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). 

Posted on February 29, 2012, in Arizona, Michigan, Primaries, leadership contests or internal party votes, U.S.A.. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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