If momentum in presidential politics is something that builds on itself, then Rick Santorum's last-minute surge to finish in a virtual tie for first with Mitt Romney in Tuesday's Iowa caucuses benefited from the narrative in the news media.
The subject of momentum, indeed, was the biggest component of the coverage in the last two weeks before Iowa citizens voted, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. More than a quarter of all the coverage across the country (27%) was focused on polls, strategy and momentum-much of it about dark horse Santorum dramatically gaining ground in the waning days of the Iowa campaign, even though few late polls showed Santorum actually ahead.
"Santorum is surging. A CNN poll of registered Iowa Republicans released Wednesday puts Santorum in third place with 16 percent of the vote-his highest share yet," said the Weekly Standard magazine on December 29. The December 29 Des Moines Register declared that "Signs that Rick Santorum is suddenly a contender in the race for the Republican nomination for president were all over Iowa on Thursday."
A final average of Iowa polls going into the voting had shown Romney with a razor thin lead over Paul and Santorum a highly competitive third.
Read the report, The Santorum Surge Story Comes True, on the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.