The explosive electoral phenomenon of former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum's campaign for the Republican presidential nomination is, as usual, the object of fascination by those not a part of it. It's a shock-horror fascination, to be sure, but something to behold nonetheless. As usual, many pundits have allowed their awe to cloud their capacity for rational judgment, drawing inaccurate conclusions about the causes and implications of Santorum's popularity.
Finding out exactly why the former senator (forcibly retired with a nearly twenty point margin by his constituency ) is such a draw for so many, one must understand his fans. A look at the electoral map of any recent primary, from Michigan's to Mississippi's, reveals that Santorum's base of support lies in sparsely populated areas. So far, he has lost most of the urban and suburban precincts, and this trend seems unlikely to change.
Thus we arrive at the real question of Santorum's success, what is the common sociological thread running through the rural areas that works so well for him? An objective look at the residents of these areas spotlights their poverty and lack of formal education. Perversely, Santorum routinely sneers at the value of education; and just one day before the Illinois primary, announced that he did not care about America's unemployment rate. Despite these stunningly arrogant, if not ignorant, statements, legions of supporters continue to crawl out of the woodwork to lend their support. Don't they understand that he quite literally does not have their best interests at heart?
It is this contradiction that drives the pundits into flights of hyperbole and smugness. The careful observer, however, will note the all-important outlook from which his or her answer can be found. In pro-Santorum areas, fundamentalist Protestantism, and to some length Catholicism, reign predominant. Santorum has based his entire run around his hardline interpretations of Catholicism. His rhetoric revolves around the themes of banning pornography, but also ventures into the boldness of bridging the separation of church and state. In short, he strategically raises highly emotional issues for voters who rarely hear these, and they are now repaying him in full.
Of course, this is political insanity in its textbook form. Polls have shown, however, that Santorum voters simply do not care. They support him strongly, despite admitting he is not as likely as his leading opponent to defeat the incumbent. Electability is not too important to them. Why? Because they do not identify with the contemporary mainstream of American society. As most live in rural communities, they have the unique ability to be isolated from the melting pots of the suburbs and salad bowls of the cities. In desolate locales, the post-1960s cultural shift that has washed over urban and suburban America has not been accepted.