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Behind the Numbers
Posted at 09:51 PM ET, 02/28/2012

‘Electability’ fuels Romney’s victory, Religion and Democrats for Rick Santorum in Michigan

Mitt Romney eked out a victory in Michigan Tuesday, beating back a stiff challenge from Rick Santorum by scoring big wins among voters looking for “experience” and those prioritizing electability.

Santorum made it close, boosted by strong backing from social and religious conservatives, and also from Democrats perhaps aiming to cause some mischief in the topsy-turvey Republican campaign.

To some extent, the outcome of this contest was determined before Tuesday: Nearly half of all voters said they made their minds up in January or even earlier, with Romney beating Santorum by 2 to 1 among these voters.

You can find the latest vote and exit poll results from Michigan and Arizona on the Post’s Primary Tracker.

Why Romney?

Electability - He did best again among voters who want a candidate who can beat President Obama, although this is less important than in some of the other early states. He more than doubled his vote margin over Santorum for these voters. By 2 to 1, voters think Romney has the best chance among Republican candidates to beat Obama in November. Fewer than one in 10 picked Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul as the most electable.

Republican base - He beat Santorum among self-identified Republicans, ran more evenly among independents and was beaten soundly by Santorum among Democrats. Although Republican turnout is off a bit, Republicans are still the larger bulk of voters in the state.

Somewhat conservative - Romney did well among voters who are “somewhat conservative,” comprising about three in 10 voters and equalling the number who are very conservative. Romney won somewhat conservative voters by a bigger margin (50-32) than Santorum won very conservative voters (36-50). Romney also did well among voters who don’t identify strongly with the tea party one way or another. Combining those who are neutral, somewhat support or somewhat oppose the movement (about 60 percent of voters), they went to Romney 46 to 33 percent over Santorum.

Little weakness with working class - Despite Santorum’s efforts to court working-class voters, Romney nearly tied him among voters without college degrees (37 to 39 percent) as well as those with household incomes under $50,000 (36 to 41 percent). Romney won voters earning $100,000 or more by a 14-point margin.

Strength of support - About half of Romney supporters in Michigan say they opted for him because they strongly back his candidacy, while fewer than four in 10 of Santorum’s supporters said the same about their chosen candidate.

The role of religion - Santorum, a staunch Catholic, did 14 points better among evangelical Christians than among Catholics (two groups that can overlap). He lost Catholics to Romney by a 44 to 37 percent margin. But he beat Romney more comfortably, 51-33, among evangelicals, who are more numerous in the state. Evangelicals played a smaller role than they did in Iowa, where they accounted for nearly six in 10 caucus-goers, fueling Santorum’s strong performance.

Romney beat Santorum by 28 points among those who say it’s not so important for a candidate to share their religion.

Why Santorum?

Santorum beat Romney by double digits among “very conservative” voters, who have boosted their share of the electorate since 2008 and have been a trouble spot for Romney all year. Santorum also beat Romney comfortably among evangelical Christians and strong tea party supporters.

Democratic turnout was up slightly from 2008 and Democrats backed Santorum over Romney by a 3 to 1 margin. Santorum was the favorite of both strong tea party supporters as well as strong tea party opponents, evidence that some in the latter group were voting strategically to prolong the Republican race.

About a third of voters said beating Obama was the most important attribute - fewer than in previous states - muting a key Romney calling card. It was still the top candidate attribute, but about a quarter said they were looking for someone with “strong moral character,” a group Santorum won by an overwhelming margin.

Santorum also benefitted from the nearly one in seven voters who said abortion was their top voting issue, among the most of any contest this cycle. He won more than three quarters of their votes, compared 13 percent for Romney.

Evidence of Democratic dirty tricks

Just 17 percent of independents and Democrats who voted for Santorum said they “strongly favor” him, while 45 percent said they disliked the other candidates. By comparison, 48 percent of Santorum’s Republican supporters say they strongly support him.

Here are some other clues, with results among Democrats who voted in Michigan:

- 53 percent voted for Santorum

- 93 percent are moderate to liberal, 55 percent are liberal (vs. 15 for independents and 5 for Reps)

- 74 percent are NOT born again

- 69 percent are neither born again or tea party supporters

- 55 percent strongly oppose tea party

These are preliminary results from a Republican poll of 2,200 voters as they exited primary voting places in Michigan on Feb. 28, 2012. The poll was conducted by Edison Media Research for the National Election Pool, The Washington Post and other media organizations. Typical characteristics have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points. The margin of error is higher for subgroups.

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By , and  |  09:51 PM ET, 02/28/2012

Categories:  2012 polls, GOP nomination, Republican Party, Voting, Exit polls

 
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