Exit polling reveals depth of weakness in support of Republican candidates

As I wait for that big blog of plasma from the sun to come near Earth, I’ve been looking at the exit polls from South Carolina.

Let me begin by saying that I’m shocked by the weakness of the Republican field in this primary election. I think Romney is the only credible general election candidate and the only one besides the now departed Huntsman who would seem to have the skills and temperament to be president.

But Romney is a deeply flawed candidate too in terms of history, personality, and his understanding of the lives of most Americans. I suppose some would excuse his off the cuff remark about $374,000 in speaking fees last year being “not very much” money, but such blase statements reflect a complete lack of understanding of financial realities faced by average workers.

That’s not disqualifying in terms of being President, however. I’m perfectly happy with a technocrat in the White House, but it’s a trait that makes him a lousy candidate.

The exit polling and the results from South Carolina confirm this weakness — and the weaknesses of Gingrich too.

A few points worth noting from the data:

  • Romney won three of the more populous and cosmopolitan counties in S.C. (Beaufort, Charleston, and Richland), but Gingrich beat him handily in other big counties (by 10,000 votes in Greenville) and trounced him in rural counties. Can Romney possibly get to the presidency without more support among rural voters?
  • Romney got 41% of the vote from cities over 50,000 people.
  • Ron Paul won the 16 18 to 29 year old vote with 31%. Neither Romney nor Gingrich seems likely to do well among young voters in the fall.
  • Romney was dead last among 16 18 to 29 year olds: 16%. Gingrich had 28% and Santorum 21%.
  • Those who made up their minds late and those who thought the debates were most important in making their choices opted strongly for Gingrich. That would seem another indication of the fickleness, indecision, and impulsivity of many Republican voters in this election. There’s a desperation to the indecision that seems to me to be the result of a weak field.
  • Of those who said that strong moral character was the key factor in their decisions, 6% voted for Gingrich, and only 19% for Romney.
  • 28% of S.C. voters had a negative view of Romney’s work in business. Of those, 50% voted for Gingrich, just 3% for Romney.
  • 26% of S.C. voters said that it was important to share a great deal with a candidate’s religious beliefs. Romney got just 10% of those voters.

It’s a weak and weakened field heading to Florida.