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Romney Makes Inroads with Santorum Supporters in Wisconsin Romney Makes Inroads with Santorum Supporters in Wisconsin Romney Makes Inroads with Santorum Supporters in Wisconsin Romney Makes Inroads with...

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The Trail: 2012 Presidential News from the Field / CAMPAIGN 2012

Romney Makes Inroads with Santorum Supporters in Wisconsin

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

photo of Steven Shepard
April 3, 2012

In winning Wisconsin's Republican presidential primary Tuesday, Mitt Romney made modest gains among the segments of the GOP electorate previously most resistant to his candidacy, the latest sign that voters see the former Massachusetts governor on his way to wrapping up his party's nomination in short order.

Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum tied among "very conservative" voters, with each candidate at 43 percent. Santorum has dominated that slice of the GOP electorate in a number of states, with Romney only winning among that bloc in New Hampshire, Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts, Maryland and Virginia, where only Romney and Texas Rep. Ron Paul were on the ballot. Among "somewhat conservative" voters, Romney won by a wider margin, 54 percent to 36 percent. Romney has won "somewhat conservative" voters in every state in which entrance or exit polls were conducted, except South Carolina, Oklahoma, Alabama and Louisiana. Curiously, Santorum ran closer than he usually does among "moderate" or "liberal" voters in Wisconsin, trailing Romney just 36 percent to 33 percent.

Romney also won voters who "strongly support" the tea party movement, besting Santorum, 50 percent to 38 percent. In Illinois, where Romney won a 12-point victory last month, he won among strong supporters of the tea party by a single percentage point.

 

Romney ran even or slightly ahead of Santorum among downscale voters, according to exit polls, but he used a big win among more well-off voters to fuel his victory. Romney edged Santorum among voters making less than $50,000 a year, 38 percent to 36 percent. Romney ran just a single point ahead among those in the $50,000-$100,000 bracket, while Romney crushed Santorum among wealthier voters, winning by an 18-percent margin. Just 26 percent of voters make over $100,000 a year, however, placing Wisconsin among the less affluent electorates thus far in the GOP nominating process.

The education gap closed in Wisconsin, with Romney posting a 10-point win among voters with a college degree and a 4-point advantage over Santorum among those without a college degree, who were a slight majority among voters on Tuesday. Romney even led Santorum by 6 percentage points among voters who never attended college at all, roughly one in five voters overall.

Romney also ran slightly better among evangelical or born-again Christian voters, another typically strong Santorum constituency. Santorum's lead over Romney among white evangelicals was just 4 percentage points, 43 percent to 39 percent. Santorum beat Romney among white evangelicals in Illinois last month by 7 points.

Among non-evangelicals, Romney led Santorum by 13 points. Santorum has yet to win among non-evangelical voters in any state, and the Wisconsin electorate did not favor his candidacy. Fewer than two in five voters were evangelicals.

As in other states, Romney continued his strong performance among senior citizens, who comprised a quarter of the electorate. Romney won voters aged 65 years and older by a 18-percent margin over Santorum, 53 percent to 35 percent. Romney has lost seniors only in a handful of southern states: South Carolina, Oklahoma, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana.

The exit polls also show that Romney's inevitability argument may be wearing down even the most skeptical Republicans: Fully four-in-five Republican primary voters told exit pollsters that Romney was the most likely candidate to win the GOP nomination, and Romney won 52 percent of those voters, to 31 percent for Santorum.

Voters on Tuesday also identified Romney as the stronger general election candidate. Asked to identify the most important candidate quality, a 37-percent plurality said the ability to defeat President Obama in the fall, and nearly 70 percent of those chose Romney. Romney also won among voters looking for a candidate with the "right experience," but he lost badly among those who picked a "true conservative" or "strong moral character." Only in Massachusetts has Romney won voters choosing the latter two attributes as top priorities.

Santorum has little on which to hang his hat in the Wisconsin exit poll, though he did run best among late-deciding voters. About a third of all voters said they made their mind up only in the last few days, and Santorum won them, 42 percent to 39 percent. And among the 13 percent who said they decided today, Santorum won, 46 percent to 27 percent. But nearly 65 percent of voters said they made their minds up prior to the last few days, and Romney won them by 10 points.

Meanwhile, in Maryland, Romney's victory on Tuesday was broad and deep. According to exit polls, he won all income brackets, all education levels and voters of all ideologies, though Santorum nearly tied him among "very conservative" voters. Santorum did beat Romney among voters under age 45 in Maryland, but they made up less than a quarter of the GOP electorate. Romney ran up huge margins among older voters, including a 41-point lead among seniors.

Exit polls were conducted outside of polling places throughout Maryland and Wisconsin by Edison Research. The polls, conducted for the National Election Pool, a consortium of news organizations, surveyed 1,238 GOP primary voters in Maryland and 2,095 voters in Wisconsin.

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