Election 2012

Is Mitt Romney's Florida Support Collapsing?

Peter Grier|Christian Science Monitor
Mitt Romney
Emmanuel Dunand | AFP | Getty Images

Is suffering a reversal of fortune in the Florida polls? It sure looks that way at the moment. There’s a passel of new poll info out and most of it doesn’t look good for the former Massachusetts governor.

In fact, if the most recent numbers are correct, Romney has fallen behind the surging in the Sunshine State.

Let’s start with Insider Advantage – their just-released survey has Romney eight points behind Gingrich, 26 to 34 percent. A breakdown by age, race, and gender shows that Mitt trails the former House speaker across the board.

Rasmussen Reports has Romney nine points behind, with 32 percent to Gingrich’s 41. Two weeks ago, Romney had a 22 point lead in Florida, according to Rasmussen. That disappeared quicker than a hundred dollars at Disney World, didn’t it?

Forty-two percent of Florida GOP voters now say that Gingrich would be their party’s strongest general election candidate, according to Rasmussen data. Only 39 percent say Romney would be the strongest.

“Throughout the GOP race, Romney has always benefited from the perception that he was the strongest general election candidate in the field. However, among Florida voters at the moment, that is no longer the case,” says a Rasmussen analysis of their new figures.

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Public Policy Polling has yet to release their latest figures. But PPP is already hinting that they’re seeing a big pro-Gingrich swing. The firm tweeted last night that after a night of polling they’re finding Romney and Gingrich “neck and neck.” A PPP poll released back on January 16 had shown Romney with a 15 point lead.

Wow. So is Romney’s support collapsing? Well, we’d say it’s deflating a little bit, while Gingrich voters are exploding in number. Take the Rasmussen poll: Over two weeks, it shows the Romney vote declining by nine percentage points, while the Gingrich vote gained a whopping 22 percentage points. That’s a big swing.

The Romney camp does have at least one bit of good news to cling to. Florida has early voting, and a substantial portion of the GOP electorate has already mailed in ballots. Among these voters, Romney leads by 11 percent, according to Rasmussen.

Given the volatility of the race so far, it’s also possible that what goes up can ... well, do we have to finish that? It’s a truism of politics that support quickly gained can be lost just as quickly.

Gingrich has benefited from a run of great debate performances, and media reports talking about his great debate performances. Romney, meanwhile, has struggled through a very tough 10 days, with scrutiny of his tenure at Bain Capital, his hesitance about releasing his tax forms, and other negatives dominating his news coverage.

Can Romney Stop Gingrich Surge?

“I would expect that Gingrich won’t be able to ride high for too long. News coverage tends to be cyclical, and it won’t be long before Gingrich comes in for renewed criticism from somewhere,” writes George Washington University political scientist John Sides on the Monkey Cage political blog Jan. 23.

Well, maybe. But how much worse could criticism of Gingrich become, given that his ex-wife has already gone on national television to talk about their ugly divorce?

I see – it could get worse. Just look at this tough ad out today from the Romney camp.

One thing is certain: Romney really, really, really wants Rick Santorum to keep up the fight. Santorum gets about 13 percent of Florida GOP voters in recent polls, and much of that 13 percent is composed of just the sort of voters who are most suspicious of Romney: conservative evangelicals.

“Just as Gingrich is eyeing Santorum’s anti-Romney voters in Florida, Romney hopes Santorum will survive through the voting there – and won’t become the next Rick Perry, dropping out before Election Day,” writes University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato on his Crystal Ball blog.