Romney Making A Comeback In Michigan?

The race appears to be tightening in The Wolverine State.

Just a week ago, Public Policy Polling put Mitt Romney 15 points behind Rick Santorum in Michigan.   It was the first of several polls last week showing Romney trailing Santorum in the Wolverine State. The signs of panic among the GOP Establishment were quite apparent, and talk of brokered conventions started to get louder. That was before the Romney campaign and his SuperPAC started blanketing the Michigan airwaves with ads targeting Santorum on earmarks and his Congressional record. Today, PPP is out with a poll that seems to show that Romney has started closing the gap as the campaigning gets down to he final eight days:

The Republican race for President in Michigan has tightened considerably over the last week, with what was a 15 point lead for Rick Santorum down to 4. He leads with 37% to 33% for Mitt Romney, 15% for Ron Paul, and 10% for Newt Gingrich.

The tightening over the last week is much more a function of Romney gaining than Santorum falling. Santorum’s favorability spread of 67/23 has seen no change since our last poll, and his share of the vote has dropped only 2 points from 39% to 37%. Romney meanwhile has seen his net favorability improve 10 points from +10 (49/39) to +20 (55/35) and his vote share go from 24% to 33%.

What we’re seeing in Michigan is a very different story from Florida where Romney surged by effectively destroying his opponent’s image- here Romney’s gains have more to do with building himself up.

Groups Santorum has double digit leads with include Protestants (up 47-30), union members (up 43-23), Evangelicals (up 51-24), Tea Partiers (up 55-20), ‘very conservative’ voters (up 54-23), and men (up 40-28).

Romney is leading the field with women (38-34), seniors (42-34), moderates (35-24), ‘somewhat conservative’ voters (40-34), and Catholics (43-31).
Newt Gingrich’s continued presence in the race is helping Romney a lot. If he dropped 45% of his supporters would go to Santorum, compared to only 29% for Romney and it would push Santorum’s lead over Romney up to 42-33. 47% of primary voters think Gingrich should drop out while only 40% believe he should continue on, but he’s certainly not showing any indication he’ll leave.

Santorum’s advantage over Romney seems to be a reflection of voters being more comfortable with where he is ideologically. 48% of voters think Santorum has more similar beliefs to them, compared to only 32% who pick Romney on that question. 63% of primary voters think Santorum’s views are ‘about right’ compared to only 42% who say that for Romney. 37% believe that Romney is ‘too liberal.’

From the numbers, it’s clear that Romney has managed to boost his own numbers in the race largely at the expense of the other rest of the field other than Santorum, as well as likely picking up undecided voters. Santorum was at 39% in the last PPP poll, and he’s at 37% in this one, which is little more than a statistical blip on his part. Looking at the favorability numbers, it doesn’t appear that Romney’s campaign has had any impact on Santorum’s favorability ratings. In fact, there’s been absolutely no change in that number from the previous poll. Mostly likely what we’re seeing here is a reflection of the campaigning that Romney has done in the state over the past week, the emphasis he’s placed on his ties to the state, as well as emphasizing his business experience. Most interesting, though, is the fact that Romney’s previous comments about the auto bailout don’t seem to have hurt him among Michiganders at all, with 34% of voters saying that opposition to the bailout would make them more likely to vote for a candidate, 27% saying that opposition to the bailout is a negative, and 35% saying it doesn’t matter to them either way.

All of this means, of course, that Wednesday debate, which actually takes place in Arizona, is likely to be crucial:

It is the first debate since Mr. Santorum swept contests in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri two weeks ago, and it comes as he is under more scrutiny for his background and positions, including his opposition to many prenatal tests and his assertion on Saturday that the government’s role in education is “anachronistic.”

Despite moving to the top of four national polls and several state ones, Mr. Santorum remains a long shot to prevent the well-financed, well-organized Mr. Romney from winning the nomination.

Wednesday’s debate could change that dynamic. A strong performance by Mr. Santorum, or a particularly weak one by Mr. Romney, could ensure a shocking upset in Michigan, the other state that will vote a week from Tuesday. If that happens, the nomination could slip from Mr. Romney’s grasp.

The one thing that’s clear given the way the past two weeks have gone is that Senator Santorum is going to be under the microscope at this debate to a far greater extent than he ever has before. More importantly, though, it means that a significant part of the debate is likely to focus on social issues and the statements that Santorum has made on everything from contraception to women in the military to same-sex marriage. How that plays out in the context of a Republican nomination fight, though, is unclear. You’re not going to hear Romney, or Gingirch, or even Paul argue that Rick Santorum is too socially conservative, because they’re not going to risk pissing off the same people that Santorum is appealing to. What could happen, though, is that Santorum’s positions on these issues will have a negative impact on independent voters (Michigan has an open primary) and Republican women to such an extent that they start lining up behind Romney to stop him.

Whatever happens, though, there’s one thing that’s clear to me. Michigan is not going to be a blowout for either candidate. No matter who wins, be it Romney or Santorum, they’re margin of victory is likely to be in the low single digits. That means that, even if Romney squeaks out a win next Tuesday this race will be far from over and we’ll all be heading into the next showdown in the Super Tuesday states, where Romney has several areas of vulnerability notwithstanding his monetary and organizational advantages.

Stay tuned, this circus is far from over.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Jr says:

    Not surprised.

    Frothy just doesn’t have the resources to compete with Mitt. Romney is going to win, but he is still such a paper tiger.

  2. James says:

    talk of brokered conventions started to get louder. (emphasis mine)

    I’m not trying to pick your nits too much, but using the term “brokered convention” is just the wrong term to use. From Jonathan Bernstein:

    please, please, call it a deadlocked convention. Not a brokered convention. One more time: there are no brokers. Delegates are generally slated by the candidates, and while they are likely to be loyal to those candidates in terms of continuing to support them while they are in the race, there’s no particular reason to think that Newt Gingrich, say, could deliver his delegates to another candidate. Nor are there any other organized groups within the party who have that sort of relationship with delegates.

  3. @James:

    You are correct here, as is Bernstein.

  4. James says:

    @Doug Mataconis: It’s a minor point, but it’s been maddening me lately.

    Otherwise I think you’re spot on. Romney can’t really outflank Santourm on social conservatism without losing independents. He also can’t attack Santourm’s more fundamentalist proclamations with out losing the evangelical portions of the base. Rock, hard place and all that.

  5. deathcar2000 says:

    Isn’t obvious to every one, who ever comes out ahead, it’s Obama that really wins.

    Champane corks poping every where as far as the eye can see! yay GOP!!

    This is Obama high fiving a million angels.

  6. Brummagem Joe says:

    Most interesting, though, is the fact that Romney’s previous comments about the auto bailout don’t seem to have hurt him among Michiganders at all, with 34% of voters saying that opposition to the bailout would make them more likely to vote for a candidate, 27% saying that opposition to the bailout is a negative, and 35% saying it doesn’t matter to them either way.

    So 70% of Republican voters in the state were either in favor of committing economic suicide or couldn’t care less. Now it’s a fair bet that a large proportion of the remaining 27% are blue collar folks. One wonders how they will vote in the general should Romney be the candidate?

  7. Hey Norm says:

    Romney outspending Santorum 12:1 probably is a factor. Will he be able to outspend Obama 12:1?
    Timothy Egan has compiled some rather astounding facts about this race so far:
    To date 9 states have voted…with a total population of about 28 million registered voters. So far 3 million have voted. That’s approx. 10.7% of the population. 1% of registered voters turned out for Maine’s caucus. In Nevada turnout was down 25 percent from 2008 and only 3% registered voters participated. South Carolina was an outlier with strong turnout… 98% of whom were white, 72% were age 45 or older, and nearly 66% were evangelicals.
    If only the country was made up of old, white, evangelicals…Romney or Santorum might be electable.

  8. grumpy realist says:

    Yah. Here’s what I snipped from the NYtimes article above:

    “There is no other way to put this without resorting to demographic bluntness: the small fraction of Americans who are trying to pick the Republican nominee are old, white, uniformly Christian and unrepresentative of the nation at large.

    None of that is a surprise. But when you look at the numbers, it’s stunning how little this Republican primary electorate resembles the rest of the United States. They are much closer to the population of 1890 than of 2012.

    Given the level of media attention, we know an election of great significance is happening on the Republican side. But it’s occurring in a different place, guided by talk-radio extremists and religious zealots, with only a vague resemblance to the states where it has taken place. From this small world have emerged a host of nutty, retrograde positions, unpopular with the vast American majority.”

  9. deathcar2000 says:

    @Hey Norm:

    But of course you’ve already hear’d, old, white, evangelicals are the “Real Americans(tm)”.

    They are the gold standard against whitch every thing is measured. Just ask Sarah of the Great White North, you betcha.

  10. legion says:

    This is also just a recycling of every other “not-Romney” that’s become the temporary front-runner… Love him or loathe him, Mitt’s the _only_ GOP candidate that comes across as even vaguely sane. Every other candidate – Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Gingrich * – they all had their own core supporters & staged their own surges, but then, as more rational people actually looked at each on in turn, they realized just how batch*t insane and unelectable each one was. Santorum is no different.

    * – I left out Huntsman and Paul because neither has ever really been considered the “not-Romney” of the week… Huntsman never had enough supporters to gain mainstream attention, and everybody already knows all they need to about Paul to decide whether they’ll ever support him or not.

  11. Latino_in_Boston says:

    The race also seems to be tightening in Arizona, where Romney leads by only 3 according to PPP. If Santorum were to win that primary, Romney would be fatally wounded, I think.

  12. Brummagem Joe says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Those numbers are pretty staggering on the face of it. And to get elected a Republican has to satisfy the prejudices of this micro minority by espousing numerous off the wall positions and if you’re remotely close to the center don’t even bother to apply. That said the micro minority is not a bad sampling of what is probably two thirds of Republican electors. A cursory look at all these polls on everything from abortion to the presidency of GWB show a fairly consistent pattern of 30-35% of voters taking routinely far right positions and this is around two thirds of Republican turnout in generals. Yep turnout at these primaries may be statistically small but it’s a fair reflection of where the GOP is at.

  13. de stijl says:

    Romney is leading the field with women (38-34), seniors (42-34), moderates (35-24), ‘somewhat conservative’ voters (40-34), and Catholics (43-31).

    Interesting that Santorum is losing amongst Catholics.

  14. Rob in CT says:

    I don’t think that’s odd at all. Santorum might be favored by Catholic clergy, but the rank & file pretty much ignores the hierarchy on issues Santorum likes to rant about.

  15. gVOR08 says:

    The real risk to Mitt is that he may lose his fund raising advantage. Establishment money is not going to go to Paul or Gingrich, they’re nuts and can’t be trusted. Santorum is only nuts about social conservative stuff: abortion, gays, contraception. Wall Street and major corporations could care less about that. Santorum may be regarded as reliable on what they do care about: taxes, regulation, and an oil dominated foreign policy. Romney probably is more electable in the general. But he has to get the nomination before that matters. If he appears unable to close out the primaries, establishment money may decide Santorum’s the better risk and shift to him. They can always hope the European Central Bank or their own gasoline speculation blows up the economy before November.

  16. Tillman says:

    Most interesting, though, is the fact that Romney’s previous comments about the auto bailout don’t seem to have hurt him among Michiganders at all, with 34% of voters saying that opposition to the bailout would make them more likely to vote for a candidate, 27% saying that opposition to the bailout is a negative, and 35% saying it doesn’t matter to them either way.

    I’m guessing this is more to do with the ideology of primary voters than anything else.

  17. Tsar Nicholas says:

    When the polling agenda doesn’t actually translate into political reality it eventually becomes necessary to adjust the polling, thereby to avoid total embarrassment. The next stage of the cycle will be the predictable and ubiquitous “dead heat” proclamations.

  18. al-Ameda says:

    Not surprising at all – sane Republicans will see that Santorum is untenable.

    Sane Republicans also have to hope that the economy goes into the tank because if the economy continues to rebound and economic growth is at 3 to 4 percent, Obama will win.

  19. al-Ameda says:

    @Latino_in_Boston: I think Arizona is too small and whacky to have a strong effect on Romney. If however, Mitt loses Michigan that will definitely spell major trouble for Romney.

  20. Latino_in_Boston says:


    I agree that a Michigan loss would spell trouble for Romney, but an Arizona loss would be just as bad if not worse for two reasons. First, AZ demographics should benefit Romney with a huge number of mormons in the state. Second, AZ unlike Michigan is winner-takes-all, giving Santorum a great chance to close the gap on delegates, much more so than Michigan, which neither candidate will win with a huge lead.