A Santorum Surge? Or, A Statistical Blip?

A new poll shows Santorum surging ahead of Mitt Romney nationally

A new poll from Public Policy Polling shows Rick Santorum surging far ahead of Mitt Romney in among Republicans in a new nationwide poll: Riding a wave of momentum from his trio of victories on Tuesday Rick Santorum has opened up a wide lead in PPP’s newest national poll. He’s at 38% to 23% for Mitt Romney, 17% for Newt Gingrich, and 13% for Ron Paul.

Riding a wave of momentum from his trio of victories on Tuesday Rick Santorum has opened up a wide lead in PPP’s newest national poll. He’s at 38% to 23% for Mitt Romney, 17% for Newt Gingrich, and 13% for Ron Paul.

Part of the reason for Santorum’s surge is his own high level of popularity. 64% of voters see him favorably to only 22% with a negative one. But the other, and maybe more important, reason is that Republicans are significantly souring on both Romney and Gingrich. Romney’s favorability is barely above water at 44/43, representing a 23 point net decline from our December national poll when he was +24 (55/31). Gingrich has fallen even further. A 44% plurality of GOP voters now hold a negative opinion of him to only 42% with a positive one. That’s a 34 point drop from 2 months ago when he was at +32 (60/28).

Santorum is now completely dominating with several key segments of the electorate, especially the most right leaning parts of the party. With those describing themselves as ‘very conservative,’ he’s now winning a majority of voters at 53% to 20% for Gingrich and 15% for Romney.  Santorum gets a majority with Tea Party voters as well at 51% to 24% for Gingrich and 12% for Romney. And with Evangelicals he falls just short of a majority with 45% to 21% for Gingrich and 18% for Romney.

It used to be that Gingrich was leading with all these groups and Romney was staying competitive enough with them to hold the overall lead. No more- a consensus conservative candidate finally seems to be emerging and it’s Santorum.

The best thing Romney might have going for him right now is Gingrich’s continued presence in the race. If Gingrich dropped out 58% of his supporters say they would move to Santorum, while 22% would go to Romney and 17% to Paul. Santorum gets to 50% in the Newt free field to 28% for Romney and 15% for Paul.

It’s all quite improbable, really. The former Senator from Pennsylvania who lost his 2006 re-election bid by one of the highest margins of any incumbent Senator in American history, and who spent most of 2011 languishing at the bottom of the polls now the front runner in the race for the Republican nomination? Well it’s worth noting that the PPP poll is not consistent with other nearly contemporaneous polls that were released shortly before it was. Fox News’s poll, for example, showed Romney leading by ten points and the latest iteration of the Gallup Daily Tracking Poll shows Romney up by 12 over Santorum, although it’s worth noting that Gallup’s poll does show that Romney’s support level has been steadily declining while Santorum’s has been steadily increasing.  At the same time, though, neither poll (and no other poll so far) shows the kind of massive surge for Santorum that PPP does in this poll so, we could be looking at a poll that is catching the cutting edge of a real trend or, we could be looking at a massive statistical outlier due to bad sampling or some other factor.

Nonetheless, it’s fairly clear that Santorum’s victory on Tuesday, as symbolic as they may have been, have benefited him. Additionally, his speech at CPAC yesterday was fairly well received and his supporters appear to be mounting an aggressive campaign for support in the CPAC Straw Poll, the results of which will be released later today. So, this really could be Santorum’s moment, and Nate Silver argues that he has a better chance at winning the nomination than some might think:

Republicans have so far declined several opportunities to coalesce around Mr. Romney. They did not do so after he announced his candidacy, nor after Mr. Perry sunk in the polls, nor when Mr. Cain withdrew, nor after Mr. Romney’s apparent win in Iowa and actual win in New Hampshire. And after big wins in Florida and Nevada, he is struggling yet again.

Mr. Santorum is a fresher face, comparatively speaking. He clearly did not get much momentum from his strong showing in Iowa. But his Iowa surge had been largely confined to that state to begin with, and he was hurt by the fact that the next state to vote was New Hampshire, a bad fit for him culturally, as well as the fact that he was not announced as the actual winner until after the New Hampshire voting. On Tuesday, by contrast, he earned victories in three states, and he seems to be on the move in national polls as well.

But Mr. Santorum will not be as easy a mark for Mr. Romney as someone like Mr. Gingrich. The results in Florida had seemed to suggest that Mr. Romney could win a state any time he wanted to by blanketing it with advertising dollars. But almost all of those ads were negative, and almost all of them attacked Mr. Gingrich — most of them on his personal failings like his resignation from Congress and his ties to Freddie Mac.

Mr. Romney’s attacks on Mr. Santorum, by contrast, have focused on more venial sins: that he is a “career politician” who defended earmarks.

Meanwhile, Mr. Santorum closed strongly and outperformed his polls in several states so far, including Iowa, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri and South Carolina (where he was projected to place fourth by the polls but finished in third). That could indicate that voters like Mr. Santorum the more they get to know him — indeed, his favorability ratings are strong among Republican voters — or that his supporters are more enthusiastic. Either quality would be an asset going forward, allowing him to win his share of close calls against Mr. Romney.

Thus, it seems at least possible that Mr. Santorum’s momentum will be more sustainable. To have a chance at winning in the delegate count, he will need to supplant Mr. Gingrich as Mr. Romney’s major rival in the South. The results in Missouri, a borderline Southern state where Mr. Santorum beat Mr. Romney by 30 points without Mr. Gingrich on the ballot, suggest that he could run strongly if Mr. Gingrich were to bow out.

Like I said, it all seems very improbable, and the idea of Rick Santorum as the Republican nominee should scare the crap out of any Republican who actually wants to have a chance of winning in November. But this is been a year of improbabilities and, given the continued reluctance of conservatives to make peace with Mitt Romney, maybe it isn’t all that improbable after all that they’d coalesce behind the most improbable, and seemingly unelectable, candidate of them all.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
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. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    It’s not about policy, or issues, it’s not about conservative this or moderate that. It’s about Mr. Romney as a man.

    If people liked him they’d find a way to support him. But they don’t like him, so they magnify his every lapse. (And there are plenty of those.)

    Republicans are just not that into him. I don’t think they ever will be.

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    @michael reynolds: Romney can’t identify with the Republican base. Where hear a lot about his membership in a cult and that’s a factor but Romney simply doesn’t speak the same language. Like George W. Bush Romney was born a multimillionaire. The difference is that GWB was able to learn the language something Romney has been unable to do. His Wall Street connections don’t help.

  3. Neil Hudelson says:

    I think there is going to be one of these types of articles every week all the way to convention. It will just rotate as to whom the subject is.

    “An [choose one: Santorum, Gingrich, Paul] surge?”

    Romney will win despite being the nationwide front runner only 50%* of the time.

    *I’m sure this is not accurate, but that’s surely what it feels like.

  4. Latino_in_Boston says:

    He does come across as some sort of human GPS. He will go wherever you want him to go, with some unfortunate turns in the process.

  5. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    The difference is that GWB was able to learn the language...

    Romney needs to develop a substance abuse problem, stat.

  6. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    How did my previous comment get a different font from the others?

  7. David says:

    Santorum will energize the evangelical right wing of the Republican base, and if he gets the nomination, will energize the social moderates to vote against him.

  8. Tillman says:

    @Gold Star for Robot Boy: Quoting Ron Beasley does that.

  9. JohnMcC says:

    If you think this has been fun just wait! Mr Romney will be nominated and — as Ms Coulter predicted — will lose to Pres Obama. And then the knives will be drawn and Republican blood will flow in rivers. There is not enough popcorn in the world!

  10. Tillman says:

    @michael reynolds:

    If people liked him they’d find a way to support him. But they don’t like him, so they magnify his every lapse.

    I used to think they were holding Mitt Romney to an unnecessarily high standard for a politician. C’mon, they all lie, it’s a fact of nature at this point. Then I realized that, really, it’s just that he’s a crappy liar. Not only crappy, but forthright about his crappy lying, as his campaign’s reactions to being called for lying in attack ads show.

  11. grumpy realist says:

    What was it about Obama’s great luck in having absolutely abysmal opponents? He must be grinning ear to ear.

  12. Dazedandconfused says:

    I’m beginning to wonder about these polls. The pollsters get a lot more business in close races, and the media get more ads bought. Cynical, perhaps, but there is big money involved in this “industry”.

    Might be best to never trust anything less than a half-dozen polls.