Mitt Romney vs. Rick Santorum: 7 lessons from Ohio voters

Rick Santorum took the youth vote in Ohio. Catholics broke for Mitt Romney. And Santorum effectively used 'Romneycare' against Romney.

By , DCDecoder

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    Voters cast their ballots in the Republican presidential primary, Tuesday, March 6 in Steubenville, Ohio. Mitt Romney won by a small margin over Rick Santorum.
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Exit polls were conducted in a number of Super Tuesday states, but we’re focusing on the Ohio results since it’s such a critical swing state - and one that Republicans almost certainly will need to win in the fall in order to take the White House. So what do the Ohio exit polls show about the candidates’ relative strengths and weaknesses? Read on for Decoder’s top takeaways…

  • No real gender gap: Much has been made about Rick Santorum’s “woman problem” stemming from his conservative positions on social issues like birth control. But in Ohio, Santorum didn’t do that badly with women overall, losing them to Romney by just three points. The one glaring weak spot for him was among single women, who broke for Romney by 17 points. But they only represented 12 percent of the electorate; by contrast, married women, who were 33 percent of the electorate, chose Santorum over Romney by 43 to 39 percent.
  • But a striking age gap: This might be the most interesting result of the night. Young people broke for Santorum yesterday. He won voters in the 17-29 age cohort in Ohio overall, beating Romney by nine points - and even beating out perennial youth favorite Ron Paul. Santorum won the 30-44 age cohort by an even bigger margin, beating Romney by 11 points, and he even squeaked out a single-point win in the 45-64 age group. Romney’s real strength came from the over-65 crowd, where he clobbered Santorum by 16 points.
  • And a big religious divide: Santorum won big among evangelical voters, beating Romney by 17 points. Strikingly, though, he once again lost the Catholic vote to Romney, this time by 13 points (which may still be fallout from his comment that John F. Kennedy’s historic speech about the separation of church and state made him want to “throw up”).
  • Romney voters dislike Santorum; Santorum voters dislike Romney: 61 percent of those who said they would be “dissatisfied” with Santorum as the nominee voted for Romney, while 61 percent of those who would be “dissatisfied” with a Romney nomination voted for Santorum.
  • Santorum’s got stronger “average Joe” appeal: He beat Romney on who “best understands the problems of average Americans” by 12 points.
  • But the income divide among the poorest voters isn’t as big as you’d think: Among voters making less than $50K a year, Santorum only won by 3 points. Where Santorum cleaned up was among voters making $50-99K a year, beating Romney by 11 points. Romney, on the other hand, continued to post strong numbers among voters making more than $100K a year, winning that group by 14 points.
  • The last-minute focus on Romneycare may have given Santorum a boost: Voters who decided “in the last few days” went for Romney by five points, but those who decided on Election Day itself went for Santorum by 13 points. We wonder if there may have also been something of a Rush Limbaugh backlash at work here. 

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