Mercyhurst poll shows Santorum's lead slipping in home state

With less than a month before the Pennsylvania primary, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum is leading Mitt Romney in his home state, but not by much. His once substantial lead has diminished to approximately 6 percentage points, according to poll results released today by the Mercyhurst Center for Applied Politics (MCAP) at Mercyhurst University.

The poll of 425 registered Republicans in Pennsylvania (+/- 4.75% margin of error) shows that if the primary were held today, 37 percent of the state’s registered Republicans would vote for Santorum and 31 percent for Romney. The poll showed Newt Gingrich claiming 9 percent of the votes and Ron Paul, 10 percent.

“The 6 percentage point lead suggests a tightening race with a month to go before the Pennsylvania primary, and the difference between the two candidates is within the poll’s margin of error,” said MCAP Director Dr. Joseph Morris.

Santorum’s advantage over Romney exists in spite of the fact that a majority (50 percent) of Republicans polled says Romney stands the better chance of beating Barack Obama in November. Only 24 percent of those polled say the same for Santorum.

Forty-nine percent of the state’s registered Republicans believe that the lengthy nomination process is weakening the GOP’s ability to challenge Obama, according to poll results. A majority (55 percent) of Republicans also says that the tone of the primary has been more negative than previous competitions.

Although Santorum and Romney are clearly the key candidates vying for the lead in Pennsylvania, a plurality (35%) of Republicans says that Newt Gingrich is best able to address challenges in the area of foreign policy.

In a polarized electorate, Pennsylvania Republicans seem to favor bipartisanship over ideological rigidity if a Republican candidate is elected next fall. A strong majority (83 percent) of Pennsylvania’s registered Republicans says that if their party’s candidate wins the November election, it is either very (54 percent) or somewhat (29 percent) important for him to be willing to compromise with Democrats on key issues facing the country. Likewise, roughly a majority (53 percent) says that if a Republican wins the November election, it is more important for him to “compromise with the other party if it is necessary to get things done,” than to “stick to his principles, no matter what” (41 percent).

The poll reflects a discontent among voters with the number of debates in this primary competition. A plurality (46 percent) of Pennsylvania Republicans believes that there have been too many debates between their party’s candidates and, out of the 20 televised debates, Republicans have watched an average of only 3.7.

When asked to choose one word to describe Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, a plurality of Pennsylvanian Republicans chose “intelligent” (22) for Gingrich, “old” (18) for Paul, “businessman” (12) for Romney, and “conservative” (45) for Santorum. The words most frequently chosen to describe Romney also included “moderate” (10), “rich” (9) and “arrogant” (9). For Santorum, the words most frequently chosen were largely positive with “honest” (24), “moral” (11) and “good” (9) mentioned after his conservative ideology. Only 4 respondents chose the word “Mormon” to describe Romney.

As might be expected, a plurality of Pennsylvanian Republicans who were polled identified the economy as the first (151) or second (53) most important issue in the primary election. When combined with “jobs” (24/18) and unemployment (6/2), a majority (63 percent) of those polled say that some facet of their economic life is of primary or secondary importance in the primary election. Besides the economy, health care is of primary (39) or secondary (70) importance to a sizable number of individuals who were polled.

This poll was conducted by Mercyhurst University students under the guidance of Dr. Joseph Morris, MCAP director; Dr. Rolfe Peterson, methodologist; and Sean Fedorko, project manager. Complete poll results will be posted on the MCAP website ( in the coming days.
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