On Saturday Mitt Romney stopped the bleeding of his campaign with a Straw Poll win at CPAC and the week-long Maine Caucuses. This supposed bleeding was due to losses on February 6th in the states of Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado. And it only furthered a narrative that many conservatives and establishment media pundits have been pushing for some time. Republicans, especially conservatives, simply do not like Romney. But does this analysis really hold up?
In truth not really.
At last tally Romney had 98 pledged delegates to his side, followed by 44 for Santorum, 32 for Gingrich and 20 for Paul. The majority of Romney’s delegates have come from his wins in NH (39%), Florida (46%) and NV (50%). Santorum’s delegates have come from a narrow win in IA (25%), and his win in CO (40%). Due to delegate allocation rules MN’s delegates remain unpledged until the Convention and MO’s vote was a glorified Straw Poll. Gingrich’s delegates have almost all come from his win in SC (40%) and Paul’s have come from numerous states.
But let’s not stop with just looking at delegate totals (afterall FL with its winner-take-all 50 delegates distorts these numbers) but look at the actual popular vote totals. Romney leads the pack with 1,121,497 over all votes followed by Gingrich at 838,715. Santorum is a distant third in the popular vote total at 431,819 and Paul totals just over 300,000 votes. For simplicity’s sake I have taken out the popular vote totals for candidates who have dropped out.
Doing the math we see Romney has gotten a strong 41% of primary and caucus goers votes while Gingrich has received 31%. Santorum has received slightly more than a mere 15%. And while it is true that Romney has only won a pluarlity among self-indentified Republicans in the process he has made up for it with solid margins among independents (he and Paul have effectively split them).
Now let’s look at the polls. If the GOP did not like Romney you would expect his support to drop suddenly and often. But that has not happened. Instead, Romney hovered at 25%-30% before the IA Caucuses consistently, stayed steady until NH and then rose to around 40% (according to daily Gallup tracking polls) before South Carolina. However, after suffering a major setback in the state to Gingrich his numbers shrank back to the low to mid 20s. Gingrich surged. But right after Romney’s 12 point win in Florida he surged back up to the mid 30’s and has held steady there.
Since Santorum’s wins on Feburary 6th his numbers have surged. But short of a PPP (D) survey showing him ahead by 15 (currently an outlier) he has not dented Romney’s support. Instead, Romney continues to sit in the mid 30s in Gallup tracking while Santorum has only begun to rise to the mid 20s. If Republicans and right leaning independents did not like Romney his support would consistently bail on him. But he has maintained solid support from a plurality of Republicans.
It is true that Romney has struggled among two key groups of GOP voters, men and very conservative voters. Since IA however Romney’s share of both male and very conservative voters has been going up. In NH Romney won 39% of the male vote. By Florida he won 41%. In Florida Romney won 37% of very conservative voters and then in NV won a majority of them. But losing very conservative voters must also be tempered with the fact that Romney consistently performs well among somewhat conservative voters. His performance among somewhat conservative voters actually meant he won a plurality, 41%, of the 69% of the electorate in Florida who identified as conservative.
Romney’s lead among pledged delegates, wins in key states, advantage in the popular vote and his steady leads in the polls do show that Republicans do like Romney.
Certainly there is concern about him in conservative circles. How else could his loss in CO be explained? Colorado being a state back in 2008 where he beat John McCain with 61% of the vote. Back in 2008 Romney was the conservative and McCain was the moderate that many conservatives were wary of. But in the end McCain won the nomination and conservatives rallied to his campaign.
Like in 2008 for McCain once Romney wins the nomination conservatives are sure to flock to his cause. If for no other reason to defeat Obama. Romney’s campaign may see turnout among very conservative voters lag compared to Bush’s 2004 campaign but they have always planned to temper that with wins among independents (McCain lost them 53%-46% in 2008). And the president’s campaign cannot count on historic turnout among the party’s base to see him through again. Close elections hinge on turnout and despite concerns about Romney’s conservatism GOP turnout will be fueled by one thing if nothing else, defeating Barack Obama.