Rich Galen

The polls in South Carolina and Florida have been the statistical equivalent of a zero-gravity flight: Sharp climbs followed by steep dives.

On Monday January 16 - five days before the South Carolina Primary, Mitt Romney was leading Newt Gingrich by an average of 7.7 percentage points in the polls released since Friday.

By Tuesday, that lead had increased to an average of 13.3 percentage points.

Then came the Tuesday night debate in Myrtle Beach which was Newt Gingrich's best debate performance of the year.

By Thursday, Gingrich was leading in three polls by an average of nearly nine percentage points, while two others had Romney still leading by just over 8 points.

By the way all these numbers are courtesy of RealClearPolitics.com.

If you look at polls, you should not just look at the "head-to-head" numbers; but you should also look at when the polls were "in the field," that is, over what period of time was the polling firm actually making the phone calls.

Polls are not predictive. They demonstrate the state of the race during the time the poll was being taken. The closer to the election, the closer the polling results should be to matching the actual results.

Polls have been moving so quickly, that some polling firms have gone to releasing not just the total number, but revealing what the nightly results were to demonstrate whether a trend was developing over the two or three nights of polling.

For instance, in South Carolina Romney might have been leading in the first night's polling, Gingrich and Romney might have essentially tied in the second night, but Gingrich might have been very strong in the third night.

The total results are the same, but a trend like that would be very interesting to know.

By the time the Thursday night debate had been in Charleston, South Carolina - that was the Marianne Gingrich Debate - Gingrich had solidified his lead, and all three polls released Friday and Saturday had him with a seven point lead.

That represented a 20 point swing toward Gingrich in five days.

The swing grew to nearly 26 percentage points as Gingrich crushed Romney 40.4% to 27.8% when the votes were counted Saturday night.

The early polling in Florida was the exact mirror. Gingrich, in the afterglow of his South Carolina victory, came out of the gate with an average lead of 7.25 percentage points over Romney in polls released Monday and Tuesday.

After a weak debate performance by Gingrich on Tuesday night, polls released on Thursday had flipped to Romney who was leading by eight percentage points in two of them, and seven in a third.


Rich Galen

Rich Galen has been a press secretary to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich. Rich Galen currently works as a journalist and writes at Mullings.com.