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Iowa Poll Could Help Lift Santorum to Caucus Win Iowa Poll Could Help Lift Santorum to Caucus Win Iowa Poll Could Help Lift Santorum to Caucus Win Iowa Poll Could Help Lift...

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Iowa Poll Could Help Lift Santorum to Caucus Win

Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is surrounded by news media following a campaign appearance at the Indianola Public Library Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011, in Indianola, Iowa. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)  (AP Photo/Chris Carlso\)

January 1, 2012

DES MOINES, Iowa -- As usual, the Des Moines Register provides very little of the detail needed to understand the coalitions that each of the Republican contenders is assembling for Tuesday's caucuses. But the fragmentary information the newspaper has released about its Iowa Poll suggests conservatives here may be moving toward Rick Santorum as the best option to deny outright victory to Mitt Romney.

In a political analogue to the Heisenberg principle, it also suggests that extensive news coverage of Santorum's surge in the Register poll is likely to fuel it further, giving him a real chance to win here.

The data the newspaper published Sunday largely tracks the dynamic evident in the CNN/Time/ORC and NBC/Marist surveys in the state released earlier this week: a fragmentation on the right that is creating an opening for Romney, a candidate many conservatives remain skeptical about.

The most valuable data the paper released was its nightly results through the polling, which ran from last Tuesday through Friday (December 27-30). On Tuesday the single night results showed Ron Paul leading with 29 percent, followed by Romney with 26 percent, and Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry at 12 percent. Santorum attracted just 10 percent. But, the results show, after the CNN/Time survey came out on Wednesday showing Santorum in third place, his support dramatically improved in the Register polling.

In the single night Friday results, Romney and Santorum stood in a virtual tie (23 and 22 percent respectively), while Paul had slipped to 16 percent, and Gingrich, Perry and Michele Bachmann all clustered together around (11, 11 and 9 percent respectively). All week, Romney's support varied little-revolving closely around the 25 percent he attracted in 2008 while finishing second to Mike Huckabee.

As in all its polls, the Register provides only limited information on how the key subgroups in the states are dividing. But the results made available reaffirm the key dynamic identified first in the other two surveys last week -- the splintering of conservative voters in the state resistant to Romney.

According to Register columnist Kathie Obradovich, Santorum leads among self-identified evangelical Christians, but only with 23 percent, followed by Ron Paul and Mitt Romney with 18 percent. (Romney attracted 19 percent of evangelicals in the 2008 Iowa caucus.) In a separate analysis, J. Ann Selzer, the newspaper's pollster, says that weighting the data in a different manner to focus on the results of the final two days of polling shows Santorum at 25 percent with evangelicals, Romney at 20 percent, and Ron Paul at 16 percent, with Michelle Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry all hovering around the low double digits.

Similarly, the paper reported that Santorum has a 1-percentage-point lead over Paul among likely caucus-goers who describe themselves as "very conservative." (Once again, the Register did not provide any actual numbers.) In 2008, those "very conservative" voters provided Mike Huckabee a double-digit advantage, helping to propel him to his victory. Without providing numbers, the paper notes that Santorum also leads among "those who are 'very socially conservative,' and...those who are strong supporters of the tea party."

 As for Romney, the newspaper says only that he shows "strengths with older and wealthier Iowans and tea party supporters"-as opposed to the strong tea party supporters who prefer Santorum. Romney, though, still holds a big lead over all the other contenders when the Register asked which candidate is "the most electable in the general election": he drew 48 percent on that question. No one else drew more than Gingrich's 13 percent; Santorum stood at just 7. Romney also led, though only with 23 percent, on the test of which candidate is most able to bring about real change.

Santorum actually drew meager responses on almost all of the nine positive and nine negative attributes the poll tested. He spiked highest (and even then only to around 20 percent) only when the survey asked who caucus-goers considered "the best at relating to ordinary Iowans" and the "least ego-driven." Those results may underscore how much of Santorum's late surge is a product of his commitment to relentlessly campaigning in the state, while his rivals devoted far fewer days than most candidates in earlier years. In that way, the poll may hint at the difficulties Santorum will face building a true national coalition in states where he won't have the time to devote the more than 100 days he's committed to Iowa.

 

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