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Polls were widely off in Alabama, Mississippi

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum addresses supporters in Lafayette, Louisiana after winning the both Alabama and Mississippi primaries on Tuesday.

Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum addresses supporters in Lafayette, Louisiana after winning the both Alabama and Mississippi primaries on Tuesday.

Of nine polls conducted in Alabama this month, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum led in just one. Polls put Santorum in third place in Mississippi.

When the two states held their primaries Tuesday, Santorum won both, leading pollsters to wonder: What went wrong?

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“It appears that the intensity of support for Rick Santorum was higher than was picked up in the polls,’’ said Scott Rasmussen, president of Rasmussen Reports, which polled in both states. “I think that’s something we’re going to have to contend with going forward.’’

Polling by four organizations done the week before the Alabama primary found Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich essentially tied for first place with just over 28 percent of the vote, more than two points ahead of Santorum, according to an average compiled by Real Clear Politics. Polling by the American Research Group, which was released Monday and not included in that average, had Gingrich 10 points ahead of Santorum. There were fewer polls done in Mississippi, but none put Santorum in the lead.

One difference between Alabama and Mississippi and some of the earlier states was the lack of volume and diversity in polling. The major news organizations did not commission polls in either state. Established pollsters like Quinnipiac University and Gallup did not poll there. Much of the polling was by organizations like Rasmussen and Public Policy Polling, which use automated survey technology rather than live pollsters - a less expensive method that some pollsters say is more susceptible to error. Alabama State University had the only Alabama poll that put Santorum in the lead, on March 1. But its later poll found Santorum dropping to third.

Tom Vocino, executive director of the Center for Leadership and Public Policy at Alabama State University, which does the polling, said the polls showed a statistical dead heat all along.

“It was a matter of the candidates turning out their vote,’’ Vocino said.

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Vocino said one factor not captured in the polls was the impact of the Supreme Court chief justice race, won by Roy Moore, a conservative judge known for refusing to remove the Ten Commandments from an Alabama courthouse. Vocino said Moore and Santorum both worked to turn out evangelical voters and support for one helped the other.

David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, which did not poll in Mississippi or Alabama, said the mistaken predictions this election mirror mistakes made in 2008. That year, polls predicted that Hillary Clinton would win the Democratic primary in Alabama narrowly, but Barack Obama won in a landslide. Several wildly divergent polls on the Republican side in Alabama resulted in an average favoring John McCain, but Mike Huckabee won. Paleologos said in both years, the voters that were undercounted appeared to be younger voters more likely to use cellphones.

— Shira Schoenberg

Former governor Baldacci won’t make US Senate run

PORTLAND, Maine - Former governor John Baldacci on Wednesday became the third prominent Democrat to bow out of the high-profile race for the US Senate seat being vacated by Republican Olympia Snowe.

Baldacci joined Democratic Representatives Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud in forgoing a race that became more complicated with the entry of independent former governor Angus King, widely recognized as the front-runner in a three-way race.

Baldacci said the decision came down to family: He didn’t want to relocate his family because his wife has a job in Bangor and his son is a student at the University of Maine. He also didn’t like the idea of traveling back and forth between Washington and Maine, as he did during eight years in the US House.

Snowe’s announcement two weeks ago that she would not seek a fourth term because of partisanship and polarization in the Senate forced potential candidates to make quick decisions.

— Associated Press

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