Yesterday morning, I discovered that few pollsters have bothered with the Tennessee primary.  Real Clear Politics only lists five polls taken this year, despite Tennessee having 58 delegates at stake in a proportional primary for tomorrow’s Super Tuesday contest.  Not too long after I checked, Rasmussen published its survey for Tennessee, showing Rick Santorum with a narrow four-point lead over Mitt Romney:

Just two days before Super Tuesday, the Republican primary race in Tennessee has become a two-man competition between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.

The first Rasmussen Reports survey of Likely GOP Primary Voters in Tennessee shows Santorum attracting 34% of the vote, while Romney earns 30%. Polls from other firms have previously shown Santorum with a large lead in the state.

That trend would be consistent with Rasmussen Reports polling in other states. InOhio,  Santorum was up by 18 points two weeks ago, but the Buckeye State is now a tossup.  Nationally,  following his victories last Tuesday in the Michigan and Arizona GOP primaries, Romney has opened a 16-point lead over Santorum. Earlier, he had trailed by 12.

Actually, the RCP list shows a decidedly mixed and competitive race in Tennessee.  PPP put Santorum up by five points yesterday, while WeAskAmerica polled over a thousand likely TN voters and shows Romney up by one in a virtual tie.  However, Rasmussen is correct that earlier polls in February showed Santorum with large leads — eighteen points from a Vanderbilt poll of 815 registered (rather than likely) voters, and 21 points from a Middle Tennessee State University survey of just 196 adults.

This is another survey with some surprising results in the demographics.  Santorum has a four-point edge among both men and women in Tennessee, which negates the “gender gap” issue mentioned by the media, at least in the primaries.  The age demos are a mixed bag for Santorum.  Romney wins the youngest and oldest voters (30/25 among 18-39YOs, 34/28 among seniors) while Santorum wins middle-age voters in between, 39/28.  Santorum wins Republicans 37/29, while Romney wins independents by three, 30/27.

How will late-breaking voters decide?  Among voters who are basing their choice on matching values, Santorum wins 42/20 over Romney.  Those who prioritize beating Obama break 41/27 for Romney.  That’s close to a mirror image, but Santorum has a slight edge between those two positions.  However, beating Obama has a slight edge overall among the respondents over value matching, 48/43, which means that this is pretty much a wash.

Eric Ostermeier offers an analysis of previous contests to argue that Santorum may have an edge that polling misses:

A Smart Politics review of more than 40 polls leading up to the primaries and caucuses in 11 states thus far in the 2012 election cycle finds that Rick Santorum’s vote total has eclipsed his polling numbers by an average of +4.7 points per state – more than any other candidate.

Smart Politics examined the difference between the vote received on primary or caucus day and the average support measured by pollsters conducted within a week of the contests across the 11 states in which surveys were available: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, Nevada, Minnesota, Colorado, Missouri, Michigan, Arizona, and Washington.

Overall, Santorum received an average of +4.7 points more on the day of the primary or caucus contest than what he registered in those states’ latest surveys.

Ron Paul was the only other candidate whose average vote in the contests was higher than his average polling numbers (+1.1 points), with voting percentages for Mitt Romney nearly even with the polls (-0.6 points) and votes for Newt Gingrich -2.3 points worse than survey averages.

Unlike in Ohio, it appears that Santorum will not have a problem getting his proportional allocation of delegates despite some issues with getting enough qualified delegates in place.  A narrow win in Tennessee will still be a win, and its 58 delegates make this a contest worth watching tomorrow.