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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Santorum and Independents

The percentage of Americans identifying as political independents increased in 2011, as is common in a non-election year, although the 40% who did so is the highest Gallup has measured, by one percentage point. More Americans continue to identify as Democrats than as Republicans, 31% to 27%.
These data suggest a potential electability problem for Rick Santorum. Looking at exit pollsAaron Blake writes at The Washington Post:
While Santorum won the 18-to-29-year-old demographic in both his 1994 and 2000 Senate campaigns, he took just 32 percent of them in 2006. The same happened with white Catholics, who supported Santorum twice before giving him just 42 percent of the vote in 2006.
But here’s the key number: While he won independents 57 percent to 43 percent in his 2000 reelection campaign, he lost them 71 percent to 28 percent in 2006 — a pretty stunning 29-point dropoff.
Now, it should be noted here that 2006 was a very bad year for Republicans, which is at least partly why Santorum’s numbers dropped so precipitously. Santorum was also running against Casey, a man whose name is worth a lot in the Keystone State.
In addition, Santorum was left for dead rather early by the national Republican Party, which stopped running ads on his behalf a few weeks before the election because he appeared to be a lost cause (another state where the party pulled out early, Ohio, featured a similar blowout of a GOP incumbent).
But the fact is that Santorum never polled well in that 2006 race. He trailed by double digits as early as mid-2005, when few imagined the Democratic wave that was approaching.
While he came into Congress in a pretty heavily Democratic district and won two Senate races in a nominally blue state — fair points that Santorum raises in his defense — toward the end of his Senate tenure and today, he has become a pretty divisive character.