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Purple Poll: Santorum More Popular Than Romney in Swing States

Posted: 02/23/2012 6:47 am

Who is more electable -- Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney? How are voters evaluating the economy, and whom do they hold responsible? And how have voters reacted to President Obama's recent decision around insurance coverage for contraception?

To answer these and other questions, we conducted a poll among likely general election voters in Purple states -- the dozen states that are most likely to decide whether President Obama is elected to a second term. The fifth in an ongoing series, our findings are below. For more information and detailed results, please go to www.purplestrategies.com/perspectives.

Obama holds leads on both Santorum and Romney, but Santorum does better -- the first time another GOP candidate outperforms Romney in Purple States.

President Obama currently holds leads against the two top candidates in the GOP field. He leads Mitt Romney by 4 points (47% to 43%) and leads Rick Santorum by 2 points (46% to 44%). President Obama's performance against Romney has been consistent since December, with leads ranging from 2 to 4 points.

These results may bring into question Mitt Romney's continued claim of electability. Since September, we have tested President Obama against Rick Perry, Jeb Bush, Newt Gingrich, and now Rick Santorum. Of all of these candidates, Rick Santorum is the only one to outperform Romney (albeit by a small margin) against President Obama in Purple America.

Additionally, among independents, Romney trails by 3 points, while Santorum leads President Obama by 2 points (44% to 42%).

Swing state voters believe that the Republican campaign is weakening the field, and Romney's personal popularity bears that out.

A majority (53%) of Purple state voters believe that the campaign is weakening the eventual nominee, while just 21% believe that the campaign is strengthening the nominee. Republicans are also concerned about the impact that the campaign is having on their candidates, with 44% believing that the campaign is weakening the eventual nominee (32% strengthening).

The campaign's impact on Mitt Romney's personal popularity has been palpable: today, just 27% have a favorable view of him, while 57% have an unfavorable view. In the first PurplePoll in September of last year, 32% had a favorable view (39% unfavorable). In other words, over the course of the campaign Romney's favorables in Purple states have declined by 5 points, while his unfavorables have increased by 18 points - a net decline of 23 points.

Republicans in Purple America view Rick Santorum much more favorably than they view Mitt Romney.

Among voters overall, Rick Santorum is currently better liked than Romney: 38% hold a favorable view, and 43% have an unfavorable view. Among Republican voters, the results are dramatic: Santorum is much better liked (58%/24%) than is Romney (42%/41%).

At the same time, President Obama has net negative job ratings: 44% approve, and 50% disapprove. While the President's approval ratings have drifted upward this year, a 44% approval rating is dangerously low for a president seeking re-election. He has worse ratings among independents (39%/52%) than the Purple electorate as a whole. Additionally, there is an education gap: among those with a college degree and higher, 48% approve and 48% disapprove. Among those without a college degree, 42% approve and 51% disapprove.

Voters are more satisfied with the direction of the country but are still in a sour mood. Voters believe the economy now belongs to President Obama, and they are divided on economic progress.

In our November poll, we found that 20% believed the country was moving in the right direction, while 71% felt that it was seriously off on the wrong track.

Our latest poll shows some improvement, but with voters having strong reservations about the country's direction. Today, 32% believe the country is moving in the right direction, with a strong majority (60%) feeling the country is on the wrong track. This includes 64% of independent voters, and strong majorities across our four Purple state regions.

Voters are more evenly divided when evaluating the direction of the economy, with 36% saying that it is getting better and 37% saying it is getting worse (26% "staying the same"). While the economy is showing signs of improvement, this divided result shows that voters are not yet sold on recovery.

No matter the direction of the economy, voters believe that it belongs to President Obama. Overall, 56% of voters say that he is responsible for its current direction, compared to 31% who believe that Republicans in Congress are responsible.

Contraception, religious institutions and insurance: Framing the issue will be central to its political impact.

Since the recent decisions by the Obama administration on contraceptive coverage, there have been numerous surveys released showing divergent results. The results appear to depend on how the questions frame the issue.

In the PurplePoll, we asked whether voters approved or disapproved of "the way that President Obama handled the issue of insurance coverage for contraceptives." With that question wording, a plurality (49%) disapproved, while 37% approved. A majority of independents (50%) disapproved of President Obama's handling of the issue (34% approved). Nearly a quarter of Democrats (23%) disapprove of the President's handling of the issue.

Interestingly, results among Catholic voters are slightly better than among the Purple electorate as a whole: 39% approve of the job he did, while 48% disapprove. Among born-again Christians, by contrast, just 21% approve of his handling of the issue (67% disapprove).

Other polls on the issue show different results depending on the question frame. A CNN poll (February 10-13) showed that a majority (50%) disapproved of President Obama's new policy, while 44% approved. However, in that same poll, 81% disagreed with the statement that "using artificial means of birth control is wrong." And a New York Times/CBS News poll (Feb 8-13) found that 66% of voters favor a federal requirement that health insurance companies pay for the full cost of birth control for women (26% oppose).

These results point to the centrality of framing for this issue. Is it about access to contraceptives, or a referendum on President Obama's handling of the issue? Is it about private choices or about President Obama and the federal government interfering with religious belief? Polling indicates that the answer will be determined more by the questions voters form when thinking about the issue, rather than the policies themselves.

The PurplePoll is fielded and analyzed by Purple Insights, the research division of Purple Strategies, the bipartisan public affairs firm. It includes Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The poll was fielded 2/18-2/21, using automated telephone interviews and RDD sample. Total weighted N size=1343 likely voters, margin of error +/-2.7. With regional oversamples, the margin of error for each regional cluster is no more than +/-4.3.

 

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