Southern stumbles aside, Mitt Romney bests Santorum in new national poll

A Pew Research poll released Wednesday has some good news and some bad news for Mitt Romney, the day after his third-place finishes in the Alabama and Mississippi primaries. 

By , Staff writer

A national poll of voters released Wednesday offers mixed news for Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney after his third-place finish Tuesday in Southern primaries in Alabama and Mississippi.

“The headline is that Romney regained his lead over [GOP challenger Rick] Santorum 33 to 24 percent” among Republican and Republican-leaning voters, says Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center. Last month, the two GOP candidates were split fairly evenly in the GOP presidential race, Mr. Kohut said, at “28 percent Romney, 30 percent Santorum.” 

While Mr. Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, is “back on top in this particular national poll,” he “now trails [President] Obama by an ever larger margin” in a theoretical matchup, Kohut said at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters. 

Recommended: How much do you know about Mitt Romney? A quiz.

In a head-to-head matchup, Mr. Obama topped Romney by 54 to 42 percent, the Pew survey showed. The president has an even bigger lead over Mr. Santorum, a former US senator from Pennsylvania, outpacing him 57 to 39 percent.

The nonpartisan research organization found what Kohut called “a cavernous gender gap in the horse-race poll…. Obama leads Romney by 20 points among female voters. And he leads Santorum by 26 points among female voters.”

Women's views of the parties did not shift significantly between February and March, when a controversy erupted over how contraception would be treated under Obama's health-care reform law, said Michael Dimock, Pew’s associate director of research.

For the moment, Democratic voters express more confidence that Obama will win reelection in November than Republicans do that their candidate will prevail, says Kohut.

“More than 80 percent of Democrats anticipate a victory for Obama regardless of [Republican] candidate," he said. "But Republicans have mixed views.  Just 60 percent of Republicans think that Romney will beat Obama, and only 46 percent think that Santorum will beat Obama.”

The survey, based on telephone interviews conducted March 7-11, has an overall margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. 

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