Political Animal


March 02, 2012 12:42 PM The Super Tuesday Context

By Ed Kilgore

A couple days ago I suggested the spin wars over Mitt Romney’s narrow win in Michigan might actually influence its significance, insofar as the GOP Establishment’s fragile confidence in its boy Mitt Romney is his most important political asset.

At the end of Michigan Week, and on the brink of Super Tuesday, it’s not that clear how it is all sorting out. Yes, the panicky talk about finding a new Establishment candidate has abated, for the moment. Yes, Mitt has zoomed back into a solid lead in at least one national poll of Republicans (Rasmussen) and has also seen his support spiking in the last Gallup Tracking numbers.

The MSM, however, is beginning to treat Ohio as the truly significant Super Tuesday contest, and there Santorum is maintaining a lead in post-Michigan polls. Mitt’s spate of Michiga-centric gaffes in receding in the rear-view mirror, but his Blunt Amendment screwup is keeping alive fears that he has some sort of secret death-wish or political Tourette’s Syndrome.

So what to make of the current situation? Are the national polls a leading indicator of a Santorum Crash in Super Tuesday states, or is Santorum’s stubborn strength in Ohio a sign of a fundamental problem Romney has in the Rust Belt states that he overcome in Michigan by virtue of his homeboy status?

Nate Silver put up a highly relevant post late last night that provides an excellent guide to what to ignore and what to pay attention to in the pre-Super Tuesday public opinion surveys, based on an analysis of the race so far:


T]he polls have been reasonably good in the last few days before the election. Not perfect by any means — worse than general election polling typically is, for example. But no worse, and probably somewhat better, than in past primaries.

In densely polled states — that term, importantly, would disqualify Colorado — there haven’t been any huge surprises on Election Day itself. If you think it counts as a surprise that Mitt Romney won Michigan by three points when polls showed a rough tie, or that Rick Santorum narrowly won Iowa when he was a couple of points back, you don’t have a realistic conception of how reliable primary and caucus polling is.
On the other hand, the polls have been pretty awful at most points prior to about three days before the election, seeing surges and momentum shifts that often dissipated.

So by that standard, it might be a good idea to ignore current polling and start paying attention to surveys that are in the field right now, and will be published over the weekend and Monday.

Still, keep your eye on media coverage of Super Tuesday as either a mega-primary with many fronts (ten, to be exact), or as Ohio plus a bunch of other places. The latter interpretation could make Ohio matter more than the delegate count or the number of primaries and caucuses won. Romney, of course, could make the question moot by winning the Buckeye State as well. But then again, it would be perfectly in character for him to find another way to inform Ohioans he could buy and sell the lot of them with pocket change.

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.


  • DAY on March 02, 2012 1:07 PM:

    Santorum is just the current "amusing alternative" to Romney.
    Money is the mother's milk of politics, and Romney has a herd of Holsteins compared to the nanny goats of his competition.
    Once Mitt wraps up the nomination, the supporters of Rick, Newt, et al will wander away, and getting then back in line will make herding cats look like a walk in the park.
    The smart money are cloistered in quiet spots, and discussing 2016.

  • Burr Deming on March 02, 2012 1:08 PM:

    The constituency that matters most seems to have a distaste on a deep personal level for Mitt Romney.

  • Tree on March 02, 2012 1:13 PM:

    I'm seeing a pretty clear pattern in recent contests: Santorum opens up a solid polling lead, Romney aims his money cannon at Santorum, the polls start breaking toward Romney, the election day forecast is too close to call, Romney wins the contest.

    We can already see it in Washington and Ohio, where Santorum once had significant leads, and now Romney is either tied or ahead. I see nothing that indicates this pattern is going to change. Once Romney starts spending money in a state, his polling gets better. Until one of Santorum's leads holds up, I'm not sure we can take him seriously.