On Rick Santorum's decision to suspend his campaign, a few pertinent points from our polling:
Santorum's move reflects his diving poll numbers within the GOP. In our latest ABC/Post poll, out this morning, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents preferred Mitt Romney over Santorum for the nomination by 42-22 percent. That 20-point gap in Romney's favor had widened from a mere 2 points, 31-29 percent, a month ago.
Half of Santorum's supporters go to Romney. Our poll had it 42-22-17-10, Romney-Santorum-Paul-Gingrich. When we reallocate using Santorum's voters' second choice, Romney gains 11 points, Gingrich 7, Paul just 3. New standings: Romney 53 percent, Paul 20, Gingrich 17.
In the primaries, Santorum never could effectively break out of his very conservative, highly religious base. Four examples:
Across all primaries for which we have exit poll data, among evangelicals, 52 percent of the electorate, Santorum beat Romney by a scant 3 points. But among non-evangelicals Romney beat Santorum by 29.
Santorum came within 6 points of Romney among very conservative voters, about a third of the electorate. But Santorum lost the other two-thirds to Romney - somewhat conservatives, moderates, the few liberals - by a far wider 22 points.
Among voters who were focused "a great deal" on a candidate who shares their religious beliefs, Santorum beat Romney by 26 points. But among all others - 70 percent of GOP voters overall - Romney beat Santorum by 17.
Among voters who said abortion should be illegal in all cases, Santorum beat Romney by 13 points. Among all others, though, Romney finished ahead of Santorum by 18 points - and, again, they were the far larger share, accounting for 76 percent of GOP primary voters.
For all this, back to our latest ABC/Post poll, while leaned Republicans preferred Romney over Santorum by a vast 36 points to handle the economy, they divided essentially evenly on which of the two would best handle social issues such as gay marriage and abortion - Santorum, 29 percent, Romney 27. That marks the ideological shortfall that's troubled Romney all year - but also underscores that, for Santorum, strongly conservative credentials never were quite enough.