Vanderbilt poll shows Santorum with 2-1 lead over Romney in Tennessee

Authored By James Harrison

With Super Tuesday rapidly approaching, a new poll of Tennessee voters reveals presidential candidate Rick Santorum leading his Republican rival Mitt Romney by a margin of nearly 2-1.

But whether the poll shows Santorum, who campaigned in Chattanooga Saturday, as the current Republican “flavor of the month” or a candidate with staying power remains to be seen. 

The poll, conducted by Vanderbilt University’s Center for Democratic Institutions between Feb. 16 and Feb. 22, shows that 33 percent of “registered and likely” voters say they supported Santorum, placing the former Pennsylvania senator far ahead of Romney, who garnered 17 percent. A total of 1,508 voters were surveyed for the poll, which has a 2.8 percent margin of error. 

Behind Romney, Rep. Ron Paul came in third with 13 percent. Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is scheduled to make campaign stops in both Chattanooga and Dalton Tuesday, came in fourth with 10 percent. 

But respondents who said they didn’t plan to vote for any of the GOP candidates, had not yet decided or declined to respond accounted for the remaining 27 percent, indicating that the share of voters who have not yet made up their minds rivals those throwing their support behind Santorum. 

Dr. John Geer, distinguished professor and co-chair of the Vanderbilt poll, described the survey’s results as a “snapshot of a particular point” in a race that still had plenty of time to play out.

“The race is still pretty fluid at this point,” Geer said. “You wouldn’t want to put a lot of money on the race being in the same condition. Things could change pretty dramatically. People still don’t know a lot about Santorum, and with primaries coming up in Michigan and Arizona on Tuesday, Romney could get a boost if he wins.”

Geer mentioned the last time his group conducted a poll of Tennessee voters, Herman Cain was chosen as the favorite among Republican candidates, who Tennesseans wanted to challenge President Barack Obama. 

“He was ahead in that point in time, but the election wasn’t being held that day,” he said. “Who knows what November will bring?”

Regardless, Santorum led candidates in the categories of those confirming themselves as Tea Party members, supporters of Tea Party ideas, born-again Christians, males, females and voters younger than 45. Of voters who said they had already taken advantage of early voting, Santorum led Romney by 22 percentage points.

According to Nashville news radio station WPLN, Santorum plans to return to Tennessee Wednesday for a fundraiser in Nashville. 

Tennessee joins nine other states, including Georgia, when it holds its presidential primary on Super Tuesday, March 6.