The Louisiana Exit Polls contain some interesting tidbits that suggest something very unusual happened in the state. While the last three polls showed Santorum by an average of 13 points, he won by 22.5%. Of course, there could be many explanations for this, but the exit poll numbers included a couple of very odd numbers:
- Santorum defeated Romney40-23% among moderates and liberals. This is very unusual, even for Southern States. Romney won moderates and liberals by 10 in both Alabama and Mississippi.
- For 23% of Louisiana voters, the most important candidate attribute they were looking for was someone with a strong moral character. In most states, Romney at least finishes second to Santorum and in Florida he won these voters by a 46-8% margin over Gingrich accounting for 1/2 of his margin over Newt Gingrich. However, in Louisiana, he finished dead last with only 6% of these voters behind Newt Gingrich (13%). While some many say the lack of moral character voters is reflective of concerns about Romney’s religion, Romney has performed better among these voters in other Southern States: He received 22% of these voters in Mississippi and 21% of Alabama, he even beat Gingrich among these voters in Georgia 19-13% and these states had a far higher Evangelical turnout. However,in Louisiana, he loses to Gingrich 13-6%.
The low support from moral character voters and losing moderates and liberals is troubling for Romne. Is there an explanation? One potential explanation is the Etch a Sketch vote. Exit pollers asked Louisianan’s whether the Etch a Sketch comments was a factor in their vote. Only 20% said it was an important factor or the most important factor in their vote. Among those who didn’t think it was an important factor, Santorum won by a margin that was closely in line with the polling: 44%-30% with Gingrich at 17%. Among those who said it was an important factor, Santorum beat Romney by a 59-17% margin. The 42 point margin adds up to 8.4% of the vote which would explain the chasm between the polling and the final result. It also explain why Romney lost supports among groups favorably disposed to him including Moderates/Liberals.
The Etch a Sketch comments undermined voters belief in Romney’s Character. No matter how charitable or devoted you are to family and community, if you’re not willing to stand firm for something, it doesn’t speak well of your character. Even many moderates will struggle to respect someone who can “reset” everything like an Etch a Sketch.
The etch a sketch vote will not get a lot of notice because Romney lost in a landslide. It’s like the proverbial leaf lost in a forest that G.K. Chesterton wrote about in, “The Sign of the Broken Sword.” But in Louisiana, at least, it did have a big impact, that was simply missed by pollsters. The question is whether it will continue to impact future contests, particularly in Wisconsin where voters haven’t been paying much attention to the race until right now. For Santorum’s part, he hopes so. He’s broght the Etch a Sketch to his early Wisconsin campaign stops.