Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum (37 percent) leads former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (33 percent) by a narrow margin, according to a Suffolk University poll of likely Republican Primary voters in Ohio. Newt Gingrich (16 percent) was a distant third, and Ron Paul struggled (8 percent) in single digits with 6 percent undecided. The race is too close to call, as the top two candidates are within the statistical margin of error.
“The magic number in Ohio tomorrow night is thirty-nine,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston. “The candidate who gets to thirty-nine percent will win the state in what could be a rather late night of election returns. It’s now down to which candidate gets his supporters out to the polls.”
Santorum led 44 percent to Romney’s 27 percent among those who already have cast ballots, but among those who have yet to vote, Santorum’s margin was only 3 points, 36 percent to 33 percent.
Thirty-three percent of likely voters said that Santorum hews closer to their political beliefs than the other three GOP candidates. Gingrich was seen as having similar beliefs to their own by 22 percent; Romney by 19 percent; and Ron Paul by 10 percent.
On the flip side, Romney was seen as the candidate who has the best chance of defeating President Barack Obama by 44 percent of respondents, while 18 percent chose Santorum; 15 percent, Gingrich; and 2 percent, Ron Paul.
“The Ohio GOP Primary narrative symbolizes the political tug of war that is playing out across the country right now,” said Paleologos. “Republican voters are pondering whether to select the candidate who shares their political beliefs or the candidate with the best chance of beating Barack Obama.”
Thirty-five percent of voters said that Mitt Romney ran the most negative campaign in Ohio, followed by Gingrich (16 percent), Santorum (11 percent), and Paul (5 percent). A third of voters were undecided on the question.
Likely voters were split on their satisfaction with the GOP race as it has developed thus far. Fifty percent said they were not satisfied with the Republican candidates running for the nomination, while 46 percent said they are satisfied. And 47 percent said they would like to see a new Republican candidate enter the race, while 48 percent said they would not.
A majority (57 percent) said they thought Ron Paul should drop out of the race, while 52 percent said that Newt Gingrich should stay in.
Likely voters showed a preference for a vice presidential choice of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida over Ohio Gov. John Kasich when presented with 10 possible VP choices. Rubio (23 percent) was followed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (16 percent), Kasich (13 percent), U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and U.S Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin (6 percent each), former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (5 percent), Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (3 percent each), and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (1 percent each).
Some 5 percent of likely Republican voters said they would vote for Obama against Santorum if he were the GOP nominee in November, while 10 percent said they would opt for a third-party candidate, 6 percent were undecided between Obama and Santorum, and 79 percent would automatically vote the Republican ticket.
If Romney were the nominee, 3 percent would defect to Obama, 7 percent would vote for a third-party candidate, and 6 percent were undecided, while 84 percent would back the GOP ticket.
The statewide survey of 500 likely Ohio Republican Primary voters was conducted March 3-4, 2012, using live telephone interviews of landline and cell phone users. All respondents indicated that they were “very likely” to vote in Tuesday’s Republican Primary or had “already voted.” The margin of error is +/-4.4 percent at a 95 percent level of confidence. Marginals and full cross-tabulation data will be posted at noon on Monday, March 5, 2012, on the Suffolk University Political Research Center Web site. For more information, contact David Paleologos at 781-290-9310.