wpostServer: http://css.washingtonpost.com/wpost

Why Rick Santorum isn’t guaranteed to win Newt Gingrich’s supporters

at 11:22 AM ET, 03/14/2012

Now that Rick Santorum has won Mississippi and Alabama, the conventional wisdom goes, supporters of Newt Gingrich will begin flocking to him as the more viable anti-Romney candidate.


Former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) speaks in St. Charles, Mo., on Tuesday. (Getty Images)
Right?

Not exactly.

As The Post’s Dan Balz notes in this morning’s paper, Tuesday’s exit polls in Mississippi and Alabama show that Gingrich’s supporters value electability more than they value “strong moral character” or a candidate’s status as the “true conservative” in the race.

That means that while there is some natural overlap between Gingrich and Santorum supporters, it’s not a sure bet that Republicans who have backed Gingrich so far will jump to the Santorum camp should the former House speaker’s fortunes continue to wane.

In fact, the exit polls suggest that many of them could well end up in the Romney camp.

When it comes to voters whose top priority is electability, Romney placed first in Mississippi and Alabama with 46 percent and 51 percent respectively.

Right behind him was Gingrich, with 30 percent and 32 percent. Santorum was a distant third with 22 percent in Mississippi and 15 percent in Alabama – data that would suggest that those Gingrich electability voters might share more in common with the Romney camp than with Team Santorum.

Similarly, Gingrich won voters in both states who said that “the right experience” was the most important quality in a candidate. The runner-up in that category was Romney, while Santorum was far behind in the single digits.

Looking at Santorum’s strengths, he overwhelmingly won voters in Mississippi and Alabama who placed an emphasis on “strong moral character” – and again, Romney is the runner-up, while Gingrich is in the single digits.

It’s among voters whose top priority is electing a “true conservative” that Santorum and Gingrich appear to share the most overlap – in that case, it’s Romney who trails far behind, while Gingrich takes 34 percent in both states and Santorum wins more than 50 percent.

So, what’s it all mean for Santorum? It’s the latest indication that even if Gingrich continues to struggle in the race, Santorum will likely have to hustle to win the votes of the former House speaker’s supporters.

 
Read what others are saying

    Campaign 2012 tools