The More Conservatives Know, The More They Like Santorum

fdu_public_mind_pollMADISON, NJ - Knowledge of current events has a dramatic relation to which candidate Republican voters support for the 2012 presidential nomination, according to the latest results from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind Poll.  In the national survey, Republicans answered a series of questions about current events. The results show that current front-runner Rick Santorum is the biggest beneficiary of increased knowledge among conservative Republicans, and Santorum takes a big lead among conservatives paying the most attention to current events.

“Conservatives who are paying attention to current events are pleased with Santorum,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and an analyst for the PublicMind Poll. “The opposite happens with Ron Paul.  The more conservatives pay attention, the less they like what they hear from him.”

Among those Republicans who identify themselves as conservative, more knowledge of current events leads to dramatically reduced support for Ron Paul, and vastly increased support for Rick Santorum.  Support for Romney and Gingrich remains relatively stable as voters move up on the knowledge scale. Santorum’s margin comes from voters who might otherwise support Paul, or who are otherwise unsure of whom to support.

“This is important because of the inability of Mitt Romney to garner the support of a majority of Republican voters,” said Cassino.  The same poll found Republican support divided among Mitt Romney (33%), Rick Santorum (33%), Newt Gingrich (15%), and Ron Paul (7%).  “Santorum is tapping into those voters who are the most attentive but can’t buy into Paul.”

Conservative Republicans who were unable to answer any questions correctly and thus rank low on the knowledge scale have a 31% chance of supporting Romney, a 16% chance of supporting Paul, and a 19% chance of supporting Santorum.

But for conservatives who score highest on the scale of current events knowledge, Santorum’s support nearly triples to 51%, Romney’s falls to 26%, and Paul’s craters, with support from just 1% of self-described conservatives.

The story is very different for Republicans who identify as moderates. Moderate Republicans with higher levels of political knowledge gravitate to Romney, and away from Santorum.  So, moderate Republicans who know the least about current events have a 31% chance of supporting Romney, a 9% chance of supporting Paul, and a 25% chance of supporting Santorum.  But at the highest levels of political knowledge, Romney’s support increases to 51%, while Santorum’s decreases to 16%.  Degree of knowledge has no effect on support for Paul and Gingrich.

“In the context of a general election, these results would be good for Romney: everyone wants to appeal to moderates,” said Cassino. “But this isn’t a general election yet, and there may not be enough moderates in the Republican primary electorate to get him through.”

Not surprisingly, political knowledge has almost no impact on the general election vote choices of conservatives or liberals: in both cases, more knowledge makes ideological voters even more likely to support their party’s candidate.

However, among moderate voters, the effect of knowledge is significant.  Moderate independents with high levels of political knowledge are 16 points more likely to always support Obama in the general election than those with low political knowledge. An analysis shows that 58% of moderate Republicans support the Republican candidate in any match-up with Obama when they have average levels of knowledge, but among those with high levels of knowledge that figure falls to 35% who favor the Republican nominee in any match-up.

“Moderate Republicans should generally be more loyal than this,” said Cassino. “It suggests that some Republican Party voters have been turned off by the primary.  Regardless of who is the eventual nominee, getting these moderates back into the fold will be job one.”

On average, Republicans (and independent voters who lean Republican) were able to answer 3.4 of the 8 questions correctly, no better or worse than voters on the whole. Romney and Santorum supporters were about equally informed, with supporters of both candidates getting about 4 questions correct, on average, and Paul supporters were the least knowledgeable among those with candidate preferences, on average answering only about 3.2 questions correctly.

“As always, the lack of knowledge among voters is a little frightening,” said Cassino. “We can only hope that people start to pay more attention to what’s going on as the election gets closer.”

The FDU poll of 903 registered voters nationwide was conducted by landlines and cell phones from Feb. 6 through Feb. 12, 2012, and has a margin of error of +/-3.3 percentage points. Republican preferences are based on an oversample including 578 Republicans and voters who lean Republican, and has a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points. The effects of the political knowledge scale on vote choice were calculated using multinomial logistic regression, a technique that allows researchers to isolate the impact of one variable on a decision. The results described control for the effects of partisanship, age, education and gender, all factors, which commonly predict vote choice.