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Why Santorum Voters Wouldn’t Become Gingrich Voters

The former speaker's character issues would make him a bad fit for Santorum supporters. Also read Bryan Preston at the Tatler on why Romney is attacking Santorum.

by
Adam Graham

Bio

February 5, 2012 - 12:00 am
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Conventional wisdom has been that Rick Santorum’s continued presence in the presidential race is taking votes away from Newt Gingrich.  As the Florida primary vote approached, Professor William A. Jacobson warned that “a vote for Santorum is still a vote for Romney.”

However Rush Limbaugh cast doubt on the theory, saying that there was a reason Santorum voters were not for Gingrich and that he suspected Santorum voters would break more towards Romney if Santorum were not in the race.

To believe the polls, the truth lies somewhere in between, with data suggesting that Santorum voters wouldn’t break overwhelmingly either way:

  • The NBC-Marist poll taken right before the Florida primary showed Romney leading Gingrich by fifteen points. They asked how voters would vote in a straight Romney-Gingrich race. In a two-man race, Romney’s lead became sixteen points.
  • Public Polling polled Missouri voters and found in a four-way caucus race, Gingrich led 30% to 28% for Santorum and 24% for Romney. In a two-way Gingrich-Romney race, Gingrich held a scant 43-42% lead, while in a Santorum-Romney race, Santorum led 50-37%.
  • In Ohio, PPP found a similar phenomenon. Gingrich led Romney and Santorum 26-25-22%. In a two-man race, Gingrich only led Romney by a 42-39% margin, while Santorum would lead Romney 45-38%.
  • While not a scientific poll, the blog Hot Air’s reader survey gave a picture of how supporters of each candidate would react to different scenarios. Gingrich held a 45-33% lead over Romney in the most recent site survey with Santorum drawing 22% of the vote. If participants were restricted to Gingrich and Romney, the margin for Gingrich would be 57-43%, but in a two-man race, Santorum beats Romney 61-39%.

All four polls illustrate the point that Santorum voters aren’t all going to break for Gingrich, and three of the examples suggest that Santorum would do a better job of picking up Gingrich supporters than vice versa. Is this polling noise or is there a reason for this trend?

The answer is found in the entrance and exit polls. While often cited for evidence of how people voted according to identity politics, the exit polls also look at the most important candidate quality voters used in making their decision. While the phrase “values voters” has been in vogue since 2004, the voters that have hurt Newt Gingrich’s campaign for the presidency could be known as “character voters.”

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