Romney’s Shifting South Carolina Coalition

This is part of a series of posts analyzing how Mitt Romney’s 2012 coalition has changed from his 2008 coalition. Hopefully such analysis will provide clues as to Romney’s performance in the general election. This post will examine South Carolina, where Romney came in second to Newt Gingrich.

South Carolina

To do that, this post will examine exit polls of the South Carolina primary in 2008 and exit polls of the South Carolina primary in 2012.

We should also note, as has been stated before many times, that these exit polls should be taken with two heavy grains of salt. Exit polls consistently fail when it comes down to something as simple as predicting who will win the election. This fact should always be taken into account when using exit polls to examine much more complex relationships (such as the relationship between income and support for Romney). Only when a pattern appears again and again in multiple exit polls should it be possibly noted as valid.

With that said, let’s begin:

Gender Romney 2008 Romney 2012
Male 15% 26%
Female 14% 29%

Similarly to previous exit polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, there is no gender gap in Romney’s support.

Next is age. Previous exit polls indicated that Romney’s strongest supporters tend to be the elderly. Was this the case in South Carolina?

Age Romney 2008 Romney 2012
18-29 12% 16%
30-44 12% 19%
45+ 16% 32%
Oldest vs. Youngest Support Gap 4% 16%

Yes indeed.

In New Hampshire education made no difference in support for Romney. In South Carolina:

Education Romney 2008 Romney 2012
High School or Less 9% 22%
Some College/Associate Degree 13% 26%
College Graduate 18% 28%
Postgraduate Study 16% 36%
Most vs. Least Education Support Gap 7% 14%

Education did make a big difference.

Let’s go to income. Romney did consistently better with higher-income voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Income Romney 2008 Romney 2012
Less than $30,000 9% 29%
$30,000 – $49,999 13% 22%
$50,000 – $99,999 15% 25%
$100,000 – $199,999 18% 30%
$200,000 or more 24% 47%
Highest Income vs. Lowest Income Support Gap 15% 18%

In South Carolina the income gap is about as wide as it was in Iowa and New Hampshire. The fact that Romney got 47% amongst voters making more than $200,000 is quite amazing.

The next question is a bit less interesting:

Party Affiliation Romney 2008 Romney 2012
Republican 15% 28%
Independent 12% 25%
Republican vs. Independent Support Gap 3% 3%

Romney does a bit better amongst Republicans, something which we also saw in New Hampshire. The gap, however, is quite a bit smaller in South Carolina.

Next is political philosophy:

Political Philosophy Romney 2008 Romney 2012
Very Conservative 16% 19%
Somewhat Conservative 17% 30%
Moderate 11% 36%
Somewhat Liberal 11% 29%
Somewhat Liberal vs. Very Conservative Gap -5% 10%

This is a very interesting question. Romney’s base of support has essentially become the polar opposite of 2008. In Iowa Romney did best amongst somewhat conservative voters; in New Hampshire he did best amongst moderates. Here Romney does best amongst moderates.

The next questions focus on religion:

Born-Again Evangelical Christian? Romney 2008 Romney 2012
Yes 11% 22%
No 20% 38%
Non-Evangelical vs. Evangelical Support Gap 9% 16%

Unsurprisingly, there’s a large support gap between evangelicals and non-evangelicals.

What about Catholics versus Protestants?

Religion Romney 2008 Romney 2012
Protestant 13% 27%
Catholic 24% 29%
Catholic vs. Protestant Support Gap 11% 2%

Considering the margins of errors in the exit polls, there’s almost no difference. Romney’s actually closed the gap quite a bit since 2008, which is good news for him.

The next question delves into one of the most important factors behind Romney’s performance in South Carolina:

Religious Beliefs of Candidate Matter… Romney 2008 Romney 2012
Great Deal 7% 10%
Somewhat 16% 27%
Not Much 21% 39%
Not At All 26% 39%
Least Religious vs. Most Religious Support Gap 19% 29%

There’s an enormous gap between those towards whom the religious beliefs of a candidate matter, and those towards whom they don’t. Romney barely breaks into double-digits amongst religious bigots those who care a great deal about a candidate’s religious beliefs. He barely improves from his 2008 performance.

The result above probably explains the responses to the next question:

Abortion Should Be… Romney 2008 Romney 2012
Always Illegal 9% 14%
Mostly Illegal 15% 25%
Mostly Legal 20% 37%
Always Legal 15%
Pro-Choice vs. Pro-Life Support Gap 11% 23%

This is probably a proxy for those who care a great deal about a candidate’s religious beliefs. The more pro-life a voter, the more likely to oppose Romney.

Here’s an interesting question:

Served in Military? Romney 2008 Romney 2012
Yes 17% 32%
No 14% 27%
Soldiers vs. Civilian Support Gap 3% 5%

There’s slightly greater support amongst veterans and soldiers. It might not great enough to be statistically significant, however.

Next, another question on wealth:

Family’s Financial Situation Romney 2008 Romney 2012
Falling Behind 13% 25%
Holding Steady 15% 27%
Getting Ahead 15% 32%
Good Financial Situation vs. Bad Financial Situation Support Gap 2% 7%

Romney does better amongst voters getting ahead. Unsurprising.

What do people like most about Romney?

Top Candidate Quality Romney 2008 Romney 2012
Says What He Believes/True Conservative 7% 2%
Shares My Values/Moral Character 12% 19%
Experience 23% 34%
Electability 33% 37%
Electability vs. Purity Support Gap 26% 35%

Well, it’s definitely not the fact that he’s a true conservative. One should note that the wording of the question in 2012 is slightly different from 2008, so the comparisons may not be valid. Nevertheless, the 2% Romney picks up amongst those looking for a true conservative is quite noticeable.

This question is about when the supporters of Romney decided their vote:

Decided Whom to Support… Romney 2008 Romney 2012
Today 17% 26%
Past Few Days 11% 21%
Earlier This Month 14% 33%
Before That 15% 36%
Earliest Decision vs. Latest Decision Support Gap -2% 10%

As in Iowa and New Hampshire, Romney does best amongst those who decided early.

Let’s look at the rural-urban gap:

Size of Community Romney 2008 Romney 2012
Rural 16% 24%
Suburban 14% 27%
Urban 12% 41%
Urban vs. Rural Support Gap -4% 17%

It’s pretty large. Interestingly, Romney does poorly in the suburbs of South Carolina. In New Hampshire the suburbs were the most pro-Romney.

I’m finally going to add a question which did not appear in the 2008 exit poll but nevertheless deserves to be put in this post.

Opinion of Bain Capital Romney 2008 Romney 2012
Generally Negative 3%
Generally Positive 40%
Positive vs. Negative Perception Support Gap 37%

This is the much-noted Bain Capital question. Whilst most Republicans dismissed the negative attacks on Romney’s work with Bain, Romney did terribly amongst those who bought the attack. This suggests a general election weak point with Romney.


Out of all these categories, Romney did best amongst voters making more than $200,000 (47% support). He did worst amongst voters looking for a true conservative (2% support). The greatest gap between Romney supporters and his opposition occurred between voters looking for a true conservative and those looking for an electable candidate (a 35% support gap). If you count the Bain question, then the greatest gap occurs between those who liked Romney’s work at Bain and those who didn’t (a 37% support gap).

In the 2008 Republican primary, on the other hand, Romney did best amongst voters looking for the most electable candidate (33% support). He did worst amongst voters looking for a candidate who says what he believes (7% support). The greatest gap occurred, again, amongst those voters looking for a candidate who says what he believes and those looking for the most electable candidate (a 26% support gap).

A next post will examine the differences between Romney in 2008 and Romney in 2012 with respect to the Florida primary.

This entry was posted in 2012 Presidential Election, 2012 Republican Primary, Mitt Romney, South Carolina and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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