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Ohio Marist Poll: Santorum's Ahead, but 70% Say Romney's the Nominee

The NBC News/Marist poll for Ohio was released this morning, illustrating just how muddled the GOP race really is. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum holds a 2-point lead to Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, 34% to 32%. However, 70% of Ohio primary voters think Romney will be the nominee -- and only 13% say the same for Santorum.


In evaluating the support for each candidate, the poll finds some fairly predictable ideological trends: more conservative, Tea Party voters lean toward Santorum, while more liberal voters favor Romney. However, when the objective is to defeat President Obama, voters favor Romney over Santorum.

  • Among early voters, Romney receives 39% to 35% for Santorum.
  • Santorum does the best among likely Republican primary voters who are very conservative — 51% — those who are Evangelical Christians — 44% — and among Tea Party supporters — 41%.
  • Santorum — 53% — also does well among values voters.
  • Among Republicans, Santorum has 36% to 33% for Romney.  Independent voters divide with 31% for Santorum and 30% for Romney.
  • Romney — 37% — does better among likely Republican primary voters who are liberal or moderate compared with 20% for Santorum.  Among likely Republican primary voters in Ohio who are not Tea Party supporters, Romney leads Santorum 36% to 27%.
  • Romney also has the advantage among those who want a candidate who can defeat President Obama — 45%.  Among those who emphasize experience, 40% are for Romney.
  • Likely Republican primary voters who want a candidate who is closest to them on the issues divide.  Here, Santorum and Romney each has 29%, Paul follows with 24%, and Gingrich has 12%.

However, as noted, 70% of Ohio voters believe Romney will be the nominee, regardless of who they plan to vote for in their own primary. To that end, electability edges out ideology as the most important candidate quality by one point, and the majority of Ohio voters also believe that Romney has the best chance of defeating the president this fall.

29% of likely Republican primary voters in Ohio say electability is the most important quality in a candidate, and 28% emphasize shared values.  25% believe someone who has the same positions on the issues is the priority while experience is the most important quality to 16%.  Two percent are unsure.


  • Nearly six in ten likely Republican primary voters in Ohio — 57% — say it’s more important to have a nominee who can defeat the president in the general election while 36% report a candidate who is a true conservative is more important.  Seven percent are unsure.
  • Romney is the candidate that 53% of likely Republican primary voters in Ohio think has the best chance of defeating President Obama in the general election.  Here, Santorum receives 18%.
  • When it comes to the true conservative in the race, 35% give that title to Santorum compared with 11% for Romney.
  • 31% think Santorum is the candidate who best understands voters’ problems compared with a virtual three-way tie among the other candidates.  Paul receives 19% while Romney and Gingrich each garner 18%.

Last, but certainly not least, it's worth noting that all four Republican contenders fare poorly when matched up with President Obama. And the candidate who's closest? Ron Paul:


  • Obama leads Paul, 48% to 38%.  13% are undecided.
  • 50% support Obama compared with 38% for Romney.  12% are undecided.
  • 50% of registered voters back Obama compared with 36% for Santorum.  14% are undecided.
  • Obama — 51% — leads Gingrich – 36%.  13% are undecided.

51% of voters report satisfaction with the Republican field, but they don't seem to have settled on a nominee yet. Furthermore, none of them seem to excite enough passion to top the president at this point in time. Tuesday will be close, and many are saying that the race will be locked up for Romney if he pulls of a win there. Will Santorum strike the right chord and garner more support in the last days before voting? Or does Romney have the momentum heading into this messy race?

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