Polling the South: a cautionary tale

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
Font Size:

Perhaps Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum were right when they insisted that polls don’t matter.

For those who live and die by poll numbers, Tuesday night’s Republican primaries in Mississippi and Alabama were a cautionary tale: not only were the polls conducted days ahead of the contests wrong, so too were the exit polls.

In Mississippi, a Public Policy Poll conducted over the weekend showed a tight race, with Gingrich leading at 33 percent, Romney in second place at 31 percent and Santorum in third at 27 percent. A Rasmussen poll from a few days prior had Romney leading the field by 8 points.

When early exit polls from the Magnolia State started coming out, they validated the Rasmussen poll: Romney was going to win. Some, like RedState’s Erick Erickson, had already written their wrap-ups of the race — that Romney had won the South, and the race was over.

But as the late exit polls came in, it became clear that was not the case. When the dust settled, Santorum was the leader with 32.9 percent of the vote. Newt Gingrich was in second place at 31.3 percent, and Mitt Romney was 3,000 votes behind him, with 30.3 percent of the vote.

In Alabama, a poll from Public Policy Polling also showed Romney leading the field over the weekend. In that state too, he finished in third place on Tuesday. The poll had Romney at 31 percent, Gingrich at 30 percent and Santorum at 29 percent.

The final result in Alabama was a win by Santorum with 34.5 percent, and Gingrich narrowly edging out Romney for second place with 29.3 percent to Romney’s 29 percent.

The results should give Gingrich and Santorum a sense of vindication. In this case, it turns out, they were right.

Follow Alexis on Twitter