Santorum Gets Thumped in Michigan

Today, Mitt Romney easily defeated the other candidates to win the 2012 GOP primaries in Michigan and Arizona. The key primary was Michigan, since it is one of Romney’s many home states, and since it was supposed to be close. With 99.9% of the vote reported, Romney won with 41.1%, Rick Santorum came in second with 37.9%, Ron Paul came in third with 11.6%, and Newt Gingrich took up the rear with 6.5%.

Here are some takeaways from the primary.

First, Romney received more than 70,000 more votes than he did in 2008 (409,719 versus 338,316), and also finished with a higher percentage of the vote than in 2008 (41.1 versus 38.9%). This puts him in an excellent position for Super Tuesday, next week.

Second, with 378,124 votes, Santorum easily bested Romney’s 2008 vote total, and came within a hair of besting Romney’s 2008 percentage. The vote was more evenly split in 2008 among the three main candidates, keeping Romney’s margin of victory low that year. However, if the results in Michigan in 2012 are of any indication, effectively it is now a two-man race. Santorum may have been thumped in this primary, but Gingrich was nearly a non-entity.

Third, even with Gingrich being nearly a non-entity, he still pulled enough of a vote from Santorum that he kept Santorum from winning. If Gingrich had dropped out of the race, this was a primary that Santorum could have won. He just needed some of those extra 65,000 votes. If Super Tuesday shapes up the same way (and it looks like it just might), then Gingrich will pull just enough votes from Santorum to make Romney’s victory inevitable.

There was and will be a lot of discussion as to how much the spoiler vote helped Santorum in Michigan. For, if Santorum’s vote came from liberal Democrats wanting to spoil the race, then Super Tuesday will not even be close and Romney could be said to have something of a mandate. On the other hand, if Santorum’s vote came from conservative Republicans, then it is clear that most Republicans still have not accepted Romney as their nominee, which spells trouble for his campaign.

To divine the truth, we need to look at the exit polls. According to CNN, 9% of the people who voted in the Michigan primary considered themselves Democrats. Of these, 53% voted for Santorum, 18% for Romney, 17% for Paul, and 3% for Gingrich. On the surface, this looks fairly damning. There are other questions we need to ask, however, before drawing conclusions from this.

For example, how much of each candidate’s vote came from Democrats rather than Republicans? Here, the data is still damning, but less conclusive. Though the votes are still being tabulated, it appears that about 977,000 people voted in this primary, of which 87,000 were Democrats. If 53% of these people voted for Santorum, then he received 46,110 votes from Democrats, or 12.2% of his total vote. Calculated this same way, 3.8% of Romney’s voters were Democrats, 12.7% of Paul’s voters were Democrats, and 4% of Gingrich’s voters were Democrats. Subtracting the Democratic vote, this is how the candidates stacked up: Romney 44%, Santorum 37%, Paul 11%, and Gingrich 7%. Romney thus gains 3 points and Santorum loses 1 point, if Democrat votes are subtracted. The Democrat votes certainly did make a difference, but not as much of a difference as the numbers at first seemed to indicate.

Santorum himself says that he is after blue-collar Democrat voters. And indeed, as a strategy for the general election there is some merit to this. However, there is no way to measure directly how much of Santorum’s Democrat support came from blue-collar voters in Michigan. At the same time, blue-collar Democrats tend to be poorer and less educated than most Democrats, and indeed, exit polls showed that Santorum led in voters making less than $100,000 a year, and that Santorum led among those who had never attended college. Santorum also received the union vote.

In addition, blue-collar voters tend to be more socially conservative than typical Democrats and subscribers to the Daily Kos, which was the sponsor of the effort to spoil the vote by having Democrats vote in the primary. Mitt Romney received 39% of the liberal or moderate vote, while Rick Santorum received 33% of the liberal or moderate vote. On the other hand, 50% of those who consider themselves strongly conservative voted for Rick Santorum, while only 36% of those who consider themselves strongly conservative voted for Mitt Romney.

In summary, while Democrat voters did play a part in this primary, Rick Santorum can claim with some justification that these were for the most part blue-collar voters who might be willing to support him in the general election.

The most startling statistic, by far, and the one which shows that Santorum may still have some life in his candidacy, is the breakdown on the issue of abortion. 43% of voters who thought that abortion should always be legal voted for Mitt Romney, while 60% of those who thought that abortion should always be illegal voted for Rick Santorum.

Finally, voters who have decided recently who they were going to vote for overwhelmingly voted for Santorum, while those who decided last year or in January voted for Romney. To show why this is important, consider that, of those who though the most important quality in a candidate was the ability to beat Obama, 61% voted for Romney and 24% voted for Santorum. The main issue is thus, still, electability. Santorum has made up much ground on this point recently, but is still far behind Romney on this front. Meanwhile, Romney has a large reservoir of voters who are locked into the idea that he is the only viable candidate to defeat Obama.

Can Santorum pull out a surprise on Super Tuesday? It is possible, but unlikely. He will have to return to being the disciplined, focused candidate that he was several weeks ago, and hope that Romney somehow begins to falter.

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2 Responses to Santorum Gets Thumped in Michigan

  1. I have given up and Paul and now I have no horse in this race. If I could vote for a plan instead of a man, I would vote the Gingrich plan. It is, in my opinion, the best of the lot by far.

    • John Scotus says:

      It has been a disappointing season, as none of the GOP candidates have showered themselves with glory. For me, however, the fight for life is a fight worth making, and Santorum, for all his faults, is willing to make this fight while the others aren’t. This is why I support him.

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