Monday, February 27, 2012

Michigan's GOP presidential primary race remains tight, polls say

(Detroit Free Press) WASHINGTON – Who is poised to win Tuesday’s Republican presidential primary in Michigan? After nearly two weeks of heavy campaigning, it appears to be too close to tell.

Two polls released Sunday showed a tight race between Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, and Rick Santorum, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania. One, from Public Policy Polling, had Romney up 39% to 37% (with 13% for Ron Paul and 9% for Newt Gingrich), continuing a recent trend in polls showing Romney ahead.

But the other, from Mitchell Research/Rosetta Stone and performed for the Michigan Information & Research Service (MIRS), showed Santoum back on top, 37% to 35% for Romney. (It also reversed the order of those trailing, with Gingrich having 9% and Paul having 8%)

A third poll, from Foster McCollum White & Associates showed Romney with a much larger lead – 39% to 31% (with Gingrich and Paul each with 9%).

What it may indicate is an electorate so volatile and split that it is impossible to pick a winner. PPP noted that Romney has a big advantage among people who cast their absentee votes early and that gives him an edge – even though Santorum actually holds a slight edge among those who plan to vote Tuesday.

Meawnhile, Santorum’s favorability rating has declined as Romney and his supporters have hit hard at him, bringing it to a point now where Romney’s favorability is 5 points better than Santorum’s. And Romney has made significant progress in picking up support from Evangelicals, tea party voters and self-described very conservative voters, key blocs for Santorum.

The PPP poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.8 percentage points.

The Mitchell poll, however (margin of error plus or minus 3 percentage points), shows a different race shaping up, with Santorum’s recent campaign reestablishing sizeable leads with his core blocs of support – Evangelicals, tea party supporters and very conservative voters.

“Santorum’s strong appeal to social conservatives has been very effective,” said Steven Mitchell of Mitchell Reserch. “This race is still very close, but momentum seems to have changed. Get out the vote efforts will really count.”

Foster McCollum White’s poll (margin of error plus or minus 2 percentage points) indicated Romney was benefited by last Wednesday’s debate while Santorum was not.

The swing in the polls could also be explained by when they were done: Foster McCollum White’s poll was conducted on Thursday, the day after the debate, while PPP and Mitchell did theirs on Sunday, after several days of aggressive campaigning by both candidates.

With the polls split as they are, Tuesday's results could very likely come down to which candidate is better able to turn out his voters. Romney, with a deeper organization and greater resources, would be expected to have the edge there, but if Santorum still holds the very conservative vote by a wide margin, it could be the difference-maker. Those voters are far more likely to turn out for a Republican primary.

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