/ ORC International
Methodology:  Telephone interviews of 485 likely Republican voters in South Carolina from January 4 to January 5.
Why it matters: South Carolina was supposed to be Newt Gingrich's firewall. And it was supposed to be a bad state for Romney. He was well behind Gingrich since early December, Before that, he was behind Herman Cain, and before that, behind Rick Perry, Real Clear Politics shows. But now Romney's ahead of Gingrich by 19 points. And Rick Santorum has pulled just ahead of Gingrich, according to this poll. (Rasmussen shows 5 points between Romney and Santorum.) Further, South Carolina has picked every Republican winner since 1980.
Caveat: The poll does show that Santorum is rising quickly. He has 19 percent of voters support, up 15 percentage points in a month.
Findings: Rick Santorum has gone from 3 percent support among likely New Hampshire voters in December to 13 percent after his for-all-intents tie with Romney in Iowa.
Pollster: Rasmussen
Methodology:  Robo-calls to 750 likely Republican voters in the New Hampshire primary on January 5.
Why it matters: Santorum doesn't have much time win over conservative voters as the alternative to Romney. Worse, there aren't that many to win over -- only a third of voters say they haven't made up their minds. A 7NEWS/ Suffolk University poll shows Santorum with 11 percent, and finds just 15 percent haven't made up their minds. A Washington Times poll puts him at 11 percent, too, with only 10 percent undecided. And as Gallup's Jeffrey M. Jones writes, the Republican candidate leading nationally after the New Hampshire primary is often the winner. Pat Buchanan, who once was an alternative to the establishment candidate himself, says it's over, The Hill reports.
Caveat: The poll shows Santorum has some momentum after Iowa, even though his social conservatism isn't expected to play as well in New Hampshire.
Findings: Obama's approval rating is 45 percent, while 46 percent disapprove.
Pollster: Gallup
Methodology: Telephone interviews of about 1,500 adults over the last three days.
Why it matters: In late December, this poll showed Obama above water -- a higher number of people approving than disapproving -- for the first time in months, after he got Republicans to agree to an extension of the payroll tax holiday. At the time, we wondered whether it was a blip. The answer looks like: No. Ish. Obama's approval rating dropped again, but hit 46 percent approving Thursday. Those two polls are his highest approval scores since the summer, Gallup says. The pollster suggests one reason for the increase could be Americans' improving confidence in the economy. New York's Jonathan Chait writes that the improving economy -- 200,000 jobs added in December and a small drop in unemployment -- means it might be time to reassess whether Obama's doomed to lose in 2012.
Caveat: While his approval rating is better, Americans are definitely not throwing Obama a ticker-tape parade just yet.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.