These class dimensions have exerted greater effect than gender on the GOP’s first two contests. In Iowa, Romney ran five percentage points better among voters with a college education than those without; in New Hampshire, the difference was six percentage points. (That tracks Romney’s showing in 2008 when he also ran slightly better among voters with a college education than those without, according to the cumulative ABC analysis.)
Viewing the electorate by income shows an even wider gap. In Iowa, Romney ran twenty percentage points better among voters earning at least $100,000 annually than he did with those earning $50,000 or less; in New Hampshire he ran 14 percentage points better among the upper-income voters. In each state, Gingrich displayed virtually no difference in his support along educational or income lines; in Iowa he ran slightly better among the most affluent voters, in New Hampshire slightly worse, but in each case the differences were minimal.
Some South Carolina polls this week have shown a palpable class skew. In the Politico survey conducted by Republican pollster Ed Goeas, Romney held a double-digit advantage over Gingrich among South Carolina voters with at least a four-year degree, but Gingrich led among those with only some college or less than a high-school degree.
The same sort of contrast was evident among evangelical Christians. In that Politico survey, Romney ran fully 18 percentage points better (at 49 percent) among South Carolina votes who did not consider themselves evangelical Christians than those who did (only 31 percent). That parallels results in the first two states, as well as almost all national polls, in which Romney has consistently run better among more secular Republicans.
Gingrich, meanwhile, led Romney among evangelicals in the Politico survey, but only narrowly, with Romney finishing a solid second. That also tracks a consistent pattern through the early stages of the race: Romney has been consolidating the party’s center behind him more than anyone has consolidated the right against him. If Gingrich wins Saturday night, he almost certainly will need to coalesce evangelical voters -- and the overlapping circle of strong tea party supporters -- to a greater extent than any of the candidates did in Iowa.
The contrast in the two men's support was evident in the strong tilt toward Romney among the pin-striped crowd at the State Chamber of Commerce’s annual legislative meeting in Columbia this week -- and the big crowd that turned out Friday to greet Gingrich in this community of much more modest means. Those flocking to Gingrich here didn’t necessarily view Romney negatively; but they didn’t relate to him nearly as directly as the business executives in Columbia. And almost universally, they viewed Gingrich as more experienced and more in tune with their beliefs.
“I don’t think everyone is sold on Romney,” said Sherri Coates, a personable local realtor wearing a prominent cross. “He may be a little too moderate in his beliefs.”
James Guth, a long-time political scientist at Furman University in Greenville, says the focus on Romney’s wealth over the past few days-in an ordeal that one senior Romney aide has termed the campaign’s worst week-reinforces the doubts many of those votes hold about the former governor’s commitment to social issues.
“When I am out talking about the campaign to civic groups, you just have this enormous range of entrepreneurs, small business, independent business folks who are naturally inclined toward being in his camp,” Guth said. “They like what he says about regulation, and the stifling effect of tax rates and things like that, but yet it’s not quite as easy to identify when you start hearing about his wealth and the level of his income taxes, and you have some of that offshore in tax havens.”
For those voters, Guth continued, this week’s focus on Romney’s personal finances produces “kind of a reinforcing effect-those are also the people who may have some concern about his position on the social issues and whether he believes his newfound conservatism. Those are the folks who are the core of the average southern Baptist church in most of the upstate and the other parts of the state. When you start adding up these liabilities it is a problem.”
Whether that’s enough of a problem to outweigh Gingrich’s potential difficulties with women voters may determine whether South Carolina today effectively ends the GOP race -- or sends it on to Florida spinning in a new direction.