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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Santorum’s Exaggerations

Why do politicians often exaggerate, when the truth would serve just as well?

Rick Santorum had us asking that question of ourselves again when he made several puffed-up claims on “Fox News Sunday.”

  • Arguing that a come-from-behind win is still possible in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, Santorum said Kansas had been “down almost 20 points in the first half” before beating Ohio State the night before in an NCAA Final Four basketball game. It was indeed a thrilling comeback, but the fact is the Jayhawks never trailed by more than 13.
  • Santorum said frontrunner Mitt Romney “has a 10-1 money advantage.” It’s true that Romney’s advantage is large, but not nearly that big. The Romney campaign has raised $74,053,708 to Santorum’s $15,621,893 as of figures released March 21. That’s less than a 5-1 advantage. And Romney’s financial advantage is even less pronounced when independent Super PACs are factored in. The pro-Romney “Restore Our Future” PAC reported spending $21,754,077 either attacking Santorum or supporting Romney, while the pro-Santorum “Red White & Blue Fund” reported spending $7,400,348 supporting Santorum or opposing Romney. That’s just shy of a 3-1 advantage. (At least Santorum’s latest exaggeration is an improvement from what he said a week earlier on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” where he claimed Romney had outspent him by “about 50 – 1.”)
  • And Santorum said “over 60 percent” say he should stay in the race. Actually, a recent CNN/ORC International poll showed 59 percent of Republicans said Santorum should stay in. We think Santorum could have made his point just as well by saying “nearly” 60 percent — and his statement would have had the added virtue of being accurate.

Santorum also falsely denigrated a respected Pennsylvania poll-taker as he tried to explain away his sagging standing in his home state. A recent Franklin & Marshall College Poll showed Santorum leading Romney in the state by only 2 points — 30 percent to 28 percent. That’s a severe slide from February, when he led Romney by 29 points — 45 percent to 16 percent.

Santorum responded by calling the nonpartisan poll’s director, G. Terry Madonna, a “Democratic hack” who “draws numbers out of a hat.”

Santorum, April 1: Well, first up, the Democratic hack that does that, Terry Madonna, has probably and singularly gotten more polls wrong than any person I know in the history of the state. They are other polls that are out this week that have us up 20 and I think the other is 17. This is — this pollster, he just — I think he just draws numbers out of a hat sometimes.

Actually, Madonna is a respected pollster and political science professor who told us he has never done any polling for any political party. It’s true his roots are in the Democratic Party: Madonna was appointed by the court in 1971 to serve out the remaining term of a Lancaster County commissioner who died, and he ran a year later for the state Legislature as a Democrat. In an interview, Madonna told us he remained active in the party for four or five more years — but hasn’t been active in the party since the late 1970s.

“I’ve never done a party poll. I’ve never done a candidate poll,” Madonna said. “No polling, no campaign contributions. No active work in the Democratic Party after the 1970s.”

He began teaching political science at Millersville in 1967 and joined Franklin & Marshall in 2004. His independent polls — which he started in 1992 as the Keystone Poll while at Millersville — have been done in partnership with most of the state’s major media outlets.

In fact, Madonna’s polls have accurately predicted the outcome in all three of Santorum’s Senate races — including his 1994 upset over incumbent Sen. Harris Wofford:

  • 2006: The Keystone Poll, as it was known then, showed Bob Casey Jr., defeating Santorum 53 percent to 38 percent, with 9 percent undecided. That was in late October. Casey’s 15-percentage point lead held up and so did Madonna’s poll. Casey won 59-41, an 18-point margin of victory.
  • 2000: The Keystone Poll had Santorum beating then-Rep. Ron Klink 48-27, with 25 percent of voters undecided, in the October poll. Santorum won, but not by such a wide margin. He beat Klink 52-46. So, if anything, Madonna’s poll overestimated Santorum’s strength, although the high number of undecided voters were undoubtedly a factor. That’s because Klink, a House member from the Pittsburgh area, was unknown to most in the state.
  • 1994: The Philadelphia Daily News, one of the sponsors of the Keystone Poll, reported that the final Keystone Poll taken in late October showed Santorum up by 10 percentage points, 42-32, with 23 percent of those polled undecided. Santorum went on to win, but barely. He won 49-47, with the rest of the vote being split among third-party candidates.

Madonna also tweeted that his poll in 2010 correctly predicted Republican victories in several Pennsylvania races. He wrote: “F&M Pa polls in 2010 had R’s leading in the 4CD races polled in, the governor and US senate races. They all won- some Democratic hack.”

“If I’m a ‘Democratic hack’ why did I have him winning two elections? Why did I have [Gov. Tom Corbett] and [Sen. Pat Toomey] winning in 2010?” Madonna told us. “I want to know what evidence he has that I’m a party hack.”

— Brooks Jackson and Eugene Kiely