Monday, February 13, 2012

SANTORUM: WHY I WORRY THAT THIS TIME IS DIFFERENT

Dave Weigel spots something odd in the new Public Policy Polling survey that shows Rick Santorum with a 15-point lead over Mitt Romney in Michigan:

He's only up by 12 points with actual Republican voters, but he has a 40-21 advantage with the Democrats and independents planning to vote that pushes his overall lead up to 15 points.

Weigel writes:

This is weirder than you think, trust me. In 2006, when Bob Casey, Jr. exiled Santorum from the Senate, the guy won 41 percent of the overall vote. He held 28 percent of independents and 7 percent of Democrats. He was more or less despised by anyone who wasn't a Republican or conservative.

What's got me a little bit worried about Santorum is that we're assuming he's eminently beatable because he got shellacked in 2006. But he seemed like part of the Republican power structure in 2006, and we -- moderates as well as liberals -- were thoroughly sick of that power structure by then, on everything from the Iraq War to the attempt to keep Terri Schiavo alive.

Now I worry that Santorum seems to some voters like the plucky underdog, even within his own party. Back when he was in office, his culture-war meanness seemed to have real clout, because he was part of a right-wing gang that didn't like to take prisoners; at this moment, even to me, he comes off as almost harmless, although I'm fully aware of the fact that he'd be an awful, dangerous president.

Could he possibly do well against Obama if he wins the nomination (which I'm starting to think will happen)? Could he surprise us because voters might see him not as the nasty culture warrior he was when he had power, but as a gee-whiz aw-shucks Boy Scout, and figure he won't really turn the clock back on abortion and contraception and gay rights (except for the old white cultural conservatives, who may think he really can turn the clock back, and who may be Democrats and independents like the ones supporting him in Michigan)?

And before you shout "Man on dog!" and point to poll results showing increasing support for gay marriage and persistent support for legal abortion, let me remind you that right-wing culture warriors are a hell of a lot more likely to vote their social-issue convictions than the rest of us are. Otherwise, how did Republicans win so many recent election cycles?

(Portions of this post appear at Balloon Juice.)

6 comments:

Tom Hilton said...

Couple of things to keep in mind here.

First, he hasn't really taken a pounding yet from the Not-Coordinating-With-Romney attack machine. There's no telling how well he'll hold up when he does. I still think Romney has a better than even chance of winning the nomination, because he still has the resources to subject any opponent to a massive barrage of negative advertising.

Second, as I've said elsewhere, he would mobilize liberal voters (and turn off a lot of independents) in a way that Romney wouldn't.

Jason said...

I think there are a lot of wrong assumptions about the data in this poll.

First, Michigan is an open primary state, meaning that even non-republicans can vote in the Republican primary. In a year where the Democratic candidate is already set, is it so weird to think that Democrats plan on voting in the Republican primary for the guy they'd rather face?

Not saying this is definite, but the polling doesn't ask questions about why a person is voting for a candidate. If someone called me today and asked who I'd rather vote for, I'd pick Santorum - because I think he'll be easier to beat.

Second, this is a poll of Republican primary voters, which suggests to me that either the Democratic results really are a result of gaming the system, or the people in this poll who self-identify as liberal are being misleading about their views in some way. I'm not sure why else a self-identified Democrat would be voting in a Republican primary.

Finally, looking at the specific numbers only about 9% of respondents identify as liberal, suggesting that the numbers Weigel is citing are simply a result of small sample size. Presumably, only around 100-200 self-identified liberals responded, meaning that it's likely not a good sample. Also, when you say that you think that moderates and liberals might support Santorum, you're not being backed up by the numbers - in this poll, moderates are -27 in favorability for Santorum, suggesting he isn't super popular. His high overall favorability numbers are being driven by uber conservatives, which is the primary group being sampled here.

I imagine this is why someone in the news media is seizing some of these numbers,, but the PPP press release you link to doesn't mention Weigel's patterns at all. You may think that Democrats should be worried about Santorum's appeal, but this poll doesn't support that.

Unknown said...

Besides death & taxes there also Democrats pulling defeat from the jaws of victory and Americans can be dumber than a bag of hammers when it comes to politics

Jason said...

Small edit - the PPP does mention the democratic results, but skips over the moderate unfavorables point.

c u n d gulag said...

I fear a Santorum presidency more than a Mitt or Newt one.

Rick will be the one to make "The Handmaid's Tale" come true.

If Mitt's people have a brain in their heads, which is questionable (and Obama's do, and will), they'll point out that Rick was Abramoff's boy in the Senate- especially regarding Saipan.

And that Rick, Mr. Anti-abortion & Mr. Anti-Birth Control, was one of the lead Senators to allow "Forced Abortions" in Saipan.

"Forced Abortions," Rick?

Really?

And to all to serve his Corporate Masters.

Rick may look and act like a Boy Scot - but he's a willing tool for 'The Powers That Be.'

And if the MSM lets people hear THAT message about "Forced Abortions," I don't think Rick will do as well as you and some others fear.

Michael Gee said...

Voters will identify Santorum as a culture warrior because he will forthrightly tell them he is. The guy doesn't hide it. He will stand in a debate and say he wants to outlaw contraception and such. He won't be a stealth candidate.