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Behind the Numbers
Posted at 03:00 PM ET, 02/14/2012

Rick Santorum now rivals Mitt Romney in popularity, poll finds

As Rick Santorum has become better known over the past month, the number of Americans with favorable views of the former Pennsylvania senator and Republican presidential contender has gone up, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.


Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum arrives on stage and is greeted by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney before a Republican presidential candidates debate in Charleston, S.C. (ERIC THAYER - REUTERS)

Among Republicans -- and independents -- Santorum now rivals former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney on this most basic measure of popularity. Santorum now has the lead among those who consider themselves to be “very conservative.”

But the new poll also shows some positive movement for Romney, who, in recent days, has had to share the lead in national GOP primary polls with Santorum.

Independents -- who had turned sharply away from Romney in Post-ABC polling from early to late January -- have evened out in their basic impressions of the candidate. In the time around the South Carolina primary -- where Romney stumbled against former House speaker Newt Gingrich -- more than twice as many independents held unfavorable rather than favorable views of Romney; now, it’s a more even split, with 37 percent expressing positive views and 40 percent negative ones.

For his part, Santorum gets a similar favorable rating from independents (35 percent), and carries fewer negatives (32 percent unfavorable). A third of independents still don’t know enough about the former senator to rate him one way or the other.

Romney’s progress with independents may help him in a hypothetical general election match-up, but his more immediate concern is the GOP primary. He has competition: 60 percent of Republicans view Romney favorably; it’s 61 percent for Santorum. Romney also gets nearly double the number of unfavorable reviews as about one in four Republicans expressed no opinion about Santorum.


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Among Republicans, Santorum has jumped from 48 to 61 percent since early January. The increase is entirely among Republicans without college diplomas, echoing some of the main intra-party cleavages between Santorum and Romney. Those with college degrees are unmoved over this period of time, with still largely favorable views of the former senator.


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Another - perhaps predictable - change since the start of the year is Democrats’ increasing negativity toward both Romney and Santorum. Nearly a third of Democrats now hold “strongly unfavorable” views of Santorum, and the number stiffly negative toward Romney now reaches four in 10. For the time being, however, both those proportions still pale next to the about two-thirds of Republicans who hold strongly unfavorable views of President Obama.

The poll was conducted Feb. 8 to 12 among a random national sample of 1,009 adults. The margin of sampling error for the full poll is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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By  |  03:00 PM ET, 02/14/2012

 
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