PPP Surveys Show Santorum Strength in Mo., Minn., and Colo.

Tuesday, 07 Feb 2012 12:38 PM

By Dan Weil

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Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who hasn’t made much of a showing in GOP presidential primaries/caucuses since winning Iowa, could storm back with a vengeance in the three contests today, according to new surveys from Public Policy Polling.

In the Missouri primary, he has a commanding lead, with 45 percent support among likely Republican voters, compared with 32 percent support for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and 19 percent support for Texas Rep. Ron Paul. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich isn’t on the ballot. The survey has a 3.2 percentage point (plus/minus) margin of error.

In the Minnesota caucuses, Santorum scores 33 percent support, followed by Romney with 24 percent, Gingrich with 22 percent, and Paul with 20 percent. The poll has a 3.3 percentage point margin of error.

In the Colorado caucuses, Romney leads with 37 percent support, followed by Santorum with 27 percent, Gingrich with 21 percent, and Paul with 13 percent. The poll has a 3.2 percentage point margin of error.

A strong showing for Santorum is very important to his campaign, given his sluggish performance in recent primaries. Success Tuesday would allow him to argue that Romney’s nomination isn’t a fait accompli and that Gingrich isn’t the only viable conservative alternative to the front-runner.

Santorum's sudden surge stems from his personal popularity. His favorability rating surpasses 70 percent in all three states. It’s 72 percent, compared with a 17 percent unfavorable rating in Missouri; 74-17 percent in Minnesota, and 71-19 percent in Colorado.

Likely voters view Santorum much more favorably than his opponents. Romney’s favorability ranges from 47 percent to 60 percent in the three states, while Gingrich stands at 47 to 48 percent.

Santorum has benefited from the spat between Romney and Gingrich in recent weeks. While those two have been barraging each other with negative attacks, they have ignored Santorum, allowing him to present a positive message.

Santorum has the lead in three important categories of voters in the polls: tea partyers, evangelical Christians, and those calling themselves “very conservative.” That troika had backed Gingrich before, but now those voters appear to be shifting.

To be sure, nothing is cast in stone yet. Almost 40 percent of voters in Missouri say they’re still open to changing their minds. And 35 percent in Minnesota feel the same way, as do 31 percent in Colorado. In addition, Romney’s supporters are more strongly committed to him than Santorum’s in all three states.

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