The NBC News-Marist poll of Michigan voters released this morning is fascinating. There’s no other way to describe it. And there are three areas I found most intriguing: President Obama’s job approval rating; the view of the auto bailout;  and the tension between what Republicans surveyed say they believe and what they actually want.

The unemployment rate for Michigan was 9.3 percent in December, the most recent data available. The national unemployment rate then was 8.5 percent. Today, it is now 8.3 percent. Michigan has seen more than its share of economic misery over the past decade, none more worrisome than the near implosion of the auto industry. That’s why I was surprised to see the president hold a 51 percent approval rating in the Wolverine State.

Then again, perhaps I shouldn’t have. After all, just like every Democrat since 1992, Obama carried Michigan. And he did so by 16 points in 2008. But there’s no doubt that the state’s improving economic fortunes are playing a role. Two weeks ago, I cheered Michigan’s first budget surplus in a decade. Gov. Rick Snyder (R) got to this firm financial position in part by whacking the middle class and working poor. Then, last week General Motors announced $7.6 billion in profits for 2011, the highest in its history. Not only that, in March, the company will send 47,500 blue-collar workers a profit-sharing check of $7,000.

All of this was made possible by the auto bailout begun by then-President George W. Bush in the waning days of his administration and continued by Obama. But NBC-Marist poll reveals somewhat mixed emotions about it.

Overall, do you think the bailout of the auto industry was a good idea or a bad idea?

                            Registered Voters      Likely Voters

Good idea                 63                          42
Bad idea                     28                          50

The saving of Detroit is a big hit among registered voters across the state (63 to 28). Not so much among likely voters in Tuesday’s Republican primary. While 42 percent of them think the auto bailout was a “good idea,” 50 percent agreed it was a “bad idea.” And if you want to understand the depths of the loathing, when asked if Obama deserved credit for the auto-industry  turnaround a whopping 69 percent of likely voters said “not very much/no credit at all.” That might explain why Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have been vocal in their opposition to the auto bailout despite its benefit.

(If you’re among those who don’t believe that it wasn’t necessary for the federal government to step in to keep the auto industry alive just read Chuck Lane’s piece from Tuesday.)

So, this tension between loving and loathing the auto bailout is akin to the tension between what Republicans surveyed say they believe and what they say they want in a presidential candidate. Romney is a son of Michigan. He should be running away with every poll coming out of the state. And, yet, he’s not. Romney leads Santorum 37 percent to 35 percent. But the margin of error is plus or minus 3.7 percent. In short, these fellas are tied. Who will win seems to be a bit of a tossup.

Fifty-six (56) percent of likely Republican voters surveyed said they wanted a nominee who shared their values or is closest to them on the issues. Forty (40) percent say Santorum is the “true conservative” in the race. Romney is considered so by just 16 percent. Fifty-four (54) percent say that Santorum would be an acceptable nominee compared to 53 percent for Romney. Now, here’s where the schizophrenia of those likely primary voters comes in. When asked which was more important, having a candidate who could beat Obama or a having a true conservative, 52 percent said beating the president. And 51 percent said Romney is the guy with “the best chance” to succeed. That should help him. But I don’t know. Besides, nothing about this primary campaign has made much sense.

If Romney does pull off a Michigan Miracle next week, it most likely won’t be because he loves cars or saw old high school buddies at his rallies. According to the poll, 88 percent said the fact that Romney was born in Detroit and raised in Michigan does not affect how they will vote.