All but one major poll included in the RealClear Politics average of polls show Donald Trump with a double-digit lead ahead of Saturday’s South Carolina GOP primary.
The only two polls which have been conducted, in any part, since the papal swipe at Trump that topped headlines yesterday (ARG and Emerson College), may support the idea, advanced by several pundits, that Pope Francis’s unprecedented criticism of Donald Trump may generate a backlash that helps the GOP front runner.
When asked about Trump on the flight back to the walled Vatican from his tour of Mexico on Thursday morning, the pontiff declared that anyone who wanted to build walls only, and not bridges was not a Christian. On Friday, the Vatican walked back those comments, saying the Pope’s comments were not a personal attack on Trump.
The ARG poll, conducted between February 17 and February 18, shows Trump leading second place Sen. Marco Rubio 34 percent to 22 percent. That represents a one percent increase for Trump from the 33 percent level of support he received from the same group’s poll conducted between February 16 and February 17.
Kasich is in third with 14 percent and Cruz is in fourth with 13 percent in the most recent ARG poll.
Similarly, the Emerson College poll, conducted between February 16 and February 18, reported:
In the final day of a three-day tracking poll in South Carolina, momentum is favoring Donald Trump, who leads in the Republican contest with 36% of likely primary voters, up 3 points since Tuesday. Marco Rubio (19%) and Ted Cruz (18%) remain locked in a battle for second. Cruz has seen a 2 point drop since Tuesday while Rubio has stayed at 19%.
One nationally known pundit, GOP consultant Mary Matalin, herself a Catholic, called the Pope’s comments “a big fat wet kiss to Trump.”
“I’m a Catholic and I know what the Pope is saying and he should stay out of politics because he just gave —he gave a big fat wet kiss to Trump, whether he meant to or not. I mean every time Trump becomes the victim then whoever is attacking him — it’s bad on them — bad on him. But I know what the Pope was saying, he just shouldn’t say it. And also the Vatican has walls and such,” Matalin told NewsMax on Thursday.
Among those who live in South Carolina, however, some, like Joe Dugan, founder and executive producer of the South Carolina Tea Party Coalition Convention, are skeptical. Dugan doubts there will be much backlash against the Pope that will benefit Trump in the voting booths on Saturday, despite the fact that South Carolina is predominantly Protestant, with very few Catholics.
“South Carolina has a small Catholic population and I think there may be a small backlash against Trump among the elderly and Mexican Catholics who believe the Pope should not have been harshly criticized [by Trump],” Dugan tells Breitbart News.
“As far as a backlash against the Pope benefiting Trump, I don’t see it,” Dugan adds. “The Pope is the only one who draws bigger crowds than Trump.”
Some 65 percent of likely GOP primary voters self-describe as Christian evangelicals (Protestants) , while only 10 percent of the Palmetto State’s population is Catholic, compared to 21 percent nationwide. The percentage of likely GOP primary voters who are Catholic is probably significantly lower than that.
As recently as 1987, the state’s Catholic population was only 2 percent. Some of the uptick in the past two and a half decades has come from the influx of Mexican immigrants, both legal and illegal. The remainder comes from retirees moving from Northern states to the coastal areas of South Carolina.
Despite the general consensus among the polls that the South Carolina GOP primary remains Trump’s to lose, uncertainties about the influence of Ted Cruz’s aggressive ground game have many pundits suggesting the final results in the race are likely to narrow.
Two new polls released late Friday suggest Trump may not have received much benefit from his dust up with Pope Francis.
The S.C. House GOP poll, conducted between February 18 and 19, shows Trump has a 15-point lead over second place Ted Cruz , 34 percent to 19 percent. This is a one point drop from the 16-point lead Trump had in the SC House GOP poll conducted on February 17.
More significantly, the Augusta Chronicle poll conducted between February 18 and February 19 shows that Trump has only a 3-point lead over second place Marco Rubio, 27 percent to 24 percent. This is a precipitous 13-point drop from the same poll conducted one week earlier, which showed Trump with a 16-point lead.