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Romney Voters Would Support Obama If Santorum Is the Nominee?

We’ve heard many, many times during the course of the race for the Republican nomination about Mitt Romney’s supposed problems to attract support from Tea Party voters, evangelicals, and the conservative wing of the Republican base. More than once, the suggestion has been made that some portion of these voters — who have drifted from Bachmann to Perry to Cain to Gingrich to Santorum over the course of a year — might stay home on Election Day rather than support Romney. The standard counter-argument to this fear is that this group of voters hates Barack Obama more than they dislike Mitt Romney and, if he’s the nominee, they aren’t going to pass up the opportunity to vote Barack Obama out of office.

Whether or not that’s true, Politico‘s Alexander Burns points to recent poll data that suggests another possibility, that some portion of Mitt Romney’s supporters might actually pick Barack Obama over Rick Santorum in a General Election:

There’s at least one nugget in the poll, however, that points to a potentially deeper division in the party — not between conservatives and Romney, but between Romney supporters and the harder-right candidates in the Republican field. Consider:

For example, 75% of Romney’s primary supporters say they would back him strongly in the fall – equal to the share of Democrats who strongly back Obama. But just 55% of Santorum’s primary supporters say they would be strong Romney supporters in the fall.

Again, this gap within the GOP is even wider if Santorum is the nominee. Fully 83% of Santorum’s primary supporters would back him strongly in the fall – comparable to the 80% of Democrats who would back Obama strongly over Santorum. But just 47% of Romney’s primary supporters would back Santorum as enthusiastically. In fact, one-in-five (20%) Romney supporters say that, if Santorum is the nominee, they will likely switch sides and support Obama.

Considering that at least some portion of Romney’s support is coming from Republican-leaning Independents, many of whom may have voted for the President, or stayed home, in 2008 this may not be entirely surprising. In fact, digging deeper into the poll, that’s pretty much the case:

The difference between Romney and Santorum at the head of the GOP ticket mainly affects independents. While independent voters are divided in a race between Obama and Romney (47% vs. 43%), they would favor Obama by a 53% to 39% margin if Santorum is his opponent.

Some moderate and liberal Republican voters would also balk if Santorum becomes the nominee; 23% say they would vote for Obama, compared with 12% who would favor Obama over Romney.

While many on the right seem to be fearing what might happen to the Republican coalition in the fall if Romney is the nominee, it seems pretty clear that they have more to fear if Santorum is the nominee.

Jamelle Bouie compares this situation to four years ago, when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were involved in a similar fight:

There is always some division during a presidential primary, but this is more than usual; in the 2008 Democratic primary, for example, only 12 percent of Obama supporters said they wouldn’t back Clinton, and only 17 percent of Clinton supporters said they wouldn’t back Obama. Of course, when the general election actually came, 89 percent of Democrats voted for Barack Obama.

And perhaps that’s what would happen if Rick Santorum were the Republican nominee in November, although I tend to doubt it. The PUMAs notwithstanding, there really weren’t many significant differences between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton during the 2008 race, and even fewer differences between their supporters. That can’t necessarily be said about Republican in 2012, where the moderate conservatism of Mitt Romney stands in rather stark contrast to the fire and brimstone social conservatism of Rick Santorum. While it’s conceivable that independents and libertarian-minded voters might be willing to hold their nose and vote for Romney in November, there’s no way that such voters are going to vote for Rick Santorum, and when you start looking at the swing states that the GOP will have to win this year, those are the voters who likely decide this election.

That, quite frankly, is why nominating Rick Santorum would be political suicide.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. James Joyner says:

    Recognizing that I’m an N of 1, I would almost certainly vote for Romney over Obama and Obama over Santorum.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 3

  2. neil says:

    There were all kinds of polls like this exactly four years ago where Hillary voters said they’d vote McCain over Obama. Didn’t happen.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  3. @neil:

    I have expanded on the post to include material that actually addresses your claims about the 2008 election. I’d recommend taking a look at it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  4. neil says:

    March 28, 2008 Gallup poll:
    If McCain vs. Obama, 28% of Clinton Backers Go for McCain
    If McCain vs. Clinton, 19% of Obama backers go for McCain

    Nov. 2008 exit polls:
    Clinton Democrats: 83% Obama 16% McCain
    Bush 2004 voters: 82% McCain 17% Obama (to give a baseline for crossover voting)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  5. Herb says:

    @neil: Also recognizing that I’m an N of 1, I would have preferred voting for McCain over Hillary. Thankfully, I didn’t have to make that choice.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. @neil:

    The difference, as I said in the post, is that there was no real ideological difference between Obama and Clinton. It was inevitable that Democrats would remain loyal to the party. That’s not necessarily the case with Romney and Santorum.

    Echoing James, I could see myself voting for Romney. I can’t conceive of any circumstance under which I’d vote for Santorum, although that doesn’t mean I’d vote for Obama.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  7. neil says:

    I do agree that the policy and style differences between Romney and Santorum is a lot stronger than those between Obama and Clinton. But this is cancelled out to an unknowable extent by the passion Democrats had in 2008 for electing the first black or female President. To support the first black President you had to reject the first female President, and vice versa. This injected a lot of emotion into a race between two otherwise similar candidates.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  8. Rob in CT says:

    I know there are some independents who would vote for Romney (“smart business guy, sure”) but likely balk at Santorum. I know a guy in my office who has said that to me, with the usual “oh, he’s just pandering to the rubes right now, he doesn’t believe that stuff.” This guy ran for his town council as a Dem, advocating for more education spending. He’s not one of these faux independents who always votes GOP.

    The question is whether this is a significant number of people.

    James, I assume you figure most of what Romney’s been spouting is just BS to pacify the base, and that he’ll “revert to type” once he’s in (I find this assumption dubious, btw)? Or do you agree with more of it than I thought?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Herb: I would have voted for 2000 McCain over 2000 Gore, but I would have voted 2008 Clinton over 2008 McCain. Palin was a dealbreaker.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  10. JBJB says:

    I would not vote for Obama, bit if Santorum is the nominee I would vote 3rd party or not at all.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  11. G.A. says:

    I will vote for the last cult member standing but I will never vote for the cult member Abortionist. er….

    lol James…why pick the lesser of two evils, OBAMA 2012!!!!!!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 11

  12. Herb says:

    @Gromitt Gunn: Ah yes, but by the time McCain picked Palin, Obama was already the nominee.

    I had a discussion years ago with a conservative uncle (not the crazy one). Bush had just been re-elected. We were talking politics. And he said something like, “You know, there is this one Democrat I like, that guy out of Illinois, what’s his name, you know, the black guy.” Obama was then being lauded for his speech at the convention, the “not a red America or a blue America” speech. “Ohhhh, yeah, I’ve heard of him,” I shrugged. “I don’t know. He needs some more experience, don’t you think?”

    I’ve often thought back to that conversation over the last few years. “My how things have changed,” is one thought. Another is that I think many conservatives would be receptive to Obama’s message and style if only they would allow themselves to do it. I came around. So can they.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  13. Franklin says:

    I voted Obama in 2008. I’m still open to Romney, but was basically never open to Santorum. He has reinforced that feeling about tenfold now.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  14. Peacewood says:

    I can provide additional (anecdotal) evidence for this.

    One of my good friends, a lifelong right-leaning pro-business libertarian, has stood by Romney as a candidate (supported him in the 2008 primaries as well, FWIW). I asked him what he thought about Santorum and he grimaced.

    “There are many people I’d vote for over Santorum. In order, Romney, Gingrich, Obama…(long pause)… Harry Reid, Ralph Nader, Dennis Kucinich…”

    At which point I burst out laughing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2

  15. James Joyner says:

    @Rob in CT: Not only do I presume there’s a lot of pandering to the base going on but I presume a Romney White House would employ a skilled team of reasonable folks. I think Santorum is a True Believer with theocratic aspirations.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  16. Ron Beasley says:

    @James Joyner: The News, Switzerland:

    Rick ‘Ahmadinejad’ Santorum

    “Rick Santorum combines the worst of what Republicanism and Catholicism bring together in the public square without provoking his own immediate arrest. … Should Santorum fail at the end – and it certainly looks like he will – he should consider converting from Roman Catholicism to Shiite Islam, in order to enter Iranian politics. He would feel right at home in a country where gays are hanged and liberals are tortured, and he’d also be able to leave behind the separation of church and state, which just makes him sick to his stomach.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 2

  17. I can see People voting for Romney over Santorum Or Obama over Santorum because Santorum is too rigid. His Religion and his strong beliefs are scary to many.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  18. Moosebreath says:

    GA,

    “lol James…why pick the lesser of two evils, OBAMA 2012!!!!!!!”

    I thought you’d be voting for Chthulu under that logic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. G.A. says:

    I thought you’d be voting for Cthulhu under that logic.

    Under that logic:) I would pick Elric and his sword…but Obama will do….

    perhaps this country like myself needs to hit rock bottom more than once to come awake….

    and perhaps the end is truly here and it really does not matter…….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 7

  20. An Interested Party says:

    and perhaps the end is truly here and it really does not matter…….

    Yes, of course, the Antichrist currently sits in the White House…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  21. DRS says:

    If I was Romney, I’d want this poll to die a quick unmourned death. The Anybody-And-We-Mean-ANYBODY-But-Romney section of the Republican Party would land on this as proof that Romney and now apparently his supporters aren’t real Republicans. Their attitude would probably be: “Good riddance!”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  22. MBunge says:

    @James Joyner: “I presume a Romney White House would employ a skilled team of reasonable folks.”

    You mean like Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld?

    I mean, Romney has spent the last 5 years running all over the country blatently lying about stuff and making arguments that James would find ridiculous and insulting, he’s embraced more than a few policies that James would strongly disagree with and his election to the White House would inevitably empower and embolden Republicans in Congress that James disdains or dispises. Yet he’s just going to look the other way and covers his ears to all that because he thinks he and Romney still belong to the same tribe.

    Mike

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 23 Thumb down 2

  23. Wayne says:

    Just proves what I have said in the past. Liberal Republicans like James will tell others to get behind the GOP primary winner and that is what primaries are for, etc if their guy wins . However if a conservative candidate wins they will do all they can to tear them down. We saw this big time in the 2010 elections. Then they get upset when someone mentions RINOs.

    Conservatives outnumbers liberals by a wide margin even outside of party affiliations. The problem is getting them out to vote. Nominating liberal candidates doesn’t encourage conservative to vote.

    The problem for the last 20 years is the GOP has been nominating liberal and liberal-lite candidates in order to “peel” off liberals in order to “win’ elections. What we end up with are Republicans who spend too much and Democrats who spend way way too much. Conservatives looses either way.

    If the Republican establishment would wake up and excite conservatives to vote instead of peeling off the few voters in the so call middle, they would win by a landslide. Romney will not excite conservative to vote. Anti-Obama maybe but not Romney. Romney’s biggest pitch is that he supposedly can beat Obama. Hell of a platform to run on. Unfortunately many fall for it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 9

  24. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Isn’t this sort of like arguing whether a dead guy should be found guilty of a crime?

    Santorum won’t be the nominee. It’s going to be Romney. This is a hypothetical of mootness, within a conundrum of irrelevance. Romney’s supporters in November are going to be voting for Romney. That’s who’s going to be on the ballot.

    Putting that aside, and playing along merely for the sake of playing along, and to be the devil’s advocate, in the proverbial sense, it’s nearly impossible to believe the accuracy of that putative poll. You also have to question the built-in agenda of anything cited by Politico, which is as much of a Democrat operation and slanted to the left as ABC, NBC and CBS, CNN and MSNBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the L.A. Times, the Boston Globe, and Time and Newsweek.

    The notion that one in five of Romney’s supporters will vote for Obama if Santorum is the nominee doesn’t pass the bravo sierra detector. By definiton Romney’s supporters are rational, adult businessmen and businesswomen types. People in their 40′s and 50′s who work for a living in the private sector. They’re not irrational enough, or immature enough, or petty enough, to unplug their brains and to vote for Obama. Not one fifth of them! Come on, let’s keep it real.

    Granted, Santorum has gone off the rails a bit, but it’s not as if he’s morphed into Gary Bauer or Jerry Falwell the 2nd. Even then far more than 80% of Romney’s supporters still would vote against Obama. This smells to me like darts being thrown at the GOP dartboard merely for the sake of ginning up a story. I’m not buying it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 11

  25. mantis says:

    If the Republican establishment would wake up and excite conservatives to vote instead of peeling off the few voters in the so call middle, they would win by a landslide.

    Magical thinking.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  26. G.A. says:

    Yes, of course, the Antichrist currently sits in the White House…

    There surely appears to be a false Prof. in the White House lol…..

    Do you know anything about the Antichrist ? I highly doubt that he will be a union Marxist greenheck puppet from chi town….

    But Revelations have been misinterpreted before…

    I was speaking more to the signs that have been going off and not to that clown, well not as you meant anyhoo.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 12

  27. michael reynolds says:

    In fact, one-in-five (20%) Romney supporters say that, if Santorum is the nominee, they will likely switch sides and support Obama.

    We now know the exact percentage of GOP voters who are sane. 20%

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  28. Rob in CT says:

    @Wayne:

    This is utterly delusional. Lots of Americans (~40%) self-identify as “Conservative.” Lots identify as “Moderate” (another 40%, with the remaining 20% going with liberal). However, when you look at what they actually want, issue by issue, they look a lot more liberal. Put another way, what you define as Conservative goes well beyond what the average American calling themselves Conservative means. Going for a Santorum type would actually illustrate this quite well. I’ve been hoping ya’ll would do it. Sadly, you won’t, and then you will blame guys like James if Romney loses.

    James: thanks for answering. I don’t believe as you do (I don’t think a Romney WH would be staffed by reasonable people – that’s what I thought in 2000 when Bush the Younger the non-nation builder was elected), though.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  29. An Interested Party says:

    If the Republican establishment would wake up and excite conservatives to vote instead of peeling off the few voters in the so call middle, they would win by a landslide.

    You also have to question the built-in agenda of anything cited by Politico, which is as much of a Democrat operation and slanted to the left as ABC, NBC and CBS, CNN and MSNBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the L.A. Times, the Boston Globe, and Time and Newsweek.

    Ahh, the whining and the victimization…the one constant from certain conservatives…

    I was speaking more to the signs that have been going off and not to that clown, well not as you meant anyhoo.

    That’s awfully rich coming from you, of all people…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  30. SJ Reidhead says:

    There are a heck of a lot of Republicans who will refuse to vote for Romney. I’m one of them. I’ll vote for a third party hack before voting for Romney. I think there are far more of us than you might admit.

    Don’t blame this on me being the “conservative” base. I’m far less conservative that I was 4 years ago. I have standards. Romney does not meet them.

    SJR
    The Pink Flamingo

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  31. @MBunge:

    You mean like Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld?

    Exactly. As soon as GWB had the nomination he ran for the center, and spent a lot of time explaining what a “compassionate conservative” was. Once elected, he cried “mandate” and moved right again.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  32. Also FWIW, I’m not seeing a lot of strength of character in Romney. I don’t even mean that in a high value sense. I mean just in terms of looking for a guy who actually believes things …

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  33. Scotch Man says:

    I’m fairly right of center but if it was between Santorum and Obama it would be a no brainer to vote to re-elect Obama. Sure I’d piss and moan about everything Obama did but a vote for Santorum is a vote to send the country back to the dark ages. No thanks.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  34. An Interested Party says:

    @SJ Reidhead: How do you feel about Santorum? Indeed, for all these conservatives who don’t like Romney (I certainly can’t blame them), who would their choice be…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  35. dennis says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    You’d cut off your nose to spite your face, wouldn’t you, Doug?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  36. PogueMahone says:

    @G.A.:
    But Revelations have been misinterpreted before…

    This implies that there is a correct way to interpret The Book of Revelation.

    No doubt whatever sect you belong to has the correct interpretation.

    Pray tell… wait, on second thought… don’t tell us anything.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  37. G.A. says:

    Pray tell… wait, on second thought… don’t tell us anything.

    Oh look another militant atheist here at OTB…. go figure.

    I am part no sect, just a true believer and who said book of?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0