There will come a day when using the word “surge” to describe the now-frontrunning Republican Presidential candidate in Texas will get old. That day has not arrived yet.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania has a commanding lead among Republican presidential candidates in Texas, according to a new University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll. Santorum would get the votes of 45 percent of the respondents if the election were held today, according to the survey. The other three candidates in the GOP race — former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas — are clustered well behind. Gingrich got 18 percent, Romney received 16 percent and Paul garnered 14 percent.
The presidential race in Texas remains highly volatile, and the numbers could change significantly between now and the state’s primaries. They were originally scheduled for March 6 — early voting would have started this week — but have been delayed by redistricting litigation. Texas still doesn’t have all of its congressional and legislative maps in place, and May 29 appears to be the earliest possible primary date.
In the October UT/TT poll, Herman Cain led with 27 percent, followed by Rick Perry at 26 percent, Paul at 12 percent, and everyone else in single digits. Santorum had just 1 percent in the October survey.
That’s a heck of a surge. Timing is everything, I guess.
One thing has remained consistent: All four Republicans would beat Obama in a general election in Texas. In head-to-head matchups with the president, Santorum would win 51 percent to 37 percent among likely voters, Gingrich by 49 percent to 38 percent, Romney by 49 percent to 36 percent, and Paul by 44 percent to 35 percent.
“The GOP primary electorate has been and remains very conservative,” Henson said. “The second thing is that Republican Party identification is still the name of the game in Texas. If you’re the guy with ‘R’ next to your name and you’re running against Barack Obama in a general election, you have a pretty significant advantage.”
Couple things to note here. One is that this poll shows three out of four Republicans with larger leads than the previous UT/Trib poll from October and an earlier Texas Lyceum poll did. It stands in stark contrast with a January PPP poll that had Santorum and Romney each leading Obama by 49-42 margins. One possible reason for the difference may be found in the poll details. The total sample is 800 adults. Eighty-nine percent of them proclaim to be “extremely” or “somewhat” interested in “politics and public affairs”, and 91% say they voted in at least one election in “the last two or three years”, while 68% claimed to have voted in all or nearly all of them. Yet the results highlighted in the story are those of 527 “likely” voters, which is less than 66% of the total sample. How did they arrive at that number for the “likely” voter screen? They don’t say. But they do give the head to head results for the full 800 voter sample, and this is what they look like:
1. Newt Gingrich 42% 2. Barack Obama 40% 3. Someone else 13% 4. Don't know 5% 1. Mitt Romney 40% 2. Barack Obama 39% 3. Someone else 16% 4. Don't know 5% 1. Rick Santorum 44% 2. Barack Obama 39% 3. Someone else 11% 4. Don't know 6% 1. Ron Paul 40% 2. Barack Obama 37% 3. Someone else 18% 4. Don't know 5%
Quite a bit different. You can make of that what you want, but it’s remarkable enough that I think it at least merited a mention in the story. I’ve been making a big deal about how polling so far as shown 2012 to be a lot like 2008, and these “likely voter” numbers represent the first result that strays from that narrative. That may well mean that I’ve been wrong all along, but I’ll be honest with you: Having Rick Santorum at the top of the Republican ticket here doesn’t exactly strike terror in my heart, and I’m willing to bet I’m not the only Democrat in Texas who feels that way. If you scroll all the way to the bottom, you see that the full sample respondents claim to have voted for John McCain over Barack Obama by a 46-39 margin, with 4% for “other” and 11% for “did not vote”, which conveniently enough corresponds to the total that did not claim to be “extremely” or “somewhat” interested in politics. That translates to 54-46 straight up, so it’s not the case that the total sample is particularly skewed. However they applied their “likely voter” screen, it gives a very different picture than everything else we’ve seen so far. BOR has more.