Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

Why Third-Place Matters

In Election Analysis, Polls, Presidential campaign on January 31, 2012 at 11:34 am

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney appears poised to win a convincing victory tonight in the Florida Republican presidential primary and, barring future delegate certification challenges before the Republican National Convention, will claim all 50 delegates being apportioned in the state in winner-take-all fashion.

Eight different polls, all conducted during a period beginning Jan. 27 or later, give Mr. Romney leads of between 5 and 25 percentage points, and in all but two of those polls he wins by double digits. Each poll has former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in second place and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum either in third or tied for third with Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14).

But it is how Santorum performs that may be the most interesting part of tonight’s result. Since the polls all show him posting between 9 and 12 points, a stronger performance will reveal further conservative dissatisfaction with Romney. Further right-of-center voters fleeing Gingrich – as his roller coaster campaign now begins to slide downward again – and heading toward Santorum looks to be a very real possibility. Should this occur, the Pennsylvanian, who spent little money in Florida, would head to Nevada with some new wind at his back, particularly if Romney again wins with only a plurality of support.

Such a finish would again lend credence to the theory that a uniting of conservatives behind one candidate could still see that candidate overtake Romney. Failure for that scenario to take place likely nominates Romney at least by the time most primaries and caucuses conclude at the end of April, if not sooner.

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