Politics

03.07.12

Super Tuesday Surprises: Catholics for Romney, Women for Santorum, and More

Women like Santorum, Catholics prefer Romney, and other counterintuitive Super Tuesday results.

The conventional wisdom was not totally upended last night, Mitt Romney did sweep New England and Ron Paul is not looking likely to be the GOP nominee. But in the midst of the 10 state pile-up results, with Republican voters weighing in from Boston, Ma., to Barrow, Alaska, there were results that defied conventional wisdom about the never-ending contest:

Mitt Romney, the Catholic Candidate

Rick Santorum is a passionate and devout Catholic, who’s run a values-oriented campaign. However, Catholic voters in Ohio yesterday preferred Mitt Romney to him. In fact, Romney has won Catholic Republicans by significant margins throughout the GOP primaries, including in Michigan, where Romney competed head-to-head against Santorum last week. The simple reason is that Catholic Republicans tend to be more moderate and they are simply favoring the Republican candidate closer to their views, regardless of faith. By contrast, Santorum does better among evangelical Protestants, who tend to be more conservative. While many Republican primary voters are religious, they’ve been far from sectarian.

Rick Santorum, Preferred by Women

While Rick Santorum’s strident stands on issues like contraception have created a perception that he could alienate female voters, exit polls have consistently shown him faring better with women than men. He did better with women than men in every state with exit polling last night except Tennessee, where he still achieved a commanding win. While Santorum’s strident stances could hurt him with female voters in a general-election contest against Barack Obama, so far they’ve been an asset among the female voters participating in GOP primaries.

Ron Paul, Bridesmaid

Ron Paul was supposed to finally win a state last night. After a number of tight contests, he would finally be able to claim one first-place finish. But despite spending election night in North Dakota, Paul lost that state’s caucus decisively—40 percent to 27percent—to Rick Santorum. In Alaska, a state where he was the only presidential candidate to visit, he finished third behind Romney and Rick Santorum. But even those tough losses paled compared to the result in Idaho, a state where Paul strenuously campaigned. There, the Texas congressman was absolutely walloped by Mitt Romney by 44 points. Adding insult to injury, Paul finished third in the Gem State too, albeit a mere 29 votes behind Santorum. Despite the increased attention paid to the once-fringe politician this year, Paul has proved unable to translate his enthusiastic following into a demonstrably broader appeal.

Palin "Endorses"

The most coveted and most unobtainable endorsement in the Republican primary was supposed to be that of Sarah Palin. While the former GOP VP nominee still remains perhaps the most polarizing political figure in the country, she has a devoted following among the conservative base and a near-magnetic ability to attract press attention. An endorsement from her as a stand-alone press event would dominate the political news for days. But many pundits were skeptical that Palin would ever take a public stand in the GOP primary. However, late last night, when asked who she voted for in the Alaska caucuses, she admitted to casting her ballot for Newt Gingrich. Based on past hints of support for the former House speaker, Palin's support for him wasn't a total shock. But it's safe to say no one ever expected that she would announce her support in an election-night interview with Neil Cavuto long after all the polls had closed.

Sneaky Santorum

Reporters and pundits everywhere hailed the exit poll of Ohio when it arrived at 7:30 p.m. It gave Romney a narrow but substantive lead of 6 percentage points in the Buckeye State. This seemed to augur the perfect result, close enough for some drama but with enough separation to avoid an all-nighter. However, it was wrong, as poll numbers yet again underestimated Rick Santorum’s appeal. A Smart Politics review of the polls Monday showed that Santorum has consistently outpaced his poll numbers—by an average of 4.7 points per state—while the rest of the field has met theirs or come up short. And it happened again Tuesday in Ohio, where the race turned out to be razor tight.