Rick Santorum's Hope: That the 2012 Wisconsin Polls Are As Bad As They Usually Are

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 30 2012 10:42 AM

Rick Santorum's Hope: That the 2012 Wisconsin Polls Are As Bad As They Usually Are

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LA CROSSE, WI - MARCH 28: Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum bowls a few frames during a campaign stop at South Lanes Bowling and Pizza on March 28, 2012 in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Wisconsin residents will go to the polls on April 3 to vote for their choice for the Republican presidential nominee. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

The Hill claims that Mitt Romney has opened a "solid lead" over Rick Santorum in Wisconsin; the NBC-Marist poll has Romney at 40, Santorum at 33. It's the latest Wisconsin poll to show Santorum losing his advantage in the state even as Newt Gingrich collapses into a heap of adverbs and "$2.50 gas" tweets. But is it a solid lead? Wisconsin's not really fair about this sort of thing.

In 2004, five polls were conducted before the Wisconsin primary. Four of them put Edwards below 20 percent. Edwards actually won 34 percent, nearly defeating John Kerry. (A fluke for poll junkies: Zogby was the one who got closest to the actual result.)

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Then came the Clinton-Obama contest, which looked nothing like that. Hillary Clinton had lost Super Tuesday on delegates, and was struggling to survive a month of unfriendly primaries. (She would eventually bounce back in Ohio and Texas.) Wisconsin looked like the best possible place for her to cut Barack Obama's advantage. Most polling showed a single-digit race; the best Obama result, from Public Policy Polling, gave him a 13-point lead. She campaigned there; he campaigned there. On election day Obama won by 17 points, sweeping every congressional district and 62 of 72 counties.

Rick Santorum can hope that the polls are off, and that independent voters will come out for him like they once came out for Edwards. I use the word "hope" for a reason. Wisconsin's also got fewer evangelical voters than any Midwestern state that's voted so far. The easiest way of predicting whether Romney will win a state is checking whether evangelicals make up a majority of the vote.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.