Monthly Archives: February 2012

USA 2012: Michigan and Arizona primaries

The race for the Republican presidential nomination in the United States returned to prominence on February 28 with two crucial primaries in Michigan and Arizona. These primaries follow a pretty dry spell running since February 7, when two states held caucuses, a spell interrupted only by a jumbled-up caucus in Maine concluding on February 11 and a final debate in Arizona on February 22.

The Republican primaries this year are certainly filled with unexpected twists and turns and for casual observers it has become almost as enjoyable as a good TV show which comes back on every week with some new suspense or new twist. The February 7 episode of this show was certainly filled with such unpredictable twists. The winner of the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses nearly two months ago, Rick Santorum, came out of basically nowhere to win a huge 3-state sweep (the two caucues and Missouri’s beauty pageant primary). Santorum had his moment in January, but after fading out of the picture in South Carolina and Florida’s late-January primaries, it began to seem as if his Iowa magic had worn out. After South Carolina, Newt Gingrich seemed like the main conservative opponent to Mitt Romney, who won New Hampshire and went on to crush Gingrich in Florida and Nevada. However, after his defeat in Florida, Gingrich started fading away nationally. Mitt Romney, shaken in South Carolina, looked as if he had put his act back together and would win the nomination fairly easily after all. Then Santorum’s 3-state sweep changed the narrative again, and this sweep was followed by a Santorum surge nationally but also in key states such as Ohio which votes on March 6 – Super Tuesday.

Michigan and Arizona thus shaped up to be very critical contests. If they had been held within days of the February 7 Santorum sweep, then Santorum would likely have carried Michigan by a landslide and stood a good chance in Arizona. However, the three week gap between the two strings of contests allowed Romney to re-group, as he did after South Carolina.

Michigan and Arizona’s primaries were more open-ended, especially Michigan. Michigan is Mitt Romney’s birthstate and he has maintained a strong footing in his native Detroit suburbs, and he carried the state in the 2008 GOP primaries against John McCain. It is also a fairly moderate state in terms of GOP electorate, having voted for McCain over Bush in the 2000 GOP primaries. At the same time, Michigan is a pretty low-income state with a strong working-class electorate, and Mitt Romney’s support has thus far almost always followed a graduated income scale with strongest performances with the affluent GOP voters and bad performances with poorer GOP voters. Rick Santorum’s kind-of populist economic rhetoric, his strong base with social conservatives and Evangelicals (there is, of course, also a correlation between social conservatives/Evangelicals and lower incomes in these contests) promised him a strong base in Michigan. Arizona, on the other hand, is more favourable to Romney. It has a significant Mormon base (11% of GOP voters) and its Republican voters tend to be older and affluent. Its GOP base is more conservative than the GOP base in Michigan, but part of those conservatives are Mormons while others are likely conservative on immigration where Romney seems to have an edge. Rick Santorum decided to put his admittedly thin resources into Michigan and concede Arizona to Mitt. Michigan remained crucial to Romney both for strategic purposes and rhetoric about it being his homestate (admittedly, Mitt Romney has 4 homestates). Neither Ron Paul nor Newt Gingrich seemed to care much about either state.

Santorum came out of February 7 with a big surge in Michigan, but like in Florida, Romney easily outspent Santorum but Romney was unable to turn the race around in the way he did in Florida where he turned Newt’s post-SC surge into a 15-point deficit by election day in the period of 10 days. By February 20-22, Romney was back to a tie or narrow lead over Santorum in Michigan. In the debate on February 22, Romney performed well and Santorum had a tougher time, the focus of both Romney but also Ron Paul’s attacks. Santorum’s main problem is that Romney successfully painted him a Washington insider because of his time in Congress and lobbying, and Santorum has been surprisingly slow in running away from that damaging label. At the same time, Santorum has had trouble distancing himself from his voting record which Romney and Paul attacked as being supportive of spending and big-government. However, Romney made a gaffe in Detroit on February 24 where he said that his wife drove a bunch of Cadillacs, which again hit at Mitt’s Achilles heel – his elitist image. Santorum had a last-minute second surge to bring the race to a tie or a narrow win for either of the candidates depending on the pollster.

Results and Conclusions


Mitt Romney 47.3%
Rick Santorum 26.6%
Newt Gingrich 16.2%
Ron Paul 8.4%
(the ghost of) Rick Perry 0.4%


Mitt Romney 41.1%
Rick Santorum 37.9%
Ron Paul 11.6%
Newt Gingrich 6.5%
Others 0.7%

Mitt Romney won a landslide in Arizona, which isn’t surprising because the state’s primary had practically been conceded to Romney weeks ago and nobody watched the primaries there with too much interest. Arizona is still a WTA state, which nets Romney 29 delegates and adds to his already sizable lead over the other candidates in the delegate count. On the other hand, Michigan went right down to the wire, but ultimately Santorum’s performance in rural Michigan was not enough to overtake late-counting precincts in Romney’s native son strongholds in the Detroit MSA. If Mitt Romney had ended up losing Michigan, it would have been a huge blow to his campaign both for the lost-his-homestate symbolism but also because the race had turned into a pretty decisive make-or-break thing for Romney (not for Santorum). A loss would have been a decisive blow which he would have a hard time working his way out of. He only won narrowly, but instead of a narrative of a poor performance in a homestate, Romney is going to get the narrative of a decisive victory in a key state which shows his resilience.

He didn’t lose Michigan, which has the effect of saving his campaign and returning him into more comfortable likely nominee territory. But at this point in the race, it is unlikely he’ll get any huge bump out of Michigan and anything is possible. Rick Santorum certainly isn’t dead, because Super Tuesday is favourable, on paper, to him. Newt Gingrich has no intention of dropping out, and Adelson pumped some more millions into the campaign, which means that Gingrich might as well experience a final third surge. Ron Paul is pretty chummy with Romney, which becomes important in case of a brokered convention, but he has no intention of dropping out either. Still, Romney is back in the race but he must prevent falling asleep as he did after his NH and FL win. The race is unlikely to be finished anytime soon, and if a nominee is decided rapidly, it will probably be in April (if not later) and not in March.

On February 29, final results out of Wyoming’s staggered caucuses are due out, but on partial results, Romney has a lead of some 7-10% over Santorum with a bit less than 40% of the votes. On March 3, Washington holds GOP caucuses. Santorum seems favoured in Washington, which despite its overall liberalism, has a rather conservative GOP which will turn out for the not-Romney in a caucus setting. On March 6, Super Tuesday, ten states will vote. Mitt Romney’s victory is a near-certainty in Massachusetts, Virginia (Paul is the only other candidate on the ballot) and probably Idaho. Vermont looks favourable, on paper to him, but a poll showed him with a surprisingly narrow lead. On the other hand, Rick Santorum is looking pretty strong in Tennessee and Oklahoma, and Gingrich leads his homestate, Georgia. The main state to watch will be Ohio, where Santorum seems to have a strong lead and a ‘Rust Belt’ populist appeal to a state whose GOP base mixes rural conservatives with more working-class or lower-income voters. A caucus in Kansas (March 10) and Dixie primaries in Alabama and Mississippi on March 13 could go for either Gingrich or Santorum but probably not Romney unless the first two split the not-Romney vote.

However, Romney will more likely than not end up as the nominee. Romney can’t wrap the race up because of fundamental weakness with certain key GOP electorates, but they are unlikely to form a brick wall for Romney, though those weakenesses might rear their heads in November for Romney. Even if early March seems tough, Romney’s delegate lead remains pretty important and it will only be complemented by Romney victories in WTA states in the Northeast which vote quite late but will likely wrap up the race in Romney’s hand. Santorum’s path to an unlikely nomination is made much harder by a defeat in Michigan, because it might halt his momentum, not because Michigan’s actual delegate count will be a blow to him. Michigan allocated its delegates by CD, and it appears as if they either split evenly 7-7, giving Romney a 16-14 delegate victory or even split in Santorum’s favour by 8-6, giving him a 16-14 delegate victory despite a statewide loss.

Exit Poll Analysis

In Arizona, Romney swept pretty much every category. Voters over 65 made up 24% of the electorate, and Romney won them 48-27 over Santorum. 50-64 voters were another 34%, and they backed Romney by a similar margin. In terms of income, those earning over $200k made up 6% of the electorate, and those with $100-200k earnings made up 20% of the electorate. Romney’s support again followed an income scale, with the poorest voters backing him by a narrow 37-31 margin over Santorum and the wealthiest voters backing him by a 67-14 margin.

Conservatives were 74% of the electorate, but Romney even took those voters, winning 47% of their votes against 30% for Santorum. He won the very conservative voters (38%) with 41% to Santorum’s 35%. Romney dominated with voters who said the economy was the top issue (49%) with 51% to 26% for Santorum. This being Arizona, 13% said immigration was the top issue, and while Gingrich did well with those voters (23%) Romney still took 41% of their votes. The most right-wing voters on immigration (the 34% who said illegals should be deported) voted 47-28 for Romney over Santorum. The more liberal voters (34% who said illegals could apply for citizenship) backed Mitt with 53%.

Once again, the ability to defeat Obama was the top candidate quality for 40% of voters and Romney predictably romped with those: 56-22 over Santorum. Santorum did win those who said being a true conservative or strong moral character was the top quality.

Mormons made up 14% of voters, Romney won 93% of their votes.

Michigan also had an older electorate. 24% were 65+, and a full 49% were between 45 and 64. Romney won the oldest crowd with 49% to Santorum’s 33% and took the 45-64 group by two points over Santorum. Paul won 18-29 voters, and Santorum won those between 30 and 44. Income remained a very strong predictor of one’s vote in Michigan. Romney won only two income groups: the 9% earning $200k+ and the 24% who win between $100-200k. In the latter group, he took 46%, in the former he took 55%. Though Romney won 37% with the poorest voters, higher than his 34% with those earning $30-50k, otherwise vote for Romney and high incomes are positively correlated. Santorum did well with the poorer voters, but his strongest performance was not with the very poor (under $30k) but with those earning $30-50k. 23% of voters said somebody in their household was a union member, and Santorum carried those voters by 15 points over Romney and lost the 77% who said no by a 44-36 margin. He also won the 14% of voters who were unionized themselves.

There were big fears in Michigan about an “Operation Backdoor” of Democrats flooding the open primary contest to vote for Santorum, whom Democrats perceive as weaker than Romney against Obama in November (I might disagree on that). Democrats were 9% of voters and Santorum won 53% of their votes. Santorum had started controversial robocalls targetting Democrats, and the blowback from that might have hurt him with Republicans: he lost them 48-37 to Romney. Conservatives were 61% of the electorate, and Romney won them by a 43-41 edge. Moderates or liberals backed Romney 39-33 over Santorum. Very conservative voters, three in ten voters overall, gave Santorum 50% against 36% for Mitt.

Rick Santorum is a Catholic and has made his faith a large part of his political image. He has strong appeal to social conservatives partly because of that. Yet, in Michigan, like in a lot of other states thus far, Santorum has actually done better with Protestants than with Catholics. It is likely because Protestants tend to include the socially conservative Evangelicals so favourable to Santorum and that Catholics now tend to attach less significance to their faith. Romney won Michigan Catholics 44-37 but lost Protestants by 2 to Santorum.

The economy was the top issue for 55% of voters, and Romney had a decisive 17-point advantage with those voters as he did with those who cared more about the budget deficit. You still had a surprisingly sizable share of voters who felt abortion was the top issue (14%), and predictably Santorum won those with 77%. 50% of Michigan GOP voters disapproved of the auto bailout, against 44% who approved. Interestingly, Romney did better with those who approved of the bailout.

A fairly small 32%, still a plurality, felt a candidate’s ability to beat Obama was the top candidate quality. Romney won that group with 61%, against 24% for Santorum. Electability still remains Romney’s top card, as does his business experience: most GOP voters (57%) want a candidate with business rather than government experience, and those voters backed Romney 57-27.

Geographic Analysis


Result of the AZ primary (source:

 Over half of GOP votes were cast in Maricopa County, Arizona’s most populous county and also one of the most populous counties in the whole United States. Maricopa includes Phoenix and the vast majority of its suburbs including Scottsdale, Glendale, Mesa, Chandler, Glendale and Tempe. Mitt Romney, of course, did not will just on the heels of Maricopa, but his margin of victory owes a lot to his performance there. He won Maricopa with 49.7% against 24.5% for Rick Santorum. Four years ago, when Romney lost Arizona to home-stater John McCain by 12.6%, he had won a congressional district (old CD-6) in suburban Phoenix. Maricopa County includes a mix of demographics favourable to Mitt Romney: Mormons (around Mesa and Chandler), very affluent and educated suburbs (basically the bulk of the county besides the places with Hispanics) and older voters (especially in the Paradise Valley area).

Arizona’s Mormons, besides those in Maricopa, live in Graham County or the largely Native American counties (Navajo and Apache Counties). Romney, like in 2008, won Graham with a huge margin, taking 67.5%. He also took 57% in Navajo and 48% in Apache counties.

Mitt Romney won all other counties, including fairly populous Coconino (Flagstaff), Yavapai (Prescott) and Pima (Tucson) counties. Paul performed best with 11% in Coconino, which includes the fairly liberal college town of Flagstaff. Romney won 40.8% in Coconino, and took 40.4% in Yavapai and 44% in Pima. Santorum and Gingrich performed best in desert rural counties. Gingrich took 24% in sparsely populated La Paz County, while Santorum won his best result, 33.8%, in Cochise County, a sparsely populated on the Mexican border which is also the only county where Romney did not improve on his 2008 performance.


Results of the MI primary (source:

There are usually two main political regions in Michigan, both in general elections and presidential primaries. There is eastern Michigan, which includes the Detroit MSA, the state capital of Lansing, Flint and the Tri-Cities. Then there is western Michigan, on the shores of Lake Michigan, which includes Grand Rapids but also Muskegon, Holland, Battle Creek and Kalamazoo. Industrial eastern Michigan, the core of the auto industry and an integral part of the Rust Belt, has attracted immigrant workers from southern and eastern Europes but also, obviously, blacks from the South and working-class whites from Appalachia. Urban decay, poverty, population decline and inner cities which are associated with Michigan are found here. Western Michigan, fairly industrial but also with a larger agricultural base, has tended to attract immigrants from the Netherlands (Christian Reformed) who fled religious persecution. It is wealthier and traditionally opposes the political influence of eastern Michigan, a heavily Democratic region especially in and around Wayne County (Detroit-Livonia).

Mitt Romney’s birthstate homebase is in metro Detroit, specifically Oakland County which includes some very affluent and educated suburbs such as Bloomfield Hills – one of the wealthiest communities in the United States. Mitt Romney won 50% of the vote in Oakland against 28.9% for Santorum, his best performance in the state, in a county which cast more votes than Wayne County itself. But Romney was able to extend his strong performance to the rest of metro and exurban Detroit. He won 41.6% to Santorum’s 33.2% in Wayne, but apparently lost inner-city and heavily black CD-13 (new lines) to Santorum – Operation Backdoor? Paul also performed well in Detroit and won 16% in Wayne, his best performance statewide. Romney won 43.3% to Santorum’s 34.6% in Macomb, which is traditionally the more blue-collar and ‘Reagan Democrat’-like of the two northern Detroit suburban counties. The race in heavily Democratic Washtenaw County, which includes the liberal college town of Ann Arbor and thus probably a good number of fairly politicized and educated Democrats who would participate in Operation Backdoor, was narrower: 42-37 for Romney.

Mitt Ronney also had success in exurban Detroit, where George W. Bush had done well against McCain in 2000. He won 43.8% in Livingston County and 42.3% in Jackson County. Further west, Romney carried Ingham County (Lansing and its affluent suburbs) with 42.8%. Romney also performed surprinsingly strongly in blue-collar white Catholic (lots of Poles) areas in the Tri-City area: 42-40 in Saginaw, 41-37 in Bay City and 43-39 in Midland, the wealthiest and most white-collar of the Tri-City counties.

Romney’s strong performance in the northern Lower Peninsula, which holds very few voters, surprised a lot of observers. He won Grand Traverse County easily, 43% to 35%, but also played surprisingly well in more rural counties of northern Michigan. This is a fairly low-income and traditionally working-class (lumber, mining etc), but it seems a bit less Evangelical than other parts of the state and more moderate – Huckabee had done poorly in 2008. Electionate’s analysis showed a strong, negative correlation between Huckabee-08 and Romney-12 performances.

Santorum won the Upper Peninsula fairly easily. The UP is a socially conservative, albeit not Evangelical, region with a strong working-class tradition rooted in mining and lumber. The labour radicalism of Finnish immigrants in the UP, immigrants who provided the only sizable Communist electorate in the country, has passed as mining has died off and voters have started voting less on the basis on economic issues.

In the mainland, Santorum dominated in western Michigan, but not by a sufficiently large margin to win statewide. Firstly, Romney actually won two of the main urban areas here: Battle Creek (Calhoun County, 40-39) and Kalamazoo (41-38). Romney lost, but by a narrow 2% margin, Kent County, which includes Grand Rapids, the largest city in western Michigan and a fairly conservative area. Kent County mixes two ambiguities in GOP primaries: a strong conservative Christian Reformed influence, but also some wealthy suburbs. On this basis, the county split fairly evenly.

Rick Santorum showed in Iowa and Minnesota that Dutch-Christian Reformed voters were one of his most solid electorates. Dutch-Americans in Iowa and Michigan, the two main regions where they are found, tend to be extremely conservative by their association with the Christian Reformed Church. Ottawa County, a heavily Dutch-American county west of Grand Rapids, is usually the most Republican county in the state (over 70% for Bush in 2004, the only county over 60% for McCain in 2008). Santorum’s margin in Ottawa County (Holland) was surprisingly small given the demographics – 48.7-35.5. 

Santorum also won working-class Muskegon (44.5-36.2) and won, not always by large margins, rural counties in the rest of the state including eastern Michigan. He won Genesee County (Flint) narrowly, 39-38, the same margin as he carried outer Detroit exurban but fairly blue-collar St. Clair.

While it seems as if Mitt Romney will, after all this fun, be the nominee, the race is not over yet and this race has been so open-ended and downright insane that anything is still possible. Like any good TV series, it will need to end someday, but we have more episodes of this great show coming up next week (Super Tuesday on March 6). 

Latvian language referendum 2012

A constitutional referendum dealing with official languages was held in Latvia on February 18, 2012. The referendum, the result of a popular initiative, amended five articles of the Latvian constitution in order to define Russian as the country’s second official language alongside Latvian and prescribing two working languages – Latvian and Russian – for local government institutions.

Russians make up about 27% of Latvia’s population, while around 38% of the population speaks Russian as their native language. The Russian presence in Latvia is old, but the bulk of the Russian population in Latvia settled in the country following World War II, and in 1989 they made up 34% of the country’s population. Russians are concentrated in the capital, Riga, and in the impoverished Latgale region of southeastern Latvia near the Russian and Belorussian borders.

The status of the Russians in Latvia is a very touchy political question in Latvia. Ethnic Latvians tend to view Russians as illegal occupiers and have no desire of recognizing Russian as a co-official language in Latvia alongside Latvian, which is constitutionally defined as Latvia’s sole official language. But the issue goes beyond simple linguistic matters. Some 35% of ethnic Russians in Latvia are ‘non-citizens’ – meaning they are not Latvian (or Russian) citizens, and hence cannot vote. Politically, ethnic Russian voters have in the past few elections tended to vote en masse for the left-wing and largely Russian Harmony Centre (SC), currently the largest party in the Saeima, but excluded from Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis’ cabinet.

This referendum was a concerted effort by Russian lobby groups aimed at mobilizing the Russian minority and force the government to open a dialogue with the ‘national minorities’. SC leader and mayor of Riga Nils Ušakovs was not overly enthusiastic about the idea of a referendum, but supported a yes vote. Both the President and Prime Minister called for a no vote. Given how polarizing the question of language is in Latvia, whereby most Latvians are quasi-unanimous in their opposition to Russian and the Russians quasi-unanimous in their support for Russian, the referendum never stood a chance of passing. The results were:

No 74.8%
Yes 24.88%
Invalid 0.32%

Results of the referendum by municipality (source:

Turnout was 71.12%. Turnout is the first explanation for the wider than expected trouncing of the Russians. The Latvian electorate was far more motivated to turn out than the Russian electorate was. Turnout was heavy in Riga (77%), but in the predominantly Russian region of Latgale, only 60% of voters turned out to vote, about a full 10% below the average in the rest of the country. For Latvian voters who probably knew the referendum had no chance of passage, turning out was likely a way to assert their country’s independence because the linguistic battles between Latvian and Russian often carries a major nationalistic element: Latvian voters viewed the referendum as an attempt to encroach on their country’s independence and worry that Moscow might seek to influence Latvian politics through the country’s Russian minority.

Unsurprisingly, the referendum showed a wide schism in Latvian society between ethnic Latvians and ethnic Russians. The result was almost a picture-perfect map of an ethnic vote. Latvian-speakers were almost unanimous in their rejection of the proposals, with results in the few communities with barely any Russians often nearing 99% against. Russians were, on the other hand, slightly less overwhelming in their support, but I think we can still estimate their support of the proposals in the 90% range. Their votes, of course, were drowned by the heavy turnout and unanimous opposition of Latvians.

In geographic terms, this is what happened in Riga, which rejected the referendum with 63.6% against 36.1%. Riga’s population is about 41% Russian and 43% Latvian. The only region where the referendum passed, unsurprisingly, is the eastern region of Latgale (39% Russian and 44% Latvian). In Latgale, 55.6% voted in favour. It received a majority in seven municipalities. Daugavpils, Latvia’s second largest city and only 18% Latvian, voted yes with 85.2% of the vote. In other regions of the country, the yes vote was slightly higher in those regions (mostly around Riga) where there is a more significant Russian presence, but in regions such as Kurzeme (the country’s westernmost region), the no vote was as high as 91.4%, a number nearly matched by Vidzeme (88% against) and Zemgale (87%).

The goal of the referendum’s organizers was to mobilize Russian voters, which they were not extremely successful in doing, and to put the issue of minority rights on the table. It is unlikely to carry this effect. There is instead the risk that this heavily ‘ethnicized’ referendum has reopened the country’s touchy ethnic and linguistic schism.

USA 2012: Maine caucuses

While Nevada and then Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri voted; Maine held week-long Republican caucuses kicking off on February 4 and ending on February 11. As in most caucuses, these are but straw polls which do not directly affect the allocation of delegates – those are apparently decided in May. Some areas of Maine decided to hold their non-binding straw polls before or after this week-long process, but their results are not counted in the results of this week-long caucus.

Some of these municipal caucuses were held after Rick Santorum’s 3-state sweep on February 6. Santorum’s come-from-behind wins in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri likely sent a shiver down Mitt Romney’s spine, as it shook the (formerly?) likely nominee from his position as frontrunner. Since his wins on February 6, a new strings of polls have shown that Santorum has surged into first place nationally, while Newt Gingrich is in a state of near-collapse. That Santorum would surge nationally was quite obvious, but Santorum needs to hold his momentum until the next major primaries in Michigan and Arizona on February 28. Santorum seems ready to concede Arizona to Romney for now (it is a fairly favourable state for Romney) but is taking on Romney head-on in Romney’s second home-state of Michigan. In a ominous sign for Gingrich, polls have also shown Santorum gaining or even first in a number of Super Tuesday Southern primaries, which were supposed to be Gingrich’s lifeline.

As for Maine, nobody cared besides Ron Paul, still looking for a win, and Mitt Romney who woke up late realizing that he might lose Maine, which he had won with 52% in 2008, to Paul. Maine’s Republican caucus-goers tend to be much more conservative than other New England GOP voters. In 2000, George W. Bush won Maine (which held primaries then) while losing every other New England state to John McCain. Of course, the Bush family, which vacations in Kennebunkport, has always had a built-in advantage with the Maine GOP. In 2008, Mitt Romney, as the conservative alternative to John McCain, won Maine’s off-the-map caucuses with 52% against 21% for McCain and 18.4% for Ron Paul.

Maine has an independent, against the grain streak which even beats that of Vermont and equals that of Alaska. It elected independent governors, most recently Angus King. It was Ross Perot’s best state in 1992, giving him 30% of the vote and a second place showing. Its congressional delegation includes two more or less standard-fare liberal Democrats in the House, two famous moderate Republican Senators. But in 2010, Maine elected Paul LePage, a Tea Party-backed candidate, to the Governor’s Mansion. Since 2010 (or even before), the Maine Republican Party seems to have been taken over by the right-wing of the GOP.

The results were announced in one batch on February 11, but does not include the bulk of results from Washington County where the votes were delayed due to snow.

Mitt Romney 39.21%
Ron Paul 35.74%
Rick Santorum 17.71%
Newt Gingrich 6.25%
Others 1.09%

Results of the ME caucuses (source: uselectionatlas)

Mitt Romney was able to pull off a rather narrow victory, in spite of early reports (from the Paul camp, fair enough) which indicated results rather favourable to Ron Paul. Not that it matters all that much, given that few people actually cared all that much about Maine and its results are unlikely to give Romney any type of momentum. Mitt Romney performed about 13% worst than in 2008, which indicates Romney’s new problem with caucuses whose participants are overwhelmingly conservative. At the same time, Ron Paul performed about 17% better than in 2008. Maine was Ron Paul’s best chance for win in all the states which have voted thus far, but he was ultimately unable to pull off a win. His other chances for a win are probably Montana, Washington, Alaska and North Dakota; but can he actually win a state, even with a strong GOTV operation on the ground and motivated supporters willing to turn out?

Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich did not campaign in Maine, but Santorum still did fairly well without any campaigning. Perhaps if Rick Santorum had put a bit of an effort in Maine, he could have made this a real three-way contest.

The Maine GOP released county and township results, which appear to be incomplete in parts. It only includes ten votes cast in a single town in Washington County, while counties such as Waldo (90 votes) or Aroostook (137 votes) appear to have reported either partial results (I know some parts of Aroostook voted before February 4) or that turnout was really low. The county map looks random, the town map looks both random and empty.

Mitt Romney’s victory was won in Cumberland County, Maine’s most populous county which cast 1,552 votes. While Ron Paul won Portland, Maine’s largest city, Mitt Romney dominated in the affluent coastal suburbs/resorts including Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Cumberland, Yarmouth, Freeport and Harpswell. Romney also performed well in other affluent coastal resort communities including York Beach, Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, Boothbay Harbor, Camden, Rockport and Bar Harbor. At the same time, in less affluent or perhaps more hippie resort areas such as Ogunquit, Old Orchard Beach, Thomaston and Vinalhaven, Ron Paul came out ahead.

Ron Paul also seems to have performed well in the more conservative inland regions, but at the same time he did quite poorly in backwoods Somerset, Franklin and Oxford Counties. Ron Paul’s best showing was in Aroostook County, which he had won in 2008 and which he won this year with 59% this year. But looking at a town map, Aroostook has reported results from only a handful of towns. The heavily Democratic French-Canadian townships of the Madawaska River Valley has basically no results. Aroostook, like Coos County in New Hampshire, seems to be natural Ron Paul territory. It is isolated, conservative but with a fairly independent or libertarian streak. Ron Paul did well in the college towns of Orono and Farmington, but at the same time lost larger college towns such as Gorham or Augusta.

Maine is a fairly working-class state, an element hardly apparent to out-of-state summer vacationers. There seems to be little consistency in results between Maine’s various working-class mill towns. Ron Paul won Lewiston and Auburn, in Androscoggin County, while Rick Santorum performed well in small mill towns in Somerset County. Santorum also performed well in Androscoggin County (26%), which, as Catholic working-class territory, seems to be fairly strong territory for Santorum. In York County, Mitt Romney won Saco and Sanford, but Paul won in Biddeford. Finally, no caucus seems to have been held in Waterville.

USA 2012: Colorado and Minnesota caucuses and Missouri primary

After Nevada’s caucuses on February 4, the race for the Republican nomination in the United States stayed west of the Mississippi with a mini Super Tuesday featuring caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota and a non-binding ‘beauty pageant’ primary in Missouri.

In Nevada, the Republican Party’s frontrunner Mitt Romney scored a triumph over his three remaining challengers taking 50% of the vote in a caucus state, and this despite a very conservative base of caucus-goers (8 in 10 were conservatives, the highest since Iowa on January 3). This win followed a 14-point win over Newt Gingrich in Florida’s primary at the end of January, which had allowed Mitt Romney to avenge his thumping at Gingrich’s hands in South Carolina 10 days prior. Newt Gingrich has tried to position himself as the ‘other guy’ in the race, to make this contest a choice between him – the alleged conservative alternative – and Romney – whose conservative credentials are often placed in doubt by others. His success in South Carolina and second place finishes in both Florida and Nevada have allowed Gingrich to retain this mantle. But Gingrich has so far failed to prove that he’s not a sectional candidate a la Mike Huckabee, with a base limited almost exclusively to the South. The February contests, none of which take place in the old Confederacy, are a tough spell for Gingrich. But these contests are generally seen as favourable to Mitt Romney. He had carried Nevada, Colorado, Minnesota, Maine and Michigan in 2008 – all these states vote (or voted) this month. In 2008, he won over 60% in Colorado’s caucuses and over 40% in Minnesota’s caucuses.

Outside Iowa (and Nevada, to a lesser extent), caucuses are unpredictable affairs. Their setup means that they attract far more limited turnout and its results are conditioned by those who attend caucuses, who are generally very heavily conservative. A candidate’s organization on the ground, with a strong ability to motivate base supporters to go out and caucus, are crucial factors in caucus politics. Barack Obama had understood that in the 2008 Democratic contest, and it perhaps proved determinant. In this race, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul dominate the field in terms of ground organization and GOTV capabilities. In contrast, Gingrich’s campaign in these caucus states was horrible.

In the 2008 Republican caucuses in Nevada, Mitt Romney had two things going for him: firstly, the fact that a quarter of the caucus-goers were Mormons like him. Secondly, the heavily conservative electorate suited Mitt Romney’s 2008 profile as the anti-McCain non-Evangelical conservative candidate. In Nevada this year, he didn’t really lose any of those two advantages. But in Colorado and Minnesota, both states he won easily in 2008 over McCain, his 2008 victory was apparently reliant pretty exclusively on the second condition (conservatism). Despite winning conservatives in Nevada pretty convincingly, conservatives have been 2012 Romney’s weakness. Furthermore, conservatives in Colorado and Minnesota tend to be different from those in Nevada. Nevada’s conservative base does not care all that much about ‘culture war’ issues and tend to be concerned about things such as taxes, the deficit and guns. Colorado and Minnesota Republicans tend to be far more socially conservative – though not Southern Baptist. In fact, the CO and MN GOP tend to be pretty conservative despite Minnesota’s liberalism and Colorado’s centrism. Minnesota Republicans include Michele Bachmann and Colorado Republicans included Tom Tancredo and Marilyn Musgrave.

The Missouri contest was a non-binding ‘beauty pageant’ primary which will not count in assigning delegates. In other words, it can be seen either as an irrelevant joke or a glorified straw poll. A caucus in March will be the one assigning delegates. The primary is made unique by the fact that Newt Gingrich is not on the ballot, although he will be on the caucus ballot. It was a contest between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, with Ron Paul also on the ballot.

Results and Conclusions


Rick Santorum 40.31%
Mitt Romney 34.85%
Newt Gingrich 12.79%
Ron Paul 11.75%
Others 0.3%

Minnesota (98% reporting)

Rick Santorum 44.99%
Ron Paul 27.08%
Mitt Romney 16.85%
Newt Gingrich 10.79%
Others 0.29%

Missouri (non-binding)

Rick Santorum 55.68%
Mitt Romney 25.58%
Ron Paul 12.28%
Uncommitted 3.95%
Others 2.52%

After his come-from-behind triumph in Iowa, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum had it pretty tough in January. He finished a distant third in South Carolina, taking 17%, and also placed third in Florida with 13%. A few days ago in Nevada, he polled only 10%. Despite the momentum his Iowan victory generated, Santorum was unable to keep that short-lived big mo’ from eroding. Rick Santorum, on paper, is a terrific candidate for the GOP primaries: experienced, reliably conservative, no skeletons in the closet and a well-managed campaign. In practice, however, Santorum’s problem is that he has little funds, weak or nascent state organizations and he is not Southern unlike Gingrich. His poor showings in the other January contests after Iowa threatened to descend his operation into irrelevancy. He risked being left behind as Gingrich took the mantle of the conservative anti-Romney. However, Santorum was able to focus his efforts on these three states – especially Minnesota and Missouri’s symbolic primary. Beyond his wildest dreams, Santorum roared back into contention by scoring some pretty monumental blows to Romney. A landslide in Missouri’s beauty contest – 56% of the vote against a mere 26% for Mitt. A much wider than expected margin in Minnesota, taking 45%. More spectacularly, beating Romney by a significant margin in Colorado with 40% of the vote.

Mitt Romney is the real loser of the night. His campaign had been worried about Minnesota and Missouri, and they spent election day furiously spinning the two contests into irrelevance for their campaign. Romney ignored Missouri – his landslide loss there is more understandable and less humiliating. He came to Minnesota only once and it was not his main target – still humiliating, but more understandable. Still, distant third place in a state he got 41% in four years ago… pretty horrible, no? But even further than that, Colorado was Romney’s backyard. He had won it with over 60% of the vote in 2008. The demographics in Missouri and Minnesota didn’t play Romney’s way, but Colorado is full of very affluent and educated suburbanites who form Romney’s backbone thus far. It has a not-insignificant Mormon vote in the GOP caucuses, giving Romney a tiny boost over his rivals, all things being equal. His campaign efforts were largely focused on Colorado, and the polls in the state seemed to be going his way.

There was a late Santorum surge which no casual observer saw coming and which experienced observers saw only very late. Caucuses outside Iowa are notoriously hard to poll, so only PPP ventured out to poll the contests in Minnesota and Colorado. A first poll in Minnesota had shown a three-way tie with Santorum ahead and a last-minute poll out of Minnesota gave Santorum a 9-point edge over Romney. In Colorado, a final last-minute poll by PPP showed Romney with a 10 point lead over Santorum, who had closed the gap. The Colorado poll results averaged out two days of polling, meaning that the final day’s sample was pretty pro-Santorum. That was the only hint of what was coming. Even on election night, most analysts were still pretty certain that Romney would win Colorado, but I did find it hilariously prescient that in his speech, Mitt said that he was confident of ‘finishing number one… or number two… in Colorado’.

Rick Santorum’s recipe for success seems to have been heavy conservative turnouts. GOP caucuses are full of conservatives, and in a lot of cases full of conservatives who are motivated to go out there. Mitt Romney is not the type of candidate who you would go out caucus for after dinner, even if you’re a supporter. He does not motivate turnout. In fact, a 538 analysis picked up by Newt shows that turnout of GOP voters (independents are not counted, given that they are obviously far more likely to vote in contested GOP primaries than uncontested Democratic primaries) so far has tended to decline vis-a-vis 2008 in the places where Romney performs best. Gingrich says that Romney ‘supresses’ turnout, which is perhaps not the best way of putting it, but Romney has not won so far by motivation of his electorate or swing voters, rather he has won by apathy of swing voters and opponents towards his rivals. In Colorado and Minnesota, Santorum – and Paul to a lesser extent – proved capable of motivating turnout, especially among conservatives.

The results in Colorado and Minnesota, more than anything else, show how deep Romney’s conservative problem is. He won those two states in 2008 because their caucus-goers were conservative and he was the conservative alternative that year. He lost those two states in 2012 because their caucus-goers were conservative and he was the moderate choice. Mitt Romney has a serious problem in appealing to his party’s conservative base. Conservatives don’t trust him, don’t like him and don’t want him as their nominee. If he wins, it will likely be because the conservatives have failed to coalesce behind a single candidate. We should still be careful about spinning MN and CO’s results way out of proportion, given that they were low-turnout caucuses where those who turned out were motivated social conservatives who hated Romney. Like McCain and Hillary in 2008, Romney may have a caucus problem, but we can’t really ascertain that he has a primary problem too. McCain lost Minnesota in a landslide, but he did not have any problems in next-door Illinois on the same day.

In a way, Santorum’s victory could be a positive for Romney in the long run. But only if Santorum is unable to build up true momentum and only builds up enough to further divides the conservative anti-Romney vote, allowing Romney to eek out uninspiring victories in crucial states along the way and emerging as nominee-by-default. Romney is still the favourite, he has money, loads of it, and he has shown no reluctance of going negative on his rivals. He has the means to bomb Santorum like he bombed Gingrich in Florida. On the other hand, Santorum is far more of a threat to Romney than Newt is. As previously outlined, he has relatively few negatives which could hurt him with the base but a good list of positives which make him a strong candidate. Santorum should shift his focus to winning Midwestern primaries, where Santorum’s populist tone on economic issues with stuff such as rebuilding America’s manufacturing base would play very well with Republican voters in upcoming big primaries such as Michigan and Ohio. Santorum also needs to try to marginalize Gingrich as much as possible, with the aim of forcing him out of the race as soon as possible.

Given Gingrich’s horrible caucus organization, his results are not surprising. But they make him the second big loser of the night. He has yet to prove that he is more than a sectional, Southern candidate. Gingrich seems extremely adamant about the fact that he’s staying in the race vitam æternam, but if his main financial backer, Sheldon Adelson, stops bankrolling him after a string of results such as these, his determination could prove short-lived. But this race is so unpredictable, Gingrich could mount a fantastic comeback followed a week later by a spectacular collapse back to today’s level.

Ron Paul performed well in Minnesota, up from 16% four years ago. In Colorado, however, his result was bit underwhelming, up only a bit from the 8 or so percent he won in 2008. Early indications out of Maine, whose week-long caucus mess ends on Saturday, are favourable to him and he could be looking at potential victories in Alaska, Washington and Montana.

Geographic Analysis

Results of the CO caucuses (source: uselectionatlas)

In Colorado, Rick Santorum’s victory was built on three main foundations. Firstly, he swept the sparsely populated counties of the state’s flat Eastern Plains. This is conservative, rural, agrarian, Evangelical country; but in the end it only provides a handful of votes. Secondly, and most importantly, Santorum won decisively in El Paso County (Colorado Springs), which cast the most votes of all counties. He won 47% to Romney’s 31%. Colorado Springs, a solidly Republican city, is driven by the military but also has a strong social conservative base as the headquarters of Focus on the Family, a socially conservative organization which endorsed Santorum. Evangelicals make up a big part of the CO GOP caucus-goers, perhaps up to nearly half of the entire electorate. They tend to be concentrated in the Eastern Plains but also non-touristic mountainous areas. Thirdly, Santorum’s victory was made possible by strong showings in the Front Range exurbs of Denver, which are to the right of Denver’s liberalizing suburbs, slightly less educated and less affluent. He carried Larimer County (Fort Collins) 44-30 and Weld (Greeley) 48-28. He also won the main population centre of the Western Slopes, Mesa County (Grand Junction) 47-35.

In the Denver area, Mitt Romney’s support was concentrated in urban Denver and in the educated, affluent and politically more moderate suburban counties of Arapahoe, Jefferson and Douglas. While his victories in Arapahoe and Douglas (45-34 and 47-33 respectively), he only won by a smaller margin of 39-37 in Jefferson County. Outside Denver and Boulder, however, Romney’s support was concentrated in low-vote locales including Mormon outposts (Conejos County, 79% for Romney, some counties along the Utah border) and liberal affluent ski resort places including Pitkin County (Aspen), Eagle County (Vail) and Summit County (Breckenridge).

Ron Paul did best (33%) in Gunnison County which includes both a college (in Gunnison) and a ski resort.

Results of the MN caucuses (source: uselectionatlas); incomplete map

Rick Santorum swept Minnesota quasi-entirely, leaving out only four counties for Ron Paul. His strongest support was concentrated in rural areas, especially in parts of southwestern and northwestern Minnesota which have a large proportion of Evangelical Protestants. Mitt Romney had performed comparatively poorly in the bulk of these areas in 2008, when he won statewide, and this year he was utterly trashed in the vast majority of these counties, where the GOP caucus-going electorate is extremely conservative. But in terms of overall weights, these areas are fairly minimal.

Rick Santorum performed well – and so did Ron Paul actually – in Minneapolis’ famous exurban counties, including Michele Bachmann’s home-turf (the 6th district). Minnesota’s right-wing exurbia, which stands out from the liberalizing suburbs of Chicago, are marked by mega-churches and a politically significant Evangelical community. Romney had performed well here in 2008, he was swept out this year, performing below his statewide average and a distant third at best. Even in the more moderate and affluent inner suburbs of Minneapolis, Romney at best broke 20%, but Santorum still dominated.

Mitt Romney could not even place second in the Twin Cities, both of which were won by Santorum by a smaller yet still significant margin. He won Hennepin (Minneapolis) 36-29.5 over Paul and won Ramsey (St. Paul) 36-34. Santorum also carried two other large urban centres, Olmsted (Rochester) 40-29 and the Iron Range city of Duluth (St. Louis County) 45-29.5. Paul was victorious in Blue Earth County, which includes the college town of Mankato, winning 51 to 30.

Results of the MO primary (source: uselectionatlas)

Missouri’s beauty-pageant primary is ultimately meaningless for Santorum’s campaign, but because it has been reported on by the media, Santorum’s big win there has created some sort of narrative about him winning “the heart of America” and similar stuff like that. Whether or not he can win the meaningful caucus, in which Gingrich will be on the ballot, is still unknown given that Missouri’s demographics are closer to Gingrich’s Southern conservative base than Santorum’s emerging Midwestern conservative base. Still, Santorum’s landslide in the primary carried him over Romney in every single county in the state, a spectacular feat. He far surpasses Mike Huckabee’s close second performance in Missouri’s meaningful 2008 primary, in which he had won 31.5% to McCain’s 33% on the back of strong performances in the culturally Southern Ozarks of southwestern Missouri, the Dixiecratic Bootheel and the old plantation region of Little Dixie in central Missouri.

Rick Santorum still won these culturally Southern regions by huge margins, doing especially well in the Evangelical Ozarks and parts of Little Dixie along the Illinois and Iowa border. But in addition to these conservative bases, Santorum was able to extend his appeal – rather spectacularly – to places where Huckabee had not done as well. He defeated Romney by large margins in the reliably Republican German Catholic counties of the Missouri Rhineland, where McCain had won four years ago. Even more surprising was his ability to defeat Romney in what should be Romney’s backyard: the affluent, more moderate suburbs and exurbs of St. Louis and Kansas City. He won St. Louis’ exurbs in St. Charles County 56-25, in a county which had been one of Romney’s best counties in 2008. But he also won the older, more moderate affluent suburbs of St. Louis (St. Louis County) 53-29 and won the city proper 45-26. He also carried Jackson County (Kansas City) and Boone County, which includes the liberal college town of Columbia.

Slightly amusingly, Mitt Romney’s best result in Missouri came out of Pemiscot County (37.3%), which makes no sense whatsoever. Pemiscot was the only county to vote for Wallace in 1968 and it is a traditionally Dixiecratic county in the Bootheel. Of course, barely anybody (413) voted.

USA 2012: Nevada caucuses 2012

After Florida’s primary on January 31, the the race for the Republican nomination in the United States shifted far westward to Nevada, which held caucuses on February 4.

Following his landslide defeat to Newt Gingrich in South Carolina, Mitt Romney roared back in Florida with a 14-point win over Gingrich in the biggest state to vote thus far. Romney’s crushing of Gingrich in Florida was made possible by Romney’s huge financial base, which far outweighs Gingrich’s financial backings, and which made a series of hard hitting attack ads on Gingrich possible for Romney. Gingrich not only came out of Florida limping on to the next contests, he also came out of there with his favourability ratings almost down the train with GOP voters and a campaign which seems crazier by the day. Romney’s win in Florida re-established him as the likely nominee, but he will have to wait longer than he might want to officially get that crown. In the meantime, however, Romney can cheer himself up with a February schedule which is generally leaning in his favour and pretty unfavourable to Gingrich, who pins his hopes on Southern primaries on Super Tuesday March 6.

The first of the February contests was Nevada, where Mitt Romney had won 51% against Ron Paul’s 13.7% in 2008. Nevada’s caucus electorate is predictably very conservative – it was only slightly less conservative than Iowa’s caucus electorate in 2008 – and that advantaged Romney in 2008 but disadvantages him now. But 25% of Nevada’s GOP electorate is Mormon, which is Mitt Romney’s strongest base. Organization is also pretty important in a caucus, where a candidate’s ability to get out the vote is one of the main keys to caucus success. Romney has one of the strongest organization of any GOP candidate, while in contrast Gingrich’s organization in Nevada was in shambles and barely operative. Ron Paul’s Nevada machine, however, was well-oiled, and Paul has always performed strongly in caucus states, and perhaps doubly so this year as he appeals more and more to deficit-hawk conservatives.

The caucuses were a total mess and the vote counting process was a disgrace. It took the party about a full day to figure out what to count, how to count and when to count the votes in Clark County (Las Vegas), meaning that full results basically came out this morning after they wasted the whole of yesterday figuring out what they were doing.

Results and Conclusions

Mitt Romney 50.12%
Newt Gingrich 21.15%
Ron Paul 18.77%
Rick Santorum 9.96%

Mitt Romney was able to win a pretty significant victory in Nevada, with over 50% of the vote, despite the conservatism of 83% of caucus-goers. He won a result slightly below his 2008 result, likely because of his struggles with conservative voters thus far this year. But it is still a very significant win for Romney, a win which again boosts his momentum going into February.

Newt Gingrich manged to place a very distant second, surprisingly beating out Ron Paul for second place when many had assumed that Paul would do quite well (over 20% at least) in a state which is generally seen as being favourable to his campaign. Gingrich likely remains the second-place contender in the national race, but his path to a potential nomination is very much unclear and his campaign will struggle throughout February despite his insistence that he will fight until the convention in August. Perhaps Romney quite likes it that way, because having a Newt Gingrich consistently placing second but not dropping out only divides the ‘not-Romney’ vote and Gingrich is far less of a threat to Romney in a one-on-one fight than Santorum is. Santorum’s main problem is his lack of funds and his very feeble non-Iowa organization, because otherwise Santorum has the qualities required to seriously threaten Romney: a clean, polished and well-managed campaign, a strong and conservative record. In contrast, Gingrich’s campaign is all over the place, full of mishaps, his past full of skeletons and a record which doesn’t really reek of sparkling-clean conservatism. Yet, Santorum has too few funds and an organization too weak to appear as a viable conservative alternative. His base so far seems to be non-Southern religious/social populist conservatives, which is a very limited base to work with. Santorum placed a very poor fourth in Nevada, where he had invested some resources, with only 10% of the vote.

The February 7 contests in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri are a make-or-break chance for Santorum, who must fight to maintain his campaign in the sphere of relevance. Missouri’s primary is a joke as it is non-binding, but given that Gingrich is not on the ballot there, Santorum has a great chance at proving himself one-on-one against Romney in a state which has some demographics favourable to the not-Romney candidates. Romney carried Minnesota’s caucuses easily in 2008 against John McCain, but a poll has shown Santorum leading a very divided field, and a win in Minnesota would be excellent news for Santorum.

Ron Paul will also be fighting for the prize in Minnesota, where he might be within striking distance of his first state victory. A victory in Minnesota could boost his chances in Maine’s week-long caucuses (Feb 4-11), where early leaks have said that Paul is actually ahead thus far. Ron Paul won’t win the nomination, but in the very slight chance that it boils down to a convention fight, a Paul coming in with a big slate of delegates could give him some pretty strong bargaining cards.

Entrance Poll Data

Nevada’s electorate was quite old: 35% were above 65, about the same as in Florida. Given that older voters heavily back Romney everywhere (they did so in Nevada again, with 54%, the highest of all age groups), this likely explains part of why Romney won. He still won all other age groups except Paul’s core 17-29 base, which preferred Paul over Romney by 5 points (41-36). In terms of income, again, we find a graduated income scale in perfect correlation with Romney’s support. He lost those earning less than $30k to Gingrich and Paul (32 and 31% respectively vs. 29%) while winning all other income groups, peaking at 54% among those who earned between $100-200k. Nevada’s voters are not known for being extremely rich, and those earning over $200k made up only 6% of the electorate – too small for a reliable sample. They likely backed Romney very heavily.

83% of Nevada’s caucus-goers were conservatives – as much as in Iowa and 8% more than in the 2008 Nevada caucuses. That Romney was able to dominate this group without too much worries is encouraging for him, who has so far struggled to win conservatives (he lost the very conservative crowd to Newt in Florida). Conservatives gave him 51% support against 23% for Gingrich and 15% for Paul. This is down 5 from 2008, when Romney was clearly the conservative alternative to McCain. In fact, Romney did better with conservatives than moderates: he won moderates/liberals 48-36 over Paul. The 49% who identified as ‘very conservative’ backed Romney 46-25 over Gingrich, a result down 11 points from 2008 for Mitt. Yet, his result with moderates is up 11 on 2008. Nevada’s conservative electorate is unlike the ‘Southern-type’ conservative electorate in Iowa, South Carolina or Florida. Nevada conservatives are probably those who care the least about gays and abortions (only 4% cited abortion as their top issue), but are probably very conservative on economic and fiscal issues – 75% supported the Tea Party (those who did backed Romney pretty convincingly too). On issues of taxes and economic conservatives, Romney has indisputable appeal to those types of conservatives. Yet only 4% of those who cited being a “true conservative” as the top candidate quality backed Romney.

Mormons were a quarter of the electorate and gave Romney 88% of the vote, down from 95% in 2008. Catholics gave Romney 48% of the vote, but Protestants only gave him a 37-34 edge over Gingrich.

On the ability to defeat Obama, still the top candidate quality, Romney scored a home run: 70% of those who cited that as their top quality in a candidate backed Romney. His electability card remains a powerful weapon which all other candidates struggle to seize from him.

Geographic Analysis

Results of the NV caucuses (source: uselectionatlas)

Nevada is a large state, but in electoral terms, elections are made and often won in Clark County (Las Vegas), which contained 53% of the GOP caucus-goers. In second place, Washoe County (Reno) contributes another share, while the vast sprawling desert contains few voters. Romney definitely owes part of his success in Nevada to his convincing victory in Clark, where he won 57.7% of the vote, Paul placing a distant second with 19% in the Sin City’s county. Clark County Republicans tend to be affluent and suburban, a perfect base for Romney. There might be a not-insignificant Mormon base in Clark County’s GOP caucus-goers, but Mormons are usually found in Lincoln County, just north of Clark, where Romney won 83.6% of the vote in a county which is about 50% Mormon (and looks like a flipped Utah). To a lesser extent, the Mormon vote likely influenced the results in White Pine County and maybe Elko County, but Elko is a fairly well-off semi-booming gold mining town, which is a kind of place which Romney should do well in.

Gingrich and Santorum performed better in the sparsely populated desert areas (outside those bordering Utah, obviously), likely more Protestant and conservative. Gingrich won 28% to Romney’s 42% in Washoe (Reno), and actually won a county – Mineral – which seems fairly unremarkable except being an old mining boom town county which barely has anybody left anymore (only 103 GOP caucus-goers).

Ron Paul had carried one county against Romney in 2008 – Nye – and he repeated his success in Nye, building on it even, taking 45.8% in Nye, whose biggest town is Pahrump. He also won tiny Esmeralda County – 58 GOP caucus-goers on Saturday. Pahrump and Nye are very libertarian places, part of it influenced by a phenomenon common to the entire Rocky Mountain West – the federal government owns most of the land. Otherwise, Pahrump is a very live-and-let-live type of place: unlike in Vegas, prostitution is legal and brothels operate in town; and people are extremely pro-gun, and voters are libertarian and independent in their politics. This is pure Paul country, and also the type of place – besides Vegas – which the name Nevada often evokes.

30,000 or so GOP voters turned out to caucus on Saturday, which is actually down from 44,000 caucus-goers in 2008. This is not an encouraging sign for the NV GOP in a swing state like Nevada. Unlike in the 2008 Democratic contest, the opposition party seems to have little ground enthusiasm for the candidates lining up to defeat the incumbent. Another part of the story is that the NV GOP is in shambles, as it demonstrated by its total ineptness at vote counting. Their organization on the ground is terrible and their coordination of the caucus was apparently a total mess. While this might not prevent Romney or the GOP candidate from potentially winning the state in November (although I wouldn’t bet on it), it is never good news for a swing state party to be inept at what it does and totally devoid in ground-base or organization.

For the first time since Iowa, we know relatively little about the caucuses and beauty-pageant primary being held on February 7. For the first time, in states such as Minnesota, we have a hard time predicting the outcome.

Finland 2012

The second round of presidential elections were held in Finland on February 5. The President of Finland is directly elected for a term of six years and is immediately re-eligible once. Interestingly, as Finland amended its constitution to make the President directly elected (in 1994), it went in suit with a significant reduction in the President’s powers, transforming Finland from a French-like semi-presidential system to a rather parliamentary system with a ceremonial presidency. While the President retains power over appointments, defense and foreign policy, the presidency’s powers vis-a-vis legislation has been curtailed and a veto can be overridden very easily. Despite the limited powers, the President is still a fairly prestigious position and the Presidents in recent years have become seen as sources of stability. Presidential elections also attract very heavy turnout, often 80% or more of voters, who are said to appreciate the personal nature of the election in contrast to party-list parliamentary elections.

I covered the details and results of the first round on January 23 here. The runoff opposed Sauli Niinistö of the ruling centre-right KOK, a former finance minister, party leader and 2006 presidential runner-up to Pekka Haavisto of the Green League, a former cabinet minister and UN diplomat. Niinistö, who narrowly lost the 2006 race to term-limited SDP President Tarja Halonen has been the runaway favourite for 2012 ever since he did so well in 2006, and he emerged from the first round with 37% against 18.8% for Haavisto. Besides Haavisto’s historic feat in placing the Greens in the runoff, the first round was marked by two other factors: for the first time since 1982, the President will not be from the left-wing SDP after the SDP’s candidate, former Prime Minister, Paavo Lipponen, placed fifth with 6.7% of the vote. Secondly, eurosceptic candidates did poorly and neither of the two big eurosceptic contenders – former Centre Party (KESK) Prime Minister Paavo Väyrynen or populist right-winger Timo Soini of the True Finns (PS) – were able to make it into the runoff. Soini’s 9% performance was about 10% below that his party had garnered in the 2011 legislative elections, and it won his fourth place, while Väyrynen narrowly lost out second place to Haavisto with 17.5%, slightly above his party’s disastrous 2011 results. As such, the runoff was unique in that it was not a traditional left-right contest as all presidential runoffs since 1994 have been, nor was it even a pro-European/eurosceptic matchup either. It was probably closest to a liberal (Haavisto)-conservative (Niinistö) matchup, but even then the ideological differences between the two pro-European, ‘tolerant’, socially liberal candidates were sparse.

Turnout was exceptionally low at 68.9%, the lowest ever turnout in a type of election which has usually interested Finnish voters. Invalid or spoiled ballots also reached a high.

Sauli Niinistö (KOK) 62.6%
Pekka Haavisto (Green) 37.4%

Despite Haavisto’s last-minute success in the first round which made his distant second the sensation of the day, Niinistö actually remained the favourite throughout. Honestly, against a very popular, well-funded and well known major party candidate, a “gay liberal” like Haavisto barely stood a chance. Niinistö has been the runaway favourite since 2006 or so, and he has led in all/the vast majority of polls. He also entered the runoff with 37%, in a much better position than Haavisto whose core was only 19%. Niinistö probably had a wider appeal to traditional voters than the maverick liberal Haavisto did. While Niinistö is a liberal pro-European too, he has built up a base which far surpasses the narrow bases of his own party, and he likely has a more natural appeal to more culturally conservative KESK voters or older retired working-class SDP voters. In fact, one of his main strengths has been his wide base with older voters, a traditional core SDP electorate in Finland. With 63%, Niinistö trounces Haavisto by a crushing 26-point margin, by far the widest gap in any presidential runoff election in Finland (the previous record was set by Martti Ahtisaari in 1994 when he beat Elisabeth Rehn by 8 points in the runoff). Niinistö becomes the first president since 1956 to hail from KOK’s ranks, but he will be required to give up his party membership upon taking office. Furthermore, his relations with KOK Prime Minister and party leader Jyrki Katainen, who is much younger than Niinistö, have not been particularly warm.

Pekka Haavisto was badly defeated in the runoff, but for an “unusual” candidate starting out from such a narrow base in the first round, Haavisto’s performance is still rather remarkable. It is also, in the wider realm of things, something for the Greens to take pride in and perhaps a base for them in future elections. Even if we assume that Haavisto won the support of all those who had backed the left-wing candidate Lipponen and Arhinmäki in the first round and those who backed Swedish candidate Eva Biaudet (which would be a total of 33.6%), he still obviously won pretty significant support from those who had backed the eurosceptic candidates Paavo Väyrynen and Timo Soini in the first round. Given how Haavisto is basically presented to the world as an openly gay pro-European liberal, it is quite remarkable that he has been able to win at least some sort of support from those voters. In the end, Haavisto managed to close the gap from 74-26 before the first round to 63-37 on election day, but it was always an uphill fight for him.

It is important to extend our previous comments on turnout. At only 68.9%, turnout is the lowest in any presidential election and even lower than turnout in the last legislative election, a type of election which attracts slightly less voters than presidential ballots. Invalid votes, 0.7% of the total, were also quite high. Only 32% of voters actually turned out on election day, while another 36% voted by advance ballot – quite prevalent in Finland, especially in isolated rural areas. Haavisto won 41% on election day, against 34.5% in advance ballots, which reflects the lesser prevalence of advance voting in Haavisto’s core urban strongholds. Climatic conditions explain part of the low turnout – weather was horrible in Finland on election day – but a good part of it likely stems from a good number of conservative KESK or PS voters who opted to stay home rather than vote in a contest between two pro-European ‘liberals’. Turnout was lowest in Åland (56%) and Lapland (62%) – the latter of which voted heavily for KESK’s Paavo Väyrynen in the first round. Turnout is naturally lower in all presidential elections in self-governing Swedish-speaking Åland, where voters probably feel less connection with mainland Finnish politics.

Åland, incidentally, stands out on the map as the only county to give Haavisto a majority (he won 60%), after having voted for Swedish candidate Eva Biaudet in the first round. However, Swedish voters along the coast in Vaasa seem to have voted for Niinistö by pretty significant margins. Åland benefits from extensive autonomy, and it has always shown a preference for left-wing candidates who tend to be more supportive of its autonomous status. He also came very close in Helsinki, where he won 49.8% – and 54% of election day voters. He failed to break 40% in any other county in the mainland besides Keski-Suomi, where he won 42%, probably because of his strong result (47%) in the big university town of Jyväskylä. Otherwise, Haavisto seems to have won mediocre results in working-class or industrial towns which usually vote SDP.

USA 2012: Florida primaries 2012

Ten days after South Carolina, the race for the Republican nomination in the United States moved on to Florida on January 31. Florida is the biggest state to vote thus far. In terms of delegates, Florida held 5o delegates – it lost half of its delegates after the RNC penalized it for moving its primary forward. All delegates were allocated by winner-take-all, whereby the primary winner won all delegates.

Newt Gingrich came out of South Carolina with a decisive victory over Mitt Romney, severely halting Romney’s post-NH momentum and putting into renewed doubt his ability to win the nomination. South Carolina’s GOP primary electorate had been fairly representative of the GOP electorate in the rest of the conservative religious South, a region where Romney, whose conservative credentials are always placed in doubt, is the weakest. Romney could afford to live with a defeat in South Carolina, but understood that the Florida primary would be crucial for him. Florida is a Southern state in terms of geography, but in terms of culture, demographics and economy it is far more northern.

Gingrich came out of his South Carolina landslide with a major bump in polls in Florida, catapulting him into the lead. But his momentum proved to be short lived after Gingrich performed poorly in the first debate on January 23 and failed to perform any better in the debate on January 26. On the 23rd, Romney took back the advantage in Florida and his lead grew into the double digits following the final debates. Romney performed far better in the debates in Florida than he had in South Carolina, but Romney’s ability to turn the race around in Florida also lies on other factors. One of Romney’s major edge over all other candidates is his impressive warchest, and he used that warchest extensively in Florida to come out with hard-hitting attack ads on Gingrich, which severely hurt Gingrich’s campaign. Romney’s strategy was not to convince voters to vote for him but rather to convince voters that Gingrich is such an horrible person that Romney was by the default the most palatable option, and also the most electable option (which is still true). Gingrich also had a few missteps of his own, the most important of which was his declaration that he’d built a lunar colony if elected, a comment aimed at Florida’s Space Coast but which ended up being received as populistic pork-barreling and opportunism to win votes. Rommey’s strategy ended up being successful as Gingrich’s favourability numbers collapsed.

Florida was really a two-person contest. Ron Paul never put any effort into Florida, because it was WTA state where he had no chance at gaining anything tangible (delegates) unless he won the state. Paul is more interested in the February caucus state, where he is naturally stronger and where he has been placing lots of resources. Rick Santorum originally placed some effort into Florida and his strong debate performance on January 26 helped his numbers a but, but he quickly decided that it would be a better idea to campaign in Nevada ahead of caucuses in that western state on February 4. Santorum’s campaign was halted when his 3-year old daughter Bella, who has Edwards Syndrome, was rushed to the hospital with pneumonia.

Results and Conclusions

Mitt Romney 46.42%
Newt Gingrich 31.93%
Rick Santorum 13.34%
Ron Paul 7.01%
Others 1.3%

Mitt Romney won a decisive landslide victory in Florida. In doing so, he has put his campaign back on track after the accident in South Carolina and once again solidifies his claim to being the presumptive nominee. Indeed, with all his money and organization as well as his main opponent’s serial weaknesses, it is hard to see Romney failing to win the nomination at this point. Florida’s 50 WTA delegates places Romney far ahead of his rivals in the race for delegates, but even if Romney won all delegates still up for grabs, he would only reach the nomination (50%+1 of delegates) in April. The slightly slower primary calendar in 2012 compared to 2008 makes a longer nomination race more likely, even though Romney should still be able to pull out the nomination in the end.

Romney’s defeat in South Carolina was, from a certain angle, not too unsurprising. South Carolina was demographically unfavourable to him as it contained rather few of the voters with which Romney dominates and a lot of the voters who are the coolest towards Romney. Romney’s core base is basically more-or-less moderate affluent, older Republicans living in wealthy suburbs or similar places. South Carolina is a poor state which has few affluent suburbs with moderate Republicans who like Mitt. In contrast, Florida’s Republican base – especially in southern Florida – is generally old, affluent and more naturally inclined to support moderate-establishment Republicans like Romney. Romney has always done well with older voters (as well as the wealthiest voters), and Florida has a lot of old voters: those 65 and up made up 36% of the Florida electorate – the oldest electorate of any of the four states which have voted.

Romney also has another sizable advantage in his fight with Newt Gingrich. The February contests are generally said to be favourable to Romney and Gingrich is facing a tough race in almost all of them. If Romney can sweep February, which is not unlikely, he would place Gingrich in a situation similar to that of Hillary Clinton after February 2008, where she had lost many small caucus states and the Potomac Primaries to Barack Obama. A lot of these are caucus states (NV, ME, CO and MN) where Romney had performed very well in 2008, but that was because the conservative alternative to McCain and caucus electorates are well known to be very conservative compared to primary electorates. Romney doesn’t have the conservative caucus boost any longer, a boost which Ron Paul may have this year. Late February primaries in Arizona and Michigan should both favour Romney. Gingrich will be trying to remain viable until March, when a lot of Southern states favourable to him vote.

Ron Paul will try to mark February with a few victories of his own, perhaps in Maine, Colorado or Minnesota. Rick Santorum, meanwhile, will put some resources in the caucus states (Colorado, Nevada in particular) while also hoping to score a symbolic win in Missouri’s non-binding ‘beauty pageant’ primary where Gingrich is not on the ballot.

The next contest is on February 4 in Nevada, the first state west of the Mississippi to vote. Nevada had been very favourable to Romney in 2008, giving him 51% against Paul’s 13.7%. Romney had two advantages in Nevada in 2008, one of which he still has. Firstly, about a quarter of the GOP caucus-goers in Nevada are likely to be Mormons and Romney had won 95% of their votes in Nevada in 2008. Romney obviously still has this sizable advantage, which gives him an absolute floor of 25% or so. The second advantage he had in 2008 was that he was the non-Southern conservative alternative to McCain, and Nevada’s 2008 GOP electorate was the second most conservative electorate behind Iowa – 75% were conservatives. Romney won 56% of their votes in 2008, but only 37% of the votes from those who were moderates (beating McCain, who placed third in the caucuses, by 10 points). Romney has lost this conservative edge which is important in caucuses, becoming something of the 2012 John McCain. Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum are better positioned to appeal to Nevada’s conservatives. Polls have been sparse and unreliable in Nevada, but Romney does not have the huge lead he had in 2008.

Exit Poll Data

As always, exit polls provide us with interesting conclusions about the candidate’s distribution of support. There was a pretty interesting gender gap: men backed Romney by only 5 points over Gingrich but women backed Romney by a full 23 points. In terms of age groups, Florida’s electorate was quite old: 18-29s made up only 6% of the electorate and even that Paul-friendly group backed Romney, although only with 41% against 25% for Paul. The older you are, the more likely you were to back Romney: he peaked at 51% support (vs. 34% for Newt) among those over 65. Remember that those 65+ voters made up 36% of the electorate.

69% of voters identified as conservative, against 31% who said they were moderates or liberals. In 2008, Romney had won conservatives with 37% against 29% for McCain – he even took 44% with those 2008 voters who were very conservative. This year, Romney won conservatives but only by 4 points over Gingrich, who won those who were ‘very conservative’ by 9. Moderates or liberals gave Romney a 39-point gap over Gingrich. 40% of voters were evangelical or born-again Christian, and they voted for Gingrich with 38% against 36% for Romney. In 2008, that same crowd had split 30% for McCain and 29% apiece for Huckabee and Romney.

Again, there was a perfect correlation between high income and high Romney support. While Romney won all income levels, he won only 42% with those earning less than $30k. In contrast, he won 61% with those earning over $200k, building a 37-point gap over Gingrich with that wealthiest 9% of the electorate.

Romney dominated the field with those voters who thought the economy was most important (52-30 over Gingrich) and also won those who felt the deficit was the biggest issue (41-34 over Gingrich). Gingrich won the 7% who felt abortion was the most important issue, taking 43% against 28% for Santorum. Romney gained back the edge over Gingrich in terms of electability, still the most important quality for GOP voters. He won 58% support among the 45% who cite a candidate’s electability in November as their top concern. In contrast, only 11% of those who felt that being a true conservative was the top quality backed Romney.

Debates and ads played a key role in Romney’s victory. As in South Carolina, debates were important for 69% of voters, but Romney won those voters with 42% against 34% for Gingrich. Campaign ads were important for 41% of voters and a factor in the vote of 71% of voters, and Romney clearly reaped the fruits of his attack ads. He won 59% of those who said the ads were important in their vote, against a mere 25% for Gingrich. Gingrich’s favourability numbers also show the results of Romney’s scorched earth strategy: a full 40% of voters had an unfavourable view of Gingrich, compared to just 20% of voters who had an unfavourable view of Romney. Another 42% said they would not be satisfied if Gingrich won the nomination, against only 31% who feel the same about Romney winning the nomination.

Geographical Analysis

Results of the FL primary (source: uselectionatlas)

There was a very apparent geographic divide in the map of the Florida primary. This geographic divide basically reflects the nature of the state. Florida, although geographically southern, is not a Southern state in the cultural sense of that capitalized term. In fact, only northern Florida is Southern while southern Florida is far more northern. The Florida Panhandle, which borders Alabama and Georgia, is geographically closest to the Deep South and shares similar economic, racial, cultural and religious traits. It is the most culturally Southern region, characterized by an old black minority in old plantation counties, racialized voting patterns, stronger religious faith and a long history of being a Dixiecrat stronghold – registered Democrats still outnumber Republicans by a significant margin in a number of white conservative counties in the Panhandle. The Panhandle, in short, is the only region of Florida which resembles the Deep South and the patterns we found last week in South Carolina.

Newt Gingrich clearly dominated in North Florida and the Panhandle. He lost only Leon County, home to Tallahassee, Florida’s liberal state capital and its affluent suburb; Bay County, dominated by the ‘redneck riviera’ resort city of Panama City and Okaloosa County, which besides the resort town of Fort Walton Beach includes a large military base. Romney also did well in Escambia County, which includes the big military and resort town of Pensacola. In the heart of the Panhandle, including those counties which basically form a circle around Tallahassee, Gingrich blew Romney out of the water. This rural conservative region, with no countervailing military or tourist influence, is also where Rick Santorum did well, winning over 20% of the vote. Unfortunately for Newt, Republican registration remains so low in those counties that rarely is the number of votes cast in those places over 1000 votes. Only 172 votes, for example, were cast in Liberty County which favoured Gingrich over Romney by a 43-25 margin. Gingrich also did surprisingly well in Alachua County, which despite including the liberal college town of Gainesville seems to have a fairly right-wing GOP base.

Newt Gingrich won all but two of the counties where a plurality of census respondents in 2000 claimed “American” ancestry, which is a good indicator of Southern culture as opposed to ancestries such as “German” or “English” which are reflective of northern or western whites. In South Carolina, all counties where “American” had been the largest ancestry voted for Gingrich. If this pattern continues, Gingrich is in strong position to to win the Deep South states and a good part of the Outer South states.

Despite outspending Gingrich 5-1 and hitting the air with series of attack ads, Romney’s money was unable to win him a breakthrough in culturally Southern Florida. The results in the Panhandle shows that Romney has a very real ‘Southern problem’ which could pose a threat to him in March, when states like Alabama and Georgia will vote. Romney actually lost ground compared to 2008 in nine counties, all in North Florida, including Duval (Jacksonville) and Bay (Panama City). Six counties which went for Romney in 2008 went for Gingrich, all those counties being basically in the greater Jacksonville metro. Jacksonville, with a black inner city and affluent white suburbs, is more reflective of Southern suburbia – heavily white and conservative in contrast to liberal black inner-city areas – than it is of moderate suburbia where Romney has done well so far. This should send a little chill to Romney, given that he had been able to win a lot of these conservative Southern suburbs around Atlanta and Nashville in 2008.

However, once we get south of culturally Southern Florida, we enter strong Romney territory, where Romney both performed strongest and where he picked up the most support vis-a-vis 2008. You can basically cut the state into two parts on the basis of this primary, with the Panhandle and North Florida backing Gingrich, while the bulk of Florida lying south of a line going from Jacksonville to Citrus County voting for Romney with minor exceptions. Romney won the conservative military-industrial complex region of the Space Coast (Brevard County), the retirement communities of the Nature Coast, Tampa-St. Pete’s affluent suburbs, the wealthy retirement communities of the Gulf Coast (Naples, Sarasota, Ft. Myers), the growing regions along the I-4 corridor (Lakeland, Orlando etc). Some of these areas, like the conservative affluent retirees (a lot of them from the Midwest) along the Gulf Coast, were natural ground for Romney. But other areas, like the I-4 corridor communities, would have been must-win areas for Gingrich if he was to have won. These middle-class white suburban areas are likely where voters were most receptive to Romney’s attack ads on Gingrich and who were more naturally inclined to support the electable option over the ideological purity option.

Gingrich won five counties in rural inland southern Florida, five counties which are pretty much the last remnants of traditional Southern culture in southern Florida. These counties, which have sizable black and Mexican populations, are still quite dependent on agriculture (hence why there are so many Mexicans) when the rest of the region is dependent on services, the military, tourism or white-collar industries. There is still a rural Southern conservatism to these counties, explaining why Gingrich won these counties.

Romney did very well in southeastern Florida, where Republicans tend to be old, moderate and affluent. He won over 50% in Indian River, Martin and Palm Beach Counties. His best result in Florida came from Miami-Dade, with 61% of the vote. The bulk of the GOP electorate in Miami is Cuban, and while the Cuban community is right-wing on the Cuban issue, it is more moderate on immigration and social issues. Romney had the backing of the Cuban GOP machine, led by Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart, and the Cuban community has tended to support fairly moderate establishment candidates: it backed McCain very heavily in 2008, and Romney had done very poorly with Cubans in 2008. Santorum and Paul also won their worst results in Miami-Dade.

The race gets more unpredictable as it enters the notoriously hard to poll caucus states. Romney remains the favourite for the nomination, but that doesn’t mean that the fun is over.