The South Carolina GOP polling landscape heading into Saturday night’s debate hadn’t changed much in several weeks. Donald Trump was the clear frontrunner. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich were anywhere from second place to fourth. Jeb Bush was anywhere from third to fifth, while Ben Carson was at the back of the pack.
That picture is according to four polls released between February 10 and February 13 and included in the RealClearPolitics South Carolina average.
There’s still plenty of time for things to change, though. And it’s important to note that none of the recent South Carolina polls were taken after Saturday night’s debate.
It’s too early to tell what impact, if any, the debate will have on polling. But for what it’s worth, a plurality of respondents to a poll commissioned by CBS said that Rubio won the debate, with Trump second and John Kasich third.
Let’s take a look at the polling landscape heading into the February 20 South Carolina primary.
RealClear Politics Polling Average
RealClear Politics keeps a running average of polls from South Carolina and throughout the country. The averages below are from four polls: An Opinion Savvy poll conducted February 10-11 on behalf of the Augusta Chronicle; a poll conducted February 11-12 by the South Carolina House Republican caucus; an American Research Group poll conducted February 11-12; and a CBS News/YouGov poll conducted February 10-12.
Opinion Savvy Poll
The Opinion Savvy poll was conducted February 10 and 11. It has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points. Click here to read the full poll.
South Carolina GOP House Caucus Poll
The South Carolina GOP House caucus poll was conducted February 11-12. It has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
American Research Group (ARG) Poll
The ARG poll was conducted February 12-13. It has a margin of error of 5 percentage points.
CBS News/YouGov Poll
The CBS News/YouGov poll was conducted February 10-12. It has a margin of error of 5.7 percentage points.
The Road Ahead: A Lot Can Change Before Primary Day
It will take another day or two to get data from polls conducted after the debate. A lot can change.
In New Hampshire, polls conducted in the aftermath of Marco Rubio’s strong third-place finish in Iowa showed the Florida senator gaining ground and moving into second place in New Hampshire. The conventional wisdom was that Rubio was the biggest winner in Iowa. His stock in the betting markets, for instance, skyrocketed, while Trump’s plummeted.
Eight days later, Rubio was perhaps the biggest loser in New Hampshire, having finished in fifth place, behind John Kasich, Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush.
Rubio’s stumble in New Hampshire is likely especially good news for Trump. In the days after Iowa, Rubio’s standing in the national polls improved substantially. The conventional wisdom was that he would be able to unite the GOP as the “mainstream” candidate best suited to take down Trump and Cruz. Several polls backed up that conventional wisdom.
A national poll from Public Policy Polling, for instance, showed Rubio pulling to within 4 percentage points of Trump nationally, and Rubio actually leading the field in everything from a two-man race against Trump or Cruz to a four-man race against Trump, Cruz and Bush.
Eight days after Iowa, though, that conventional wisdom has taken a major hit. Rather than dropping out of the race after New Hampshire, Kasich and Bush are moving on to South Carolina, depriving Rubio of an opportunity to pick up votes from Kasich and Bush supporters. Even with Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina out of the race, the so-called “establishment lane” is awfully crowded, potentially paving the way for another Trump rout.
Rubio, whose poor performance at last week’s debate in New Hampshire may have set him back substantially, will get a chance to regain his footing on Saturday, when the leading GOP candidates compete in a debate in Greenville, South Carolina.