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Santorum Appears to Have Momentum Going into Tuesday Night

The final Des Moines Register poll shows the former Pennsylvania senator rising in Iowa. Also, PJ Media Is Going to Iowa.

by
Rich Baehr

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January 1, 2012 - 7:39 pm
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The Des Moines Register is out with its final poll before the Iowa caucus on Tuesday night. Its survey shows Mitt Romney ahead by 2 points over Ron Paul with Rick Santorum in third place. The poll, reflecting interviews with 602 likely voters (mostly Republicans, with some independents), was taken over four days from December 27 to December 30.

The results of the Des Moines Register poll almost exactly match  the results of an NBC-Marist poll and a Rasmussen poll, each taken on a single day within the four-day window and a CNN/Time survey taken a few days earlier. Two other surveys by Insider Advantage and Public Policy Polling (PPP) that were taken in the same time frame have similar results, but show Newt Gingrich a bit stronger and Rick Santorum a bit weaker.

The leading themes of the last week’s news stories on the Iowa race have been that Gingrich has been badly hurt by an assault of negative ads from Ron Paul and a pro-Romney PAC, and that Santorum, who has worked the state the hardest, has finally begun to emerge as the favorite of the state’s evangelical Christians, generally thought to be 40-50% of those who will show up on Tuesday night. In addition, there have been more sustained attacks on Ron Paul for his foreign policy isolationism and for the racist content of some newsletters that went out under his name over a decade back.

Signs of Santorum’s emergence include endorsements by some leading evangelicals, larger crowds, and the first negative ads or criticism directed against him by opponents, most notably from Rick Perry, who is competing with Santorum for some of the same voters.

The Des Moines Register poll, in an unusual announcement, revealed that Santorum was much stronger in interviews that were conducted on the final two days of the four-day survey period than in the first two days. Santorum placed second to Romney in that later period. The overall results were Romney at 24%, Paul at 22%, and Santorum at 15%. But in the final two days, Romney was at 24%, Paul was down to 18%, and Santorum was at 21%.  If the same number of interviews were conducted in the first two days as the last two, that would mean Paul actually led at 26% in the first two days, and Santorum was well down the list at 9% for these days. Given that only 602 interviews were conducted in the four-day period, and the survey at that size had a margin of error of 4%, it is easy to read too much into the apparent dramatic upswing for Santorum in the final two days of the survey, when perhaps 300 interviews were conducted and the margin of error was even higher.

Several of the other surveys mentioned earlier all showed  Santorum in the mid teens earlier in the week. It is a good bet that Santorum’s numbers have been climbing all week, but a move from 9% to 21% from one two-day period to the next is highly unlikely.

The Des Moines Register’s final survey before the Iowa caucus has had a good track record in recent presidential cycles. The breakdown of the final two day results may have been an attempt to keep the paper’s track record intact of spotting late trends. In 2004, their final poll showed Howard Dean and Rich Gephardt dropping off , and John Kerry and John Edwards  rising. In 2008, the paper’s survey showed Barack Obama jumping into the lead.

Santorum’s single-minded focus on winning in Iowa is reminiscent of John Edwards’ campaign in the state in 2008. Edwards, competing with two far better-funded campaign machines — Hillary Clinton’s and Obama’s — hoped a surprise Iowa win would knock back Obama and make Edwards the principal alternative to Clinton for the remainder of the race.

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