Arizona and Michigan Confirm GOP Voter Split

by Wendy Simmons | February 29, 2012 9:09 am

[1]Mitt Romney limped a little closer to the finish line yesterday, winning a sizable victory in Arizona and a tiny one in his home state of Michigan. While Romney’s success in Arizona was expected, he didn’t foresee (until about two weeks ago) that holding on to Michigan would be a so difficult. Rick Santorum’s appeal to that state’s voters should strike some fear in the heart of the party that wants to unseat Barack Obama in November.

Exit poll results expose major rifts within the GOP along religious and class lines

Although Romney has been considered the “inevitable” nominee among the GOP Establishment from the campaign’s beginning, he hasn’t been able to garner much support from a major block of the Republican Party: white evangelical voters. The exit polls in Arizona and Michigan confirmed this is still a problem for Romney. He won the votes of only 35% of white evangelicals in Michigan and 33% in Arizona.

It’s unlikely these white “born-again” voters will swing to Obama in the fall, but the lack of enthusiasm they have for Romney will prove to be a big problem for the Republican ticket in the general election. If Romney is the nominee, it’s imperative for him to pick a well-liked evangelical (e.g. Bob McDonnell, governor of Virginia) as his running mate.

While all of the Republican candidates have been accusing Obama of inciting class warfare, GOP itself appears to be splintering along class lines, with Romney winning among the wealthiest and most educated voters. Exit polls from Michigan show that Romney wins solidly among voters who make more than $200,000 a year (55%).

However, he gets lukewarm support from those making between $100,000 and $200,000 (44%), and he loses outright to Santorum among voters making less than $100,000.

In a similar vein, Romney won among those with a college degree; Santorum won among voters without a degree.

These class and religious divisions will be on display again a next week, when 10 states vote at the same time during the Super Tuesday series of primaries. Look for Romney to continue to struggle with evangelicals in Georgia and working-class voters in Ohio. Both of these important states will be hard for him to win.

Unfortunately for residents of these states, Romney will have to continue his barrage of negative advertising financed by his enormous super-PACs. Fortunately for Barack Obama, this process will likely weaken the GOP brand considerably, particularly in Ohio which will be up for grabs in November.

Romney uses his victory speech to double-down on his message of lower taxes and less debt

Romney took to the stage Tuesday night to hammer home his message that he would deliver more jobs, less debt and lower taxes to the American people. While this may play well on the primary stump, it’ll be harder to make stick in the general campaign. As Republicans try to out-lower each other on taxes, they’ll have to square that to rising federal debt and deficits.

It was exactly this refusal to accept basic math that led to the near-shutdown of government, the U.S. credit downgrade and the failed super-committee. The American public seems to understand the logic better than the Republican Party. According to polls conducted after the debt-ceiling stand-off in August, 60% of respondents said they thought federal revenues from taxes should increase to resolve the debt problem, and 66% thought upper-income Americans in particular should pay higher taxes.

Romney’s flight to the right during this primary season will likely hurt his chances in the the fall against Obama. He’s alienating key constituents of his own party and is proving to be out of touch with most Americans on basic tax and economic policy.

The opinions contained in this column are solely those of the writer.

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