The data was collected from Feb. 8 to 15 in the midst of the increasing media attention Santorum received during and prior to that time, said government professor James Henson.
“The timing of the poll was quite good for Santorum,” Henson said. “He was receiving a lot of media attention because of his success in other states and before the campaigns of his rivals started hitting back. It probably helped push those numbers up a bit.”
Despite other factors playing into the poll, Santorum’s popularity isn’t all that surprising, Henson said.
“He’s emerged as a socially conservative candidate, and those candidates tend to run very well among Texans in the Republican primary,” he said. “While there’s things about Santorum that don’t fit the Texas culture exactly right, a conservative with Santorum’s profile is going to run well.”
Mitt Romney has not had consistency in Texas thus far, but the results of the Texas primary are tough to predict from a poll taken this early, Hansen said. The date of the Texas primary is not yet set because of conflict over district lines, but it will likely take place in late May.
“If you look at the history of this race and you look at competitive primary races, any individual poll is a snapshot at a given moment,” he said. “This race has been particularly volatile and I suspect we will see some movement. There’s still a lot of water to pass under the bridge.”
College Republicans at Texas president Cassie Wright said she believes the results are subject to change.
“The atmosphere of the Republican party is an exciting one, and Santorum’s recent success in Texas polls is indicative of the general social conservatism of Texans,” Wright said. “However, as the Republican front-runner seems to change on a weekly basis, there is a good chance we will see different results in the future.”
While the results of the poll have not yet been broken down by age, Hansen said there are generally low numbers of students participating in the Republican primary electorate.
“We’ve seen some increase in interest in Republican politics on campus but we don’t have a lot to go on,” he said. “There is always a group of politically engaged college students, but by and large, the 18- to 24-year-old group has had low turnout historically.”
Undeclared freshman Meredith Englehart said she feels it’s important to vote in the primaries.
“I know elections aren’t the only way you can be politically active, but I think it’s pretty important to get your voice out there somehow,” she said.
Printed on Tuesday, February 28, 2012 as: Santorum's conservatism hooks Texas