When the GOP presidential candidates gather in North Charleston, S.C., on Thursday—19 days before the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses—for the Fox Business debate, much will hang on their performances. Even more could depend on the Jan. 28 Fox News debate in Des Moines. These are the last big opportunities for candidates to impress a large audience and shake up the race, just as many early-state voters are deciding whom to back.
In 2012, 46% of New Hampshire GOP primary voters said they made up their mind in the contest’s final three days, and 21% waited until Election Day, according data from the University of New Hampshire Survey Center cited in this newspaper.
A similar pattern held in the 2012 Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3 of that year: 28% of Republican caucusgoers said they decided whom to support “in the last few days,” and 18% on caucus day, according to exit polls. Another 21% said that they made up their mind in December. So a whopping 67% of Republicans chose their horse in the last month before the caucuses.
But will these late deciders upset the contest, as they did in 2012? Nineteen days before that year’s caucuses, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum sat in sixth place in Iowa, with 6% in the Real Clear Politics average. But late deciders helped him jump to 24.6% and win the state. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who led 19 days out with 26%, finished in fourth place with 13.3%.
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