Political Animal


February 20, 2012 10:13 AM Who’s Winning in Michigan?

By Ed Kilgore

There has been an intense amount of interest in Public Policy Polling’s latest survey of the Republican presidential primary in Michigan. It shows Rick Santorum leading Mitt Romney by a 37- 33 margin. But the headline—“Romney Gaining On Santorum In Michigan”—is the real source of interest, because it confirms exactly what most “experts” had expected, thanks to Romney’s large spending advantage in Michigan, and the general feeling that Santorum was becoming a bit unhinged on the campaign trail.

Nate Silver, however, argues convincingly that PPI’s earlier Michigan poll, which showed Santorum racing out to a 15-point lead, was probably an outlier (with a sample showing a suspiciously huge evangelical vote, for one thing). Moreover, the new poll doesn’t seem to show Santorum exactly weakening: his approval-disapproval ratios remain very good, and he continues to beat Romney decisively among the most conservative elements of the MI electorate. Romney’s own favorability is improving, which probably reflects the fact that much of his early MI advertising has been “biographical” rather than “comparative” or negative.

So one popular idea—that Michigan is the new Florida, and Santorum’s eventual decline and fall in the former state is as inevitable as Newt Gingrich’s was in the latter—isn’t really based on empirical evidence, so far. Perhaps Mitt or his Super PAC will go savagely negative on Santorum in Michigan between now and February 28, and perhaps it won’t backfire. But that all remains to be seen.

The one thing that is clear is that Wednesday’s CNN-sponsored debate in AZ—which could be the last in the entire contest—could be a very big deal, not only in AZ but in MI, where voters are likely to be watching pretty closely. I’d say the crucial moments for MI, and maybe the whole GOP nomination contest, could be how Team Romney assesses the situation right after that debate, and whether it decides it has to go crazy negative on Santorum in order to avoid a potential two-state calamity on February 28.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Danp on February 20, 2012 10:32 AM:

    Romney’s own favorability is improving, which probably reflects the fact that much of his early MI advertising has been “biographical”

    It's especially high among who think Detroit looks like Queens circa 1964.

  • gelfling545 on February 20, 2012 10:40 AM:

    I suspect Romney's own "inevitability" may have been against him. Seeing someone's candidacy as inevitable does not encourage lukewarm supporters to get out the vote. On the other hand, it can seriously motivate opponents.

  • jpeckjr on February 20, 2012 11:38 AM:

    The last debate of the entire contest . . . I don't recall reading anything lately that has brought so much joy to my heart as this.

  • liam foote on February 20, 2012 12:02 PM:

    The latest (2/18) aggregate polls from Real Clear Politics show that Santorum leads Romney nationally by 5.4%, in Michigan at 6.0% (though flatlined while Romney trends slighly upward) and in Ohio by 7.3%.

    Mr. Romney may be closing the gap slightly in Michigan but, as the story notes, he will have to do exceptionally well in the AZ debate to boost his campaign enough to win there.

    Interestingly, there are Rasmussen polls (not the most reliable) dated 2/1 and 2/16. The former shows Romney at 48%, Gingrich at 24% and Santorum at 13%. Two weeks later, the 2/16 poll shows Romney at 39% (-.09), Gingrich at 15% (-09), and Santorum at 31% (+18). So Mr. Santorum appears to benefit not only from Romney's decline, but he is picking up Gingrich supporters as well.

  • berttheclock on February 20, 2012 12:15 PM:

    I could have sworn Detroit looks exactly like Bloomfield Hills.

  • rrk1 on February 20, 2012 12:39 PM:

    This is the kind of breathless (and mostly useless) horse race media analysis that takes the place of intelligent political discussion and discourse. It's mindless.