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January 16, 2008

On the Michigan Exit Polls

For the most part, the CNN exit polls are uninformative. The various categories in which Romney leads among all options merely reflect the fact that he was the most popular candidate, something we obviously already know from the official results. More than that, it means that many of the various questions do not break down into factors which influenced the electorate to choose one candidate over another.1

However, there are a few interesting findings for each candidate:

Mike Huckabee
We've had several Huckabee supporters (and at least one moby that I know of) stop by in the comments to tell us that evangelical Christians are not the only folks supporting him. We've also had folks telling us that not all evangelical Christians support him (although, whether or not a person was an evangelical or born-again Christian was a big predictor of how they would vote in Iowa).

Well, at least in Michigan the evangelical/born-again Christian vote was split up among the leading candidates. (Romney took 34%, Huckabee took 29%, and McCain took 23%.) That doesn't tell us very much except that Michigan Christians did not choose to go the way Iowans did. The interesting finding is that religious affiliation, more specifically a lack of identification as an evangelical or born-again Christian, was a decisive factor in choosing not to vote for Mike Huckabee.

This suggests something we've all suspected: his appeal among non-evangelical Christians is quite limited. The Huckabee campaign should alter its strategy if it wants to gain ground. Of course, part of his problem is that he has trouble distinguishing himself from the other candidates when he focuses on anything other than religion in politics. And when he is different from the others, it's usually because his policies look more like those of the Democratic candidates than his Republican fellows.

His other major problem is money. He has strong support from the evangelical Christian community because that is where his grassroots efforts can reach. To get to other voters, he is going to have to spend advertising money. Unfortunately, he has the smallest amount of money of the candidates.

John McCain
It is difficult to draw useful conclusions from the data about McCain because a large percentage of the voters (25%) indicated that they were registered Independents. We can't know how many of them would have preferred to vote in a regular Democratic primary or how many of them would choose to vote for a Republican in the general election.

However, when asked "Which is more important to your vote? Issues or personal qualities?" McCain scores much higher (41%) among those who answered the later than his overall vote percentage for the evening (30%). That's a confusing result for me, especially because I think his personal qualities, including his well-known temper and disrespectful attitude towards those who disagree with him, are some of his biggest flaws. On the other hand, obviously his "straight-talk express" has convinced a significant portion of voters.

You might also note that he doesn't take those voters from Romney, who scores very close to his overall vote percentage among voters who choose "personal qualities" as more important than "issues." Rather, he takes a few voters from Huckabee and quite a few from Paul.

Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, and Ron Paul
Now, it's also difficult to draw meaningful conclusions about these fellows because their overall vote percentage for the evening was so low. In the case of Giuliani and Thompson, that was expected, as neither intended to be competitive in Michigan. Paul, on the other hand, did just a bit better than he's doing nationally at about 6%.

One category is interesting, though. When asked which candidate would be "most likely to bring needed change", Romney, McCain, and Huckabee voters chose their own candidate, mostly. However, for some reason, many of those who said they voted for Giuliani, Thompson, and Paul in the primary did not think that their candidate would be most likely to bring needed change.

I'm not sure why we see the discrepancy, and I'd appreciate suggestions in the comments.

Also, with regard to Paul specifically, this question lets us know how those who answered exit polls reported they voted. You can tell by comparing the numbers in the far left column with the actual results that Paul supporters were much more likely to stop and answer exit polls than other voters. According to the exit polls, he received twice the percentage than the official results show.

Of course, it is not unexpected that Paul supporters would be more likely than other voters to talk to exit pollsters. As we know from nearly every internet poll conducted in this race, they get great enjoyment from sharing their fanaticism for Paul. Unfortunately, I think that this will only fuel their claims of vote tampering ala some Democratic voters after the exit polls widely diverged from the actual results in the 2000 general election.

Mitt Romney
Finally, when it comes to tonight's winner, I don't see much that he can take away from the results. His family connection to the state played some role with a significant portion of the voters, but it is difficult to tell how much and it is not something that he can replicate elsewhere (except perhaps Utah, where he went to school, and Massachusetts). As I wrote earlier, the fact that he won all the way across categories tends to make those results meaningless.

In sum, the results here are most encouraging (obviously) for Romney and McCain. They are also encouraging for people who want to see a brokered convention. Unlike the Democrats, our candidates are not abandoning their candidacies due to poor showings in some state contests. So far, we've got Huckabee, McCain, and Romney making impressive wins (despite the fact that New Hampshire really should be too small to count).

What if Thompson takes South Carolina and Giuliani takes Florida? More importantly, how is it that voters across the country see things so differently? Even should McCain take South Carolina and Florida, which is still a strong possibility, we will be heading into Super Tuesday with at least three healthy candidates, two of whom I could live with.

I wrote yesterday that I was "already mad at voters in both states [Michigan and South Carolina], and I don't even know why." This evening I am strangely sanguine about the results. So, I am sorry, you'll have to look to one of the other cobloggers for cheesecake tonight. My thanks to moron notropis for directing me earlier when I couldn't find the exit polls even though the link was in the same place as it was for Iowa.

1. For example, if you look at the more detailed "Vote by Education" category, you will see that Romney led in all statistically significant answers. In the bottom three options, "Some College", "College Graduate", and "Postgraduate" the percentage of Romney voters in each option is within a few points of his overall percentage for the evening. The same is true for McCain and Huckabee; for each option, the candidates took within a few percentage points of their overall vote percentage. In other words, in general, the level of a voter's education was not a factor which led him or her to choose a particular candidate over the others.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 01:24 AM

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