The results from the latest Florida poll dropped late Saturday night, and Mitt Romney is leading the pack by 8 percentage points:
PPP finds the same thing in its newest Florida poll that all surveys of the state have found in the last few days: strong movement away from Newt Gingrich and toward Mitt Romney. Romney now leads with 40% to 32% for Gingrich, 15% for Rick Santorum, and 9% for Ron Paul. Romney has gained 7 points and Gingrich has dropped by 6 since our last poll, which was conducted Sunday and Monday.
It's clear that the negative attacks on Gingrich have been the major difference maker over the last week. His net favorability has declined 13 points from +23 (57/34) to only +10 (50/40) in just five days. Romney has pretty much stayed in place. At the beginning of the week he was at +31 (61/30) and now he's at +33 (64/31).
Santorum is actually the most well liked candidate among Florida voters with 65% seeing him favorably to 24% with a negative opinion. In Iowa Santorum's persistently high favorability ratings were a precursor to his late surge. But as popular as he is, he's only gone from 13% to 15% support in the last week. It seems unlikely that he'll be able to break into the top two.
The backbone of Romney's support in Florida is senior citizens. He's getting 50% of their voters with Gingrich at only 28%. Romney also appears to have a pretty good sized lead in the bank. Among those who have already voted he's at 45% to 35% for Gingrich.
Perhaps one of the greatest differences between Florida and other early primary states is that 68 percent of Republicans have a favorable opinion of rich people. Hence, as the pollsters explain, Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital is in some ways an asset. At times, his wealth has been a liability for him on the campaign trail, especially in early primary states with high unemployment rates. In Florida, though, public opinion suggests this won’t be an issue.
As expected, more than half of likely primary voters in Florida watched the GOP debate Thursday night. Among those who tuned in, a plurality favor Romney over Gingrich by a 41 to 35 margin. Last week, not unexpectedly, debate watchers preferred Gingrich by overwhelming majorities. Unfortunately, Newt’s lackluster performance Thursday night seems to have significantly hurt him. At the same time, the first PPP survey conducted in Florida after the South Carolina primary showed Romney and Gingrich equally electable. Today, three days before the primary, 50 percent of likely voters say Romney is the candidate best suited to defeat President Obama in the general election.
To be sure, Newt Gingrich is losing ground and running out of time. But with a few days left until Floridians cast their ballots (and given the capricious nature of the GOP primaries thus far), it seems anything can happen.