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Behind the Numbers
Posted at 02:43 PM ET, 04/06/2012

Why is Santorum losing ground in Pennsylvania?

Only a month ago, Rick Santorum appeared headed toward a landslide in Pennsylvania. Now, he faces a a close fight to defend his home state against Mitt Romney on April 24. Pennsylvania Republicans widely see Santorum as more honest, and nearly four in 10 say “Etch A Sketch” is a fair description of Romney. So why do the latest polls show the contest within single digits, with one automated poll finding Romney in the lead?

Pennsylvania Republicans still have positive views of their former senator, but the percentage rating him “strongly favorable” dropped from 35 to 22 percent from February to March, according to Franklin and Marshall College polls. There was a corresponding seven-point bump in the number holding strongly positive views of Romney, to 17 percent.

Voters may be looking for a different type of candidate. In February, 36 percent of Republicans voters said “strong moral character” was the most important candidate quality, while just 18 percent picked ability to “beat Obama.” But by late March, voters split about evenly between the two attributes – 25 percent choosing electability and 26 percent choosing character. There was little change in the number searching for a “true conservative” or having “the right experience.”

Exit polls this year – which ask a similar question – show this shift is very good news for Romney. Santorum has won “character” voters by massive margins in every primary since Super Tuesday. In neighboring Ohio, Santorum trounced Romney by 60 to 19 percent. But Romney has won big among electability voters, beating Santorum by nearly 2 to 1 in Ohio and winning two-thirds of their votes in Wisconsin on Tuesday.

If the race were all about honesty and consistency, Santorum might be running away with the contest. More than twice as many said Santorum has above-average honesty and integrity as said this about Romney in a Quinnipiac University poll of likely Pennsylvania voters released this week. More than one in four likely voters (27 percent) said Romney changes his position more often than others, but only 8 percent said this of Santorum. But in that same poll, Santorum led Romney by a slender six points on who respondents would actually vote for.

Romney’s growing delegate lead and three victories this week bolstered his image as the inevitable nominee. If his fellow Pennsylvania Republicans buy into that image, Santorum’s goodwill in the state may not count for much.

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By  |  02:43 PM ET, 04/06/2012

 
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