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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Paradox of the Affordable Care Act and Public Opinion

When asked, over 7 in 10 Americans say the “requirement in the healthcare law [Affordable Care Act] that every American must buy health insurance or pay a fine” is unconstitutional.

Now we know that Americans are not constitutional law scholars. As was obvious from the arguments presented at the Supreme Court on Tuesday, and by the differences in the types of questions asked by conservative versus liberal justices, there is no agreement even among the nation’s smartest lawyers on the constitutionality of the law. But based on whatever bits and snippets of information the public has about the law and its individual mandate section, the substantial majority of Americans, when pressed, opine that it is unconstitutional.

This view is obviously not predicated just on Americans’ overall views of the law, which -- in the same poll that included the question about constitutionality -- showed an even split on an overall “good thing,” “bad thing” assessment of the law. In fact, with only 45% of the public saying that the law is a “good thing,” it is clear that a number of those who think the law is OK (or don’t have an opinion) still call its individual mandate provision unconstitutional. 

A recent New York Times/CBS News poll on the law found a related pattern of responses from the public. The poll found that Americans -- out of all the provisions of the law tested -- were most negative about the individual mandate, defined as the provision of the law that “requires nearly all Americans to have health insurance coverage by 2014." In fact, the other three provisions of the law as tested in the New York Times/CBS News poll were quite positively received -- including the 68% who said they liked the provision that allowed young people to ride on their parents’ health insurance for a longer period of time, and the 85% who liked the provision that health insurance companies cannot turn one away from being insured as a result of pre-existing conditions.

The Kaiser Family Foundation March tracking poll tested 12 provisions of the law.  The individual mandate ("The law will require nearly all Americans to have health insurance by 2014 or else pay a fine") was by far the least popular of all 12.  Thirty-two percent of respondents said they had a favorable impression of that provision, while 66% said they had an unfavorable impression.

So, it might be possible that the American public would have a more positive opinion about the PPACA if it explicitly did not include an individual mandate, but did include some of the other provisions that seem to be popular. Maybe something like this could come to pass if the Supreme Court shoots down the individual mandate but leaves other provisions of the law intact. We’ll know how that works out this summer when the court is scheduled to hand down its ruling on this case.

Striking down the individual mandate but leaving other provisions in the law intact would, of course, leave the law’s supporters with still more problems. Namely, the fact that it is difficult to finance a number of provisions in the law without the individual mandate -- that is, coercing young and healthy Americans to pay for health insurance even though they are not likely to need it. This issue arises because there are level costs for health insurance across the age spectrum, unlike the costs for life insurance, which rise fast when one approaches the age point at which one has a higher probability of dying. No one has proposed forcing Americans to pay higher and higher premiums as they age. Therefore, the argument goes, it is necessary to force lots of young, healthy people to pay those level health insurance premiums to make up for the fact that older, unhealthy people are going to take out a lot more than they put into the system.

It is not clear if Americans fully understand all of these ramifications of trying to put this complex system together. It is also not clear, of course, that elected officials in Washington understand all of these ramifications, either.

But the takeaway point is that the healthcare experts who set up PPACA concluded that it was necessary to bundle many, many different moving parts of the healthcare system together in one giant conglomeration of provisions if the government is going to try to get involved in reforming healthcare in any sort of major way.
This “necessity of bundling” carries with it its own non-monetary, political costs -- in addition to the legal challenges now under way in the Supreme Court. One of these is the penalty that comes from any attempt to win public approval for a very large government social program that deals with vital parts of Americans’ lives. That penalty arises from the fact that many Americans have a low, low opinion of the federal government as an entity, as well as substantial concern about over-regulation by the government. There is also the widespread attitude that more should be done by individuals and businesses and less by government, that the federal government is already too big and powerful, and that the federal government currently wastes 50 cents of every dollar it collects.

We are thus faced with a “Paradox of the PPACA.” To attempt to fix some self-evident problems with access to healthcare and the cost of healthcare, experts in the federal government concluded that the federal government needed to go all out and bundle together a wide range of changes in the system.  In particular, the experts decided that it was necessary to include the very wide-ranging individual mandate. But by bundling together the mandate with all of the other changes in the system, the federal government increased the concern and angst of average citizens who were already worried about the federal government’s power and influence.

Hence the current public opinion stalemate. Americans don’t like the individual mandate, but might be willing to support a number of the individual provisions of the law if they were passed individually and without the mandate. But, the argument is that it is not possible to pass the individual tweaks without passing the mandate. So, those in favor of the federal government's attempting to “fix” the nation’s healthcare problems have a conundrum on their hands.

The Supreme Court’s decision on the healthcare bill will, of course, set the context for where this all goes from here. But from the American public's perspective, the necessity to bundle means the necessity to have large government involvement, and that's a negative to enough of the public, it appears, to keep the healthcare law from reaching majority approval.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Louisiana Republicans Skew Religious and Catholic

Next up for Mitt Romney and the other GOP presidential contenders is Louisiana, which holds its primary this Saturday, March 24. After that comes a brief break in the action and then a set of three primaries on April 3 in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Wisconsin.

As predicted by our very narrow (and primitive) “religiosity” forecast model, Romney won in Illinois by about a 12-percentage-point margin.

Nationally, after having dropped to within four points of Rick Santorum just before Illinois, Romney has moved back out to an 11-point lead in our latest five-day tracking aggregate through March 21. This is a good sign for Romney and marks almost three full weeks in which he has led his nearest competitor at the national level.

What is going to happen on Saturday in Louisiana (the 18th state to enter the Union -- in 1812)? Well, there are two somewhat contradictory indications based on the religious composition of Louisiana voters.

The not-so-good news for Romney is that Louisiana’s Republicans are quite religious, with an average 52% weekly church attendance. There are, in fact, only six other states that have held primaries or caucuses so far that have -- like Louisiana -- 50% or higher weekly church attendance among their GOP population. These are:

  • South Carolina (Romney lost to Gingrich)
  • Missouri (Romney lost to Santorum)
  • Oklahoma (Romney lost to Santorum)
  • Tennessee (Romney lost to Santorum)
  • Alabama (Romney lost to Santorum)
  • Mississippi (Romney lost to Santorum)
One quickly sees the trend here. On this basis, we would say that Santorum has a better chance of doing well in Louisiana than he did in Illinois -- which, as I discussed here, has a significantly less religious Republican population.

There is, however, one somewhat paradoxical fly in the ointment as far as Santorum’s chances in Louisiana are concerned. Louisiana, thanks in part to the history of Catholic refugees fleeing from Canada’s Arcadia region to the Louisiana area almost 250 years ago, has a higher than usual Catholic population among its Republican base. In fact, 34% of all Republicans in Louisiana, by our 2011 estimates, are Catholic.

I say this is paradoxical because, of course, Santorum is a Catholic -- yet does not perform well among Catholics. Romney the Mormon does best among Catholics. Just as a point of reference, we see that in our Gallup aggregate of national Republican voters from March 1 to March 20, Romney leads Santorum by 41% to 20% among Catholics, but ties him 30% to 30% among Protestants.

Thus, Louisiana’s Catholic population may mitigate to some degree the influence of the state's highly religious GOP base.

After Louisiana Republicans have their say on Saturday, a lot of eyes will be focused on Wisconsin. The religious composition of Republicans there? Forty percent of Republicans in Wisconsin attend church weekly, which is below average and therefore good news for Romney. Interestingly, 36% of Wisconsin Republicans are Catholic, a big number, and which, as I explained above, also augers well for Romney’s chances in the Badger state.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Modified Good News for Romney

There is some modified good news for Mitt Romney in Gallup's continual tracking of Republicans' presidential nomination preferences nationally.

The roller coaster that has typified the race for the GOP presidential nomination so far has straightened out in recent weeks. And it’s straightened out with Romney on top.

Romney gained the lead again in Gallup’s tracking on Feb. 21-25 and has not lost it since. That’s basically three weeks in which the former Massachusetts governor has held onto the lead, a time period during which he suffered two high-visibility losses to former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum (and former Georgia Congressman Newt Gingrich) in Alabama and Mississippi.

That’s significant.

Based on the past historical record, we might have thought that Santorum would have surged back into the lead on the back of the national visibility of his two Southern wins. That is what has happened in the past: A candidate wins a primary or set of primaries, and he moves ahead nationally. Romney moved ahead after New Hampshire. Gingrich moved ahead after South Carolina. Romney moved ahead again after Florida.  Santorum moved ahead after wins in Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado. But this time, Santorum was not able to take advantage of his Deep South wins for national gains. We saw hardly a ripple in our national tracking. Romney’s lead remained remarkably constant during this period. As noted, this could be a sign that Romney is gaining more stability in his standing among Republicans nationally. My colleague Lydia Saad will have more on this Tuesday at

At the same time, it’s worth reminding you of two additional results that are not the best signs for Romney.

First, despite their level of support, Republicans simply are not enthusiastic about voting for Romney should he become the presidential nominee. Only about a third of Republicans say they would vote for Romney enthusiastically were he to become the nominee. Now, of course, no more say they would vote for Santorum enthusiastically were he to become the nominee. But, the comparisons are not good for Romney when we look back in time. John McCain generated quite a bit more enthusiasm in late January and early February 2008 when he was on the brink of becoming the GOP nominee. On the Democratic side, John Kerry, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton all generated more enthusiasm from Democrats when they were battling for their party’s nomination.

Second, Romney has never been able to generate a lot of Positive Intensity among his supporters. When we give those who say they have a favorable opinion of Romney a chance to say “strongly” favorable, relatively few take us up on the offer. At our last reading, Romney’s Positive Intensity score was +13, comparatively weak, and way below what several of his fellow Republicans have been able to generate this year.

Illinois is next up on the primary docket. Available polling data there show Romney ahead.

My analysis of the religious composition of Republicans in Illinois predicts a Romney win. Our 2011 data show that 43% of Illinois Republicans attend church weekly. That’s much lower than is the case in the states where Santorum has won (e.g., Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama). In fact, the average religiosity of voters in Illinois is about average for all states, and is about the same as two other nearby Midwestern states, Ohio and Michigan, both of which Romney won. A simple correlation between percentage of a state’s Republicans who attend church weekly and Romney’s vote gap over the second-place contender (in states he won) or his margin beneath the winner (in states he lost) is between -0.55 and -0.6. That’s not a huge correlation, but one that shows there is a significant relationship.

Less than 1% of Illinois Republicans are Mormons, so Romney won’t get much help on that front. About 30% of Illinois Republicans are Catholics, which is above the national average of Republicans who are Catholic. But our analysis shows that neither Santorum nor Gingrich have been able to translate their personal Catholicism into any type of unusual appeal to GOP Catholic voters; in fact, Romney scores better among Catholics than among Protestants.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Santorum, Romney, Gender, and Religion

Despite some conventional wisdom to the contrary, there is very little gender distinction in Republicans' support for the two leading GOP presidential candidates, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.

This terrific graph below plots Romney's advantage over Santorum on a weekly basis, among men and women.

Note that both lines have gone up and down since December. The big plunge in both lines came in and around the time of Santorum’s winning performance on Feb. 7 in voting in Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado. The rise in the lines after that reflects Romney's recovery of his lead.

But, and this is the important point, note how closely the two lines -- one representing the Romney lead among men and the other representing the Romney lead among women -- track each other. The big tidal forces affecting Republican voters' choice for their party's nominee are affecting both men and women about equally. And, the closeness of the lines to one another shows us that Rick Santorum is not, as some have speculated, losing support disproportionately among women compared with his support among men.

So, no matter what comments and policy positions Santorum has taken in recent weeks relating to women’s issues, nothing seems to have affected his relative position among women in any way that it hasn’t affected his relative position among men.

Now, religiosity among Republicans is another thing. We do see a growing differential relationship between church attendance and support for Romney over Santorum.

As you can see in the graph, the line representing the Romney advantage among weekly church-going Republicans began in early January to drop below the lines representing Romney's advantage over Santorum among the two groups that attend church less frequently.

In other words, religion increasingly began to matter as the GOP race moved into January and February.

Now, in our latest weekly average through March 11 (the farthest right-hand point on the graph), 15 percentage points separate the Romney advantage between weekly church-attending Republicans and among Republicans who seldom or never attend church. To be more specific, Romney leads Santorum by only 3 points, 34% to 31%, among weekly church attenders, but he leads by 18 points, 35% to 17%, among those who seldom or never attend church. In fact, Gingrich does as well as Santorum among this latter group.

Santorum has obviously positioned himself in a very advantageous way among highly religious Republicans. The interesting thing about this, of course, is that Romney -- a faithful Mormon -- is far from unreligious himself. In fact, taken as a whole, Mormons in the U.S. are much more religious on average than are Catholics, Santorum’s religion.

Santorum does particularly well among weekly church-going Protestants. In fact, he beats Romney among this group by a 35% to 25% margin. Romney wins among less religious Protestants.

Among weekly church-going Catholics, Romney wins 35% to 26% -- and wins among all other Catholics as well.

Taken as a whole, Romney leads Santorum among all Catholics by 18 points (last week) -- a fascinating figure given that Santorum himself is a prominent Catholic. For that matter, Gingrich is a Catholic as well, and he does even worse than Santorum among those who identify with his own faith.

It appears to me that highly religious Protestant Republicans, the ones often called “evangelicals,” are searching for a candidate who fits with their view of the world. Santorum has two characteristics that apparently fit this view. First, he has emphasized strongly his commitment to typical family values issues -- opposition to abortion, concern about contraception, and the sanctity of the traditional family unit. Second, he is not a Mormon – a religious identity that still causes concern among highly religious Protestants.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Santorum's Religious Edge in Mississippi and Alabama

Mississippi and Alabama hold their Republican primaries next week. These two states are two of the three most religious states in the union (the third is Utah). The high level of religiosity in Mississippi and Alabama should benefit Rick Santorum, everything else being equal.

The data in the table below are based on our Feb. 27-March 4 weekly average of Republican registered voters nationwide. During this time period, Romney led Santorum overall by 36% to 23%, which is very similar to where he is today in our latest five-day average.

But, and this is the key, note that among weekly-church-attending Republicans, Santorum is almost tied with Romney. Santorum’s strength falls among those who attend church nearly weekly or monthly, and then falls some more among those who seldom or never attend church. In fact, among this latter group, Santorum is a full 22 percentage points behind Romney.

So, Santorum's ability to do well among frequent church attenders creates a positive context for his campaign when it comes to next week’s GOP primary voting in Mississippi and Alabama. Here's why. In Alabama (using 2011 data), 55% of Republicans said they attended church on a weekly basis. In Mississippi, it was 56%.

Contrast that to two states in which Romney won convincingly on Super Tuesday -- Massachusetts, with a weekly church attending frequency among Republicans of only 31%, and Vermont, with an average church attending frequency of only 30% among Republicans. Ohio, which Romney barely won over Santorum by 1% of the vote on Tuesday, is in the middle, with a weekly church attendance figure of 44% among Republicans. And in Tennessee, where Santorum won fairly handily, the weekly church attending figure for Republicans is 55%, just about where it is for Mississippi and Alabama.

So the challenge for Romney is pretty clear. His top opponent Santorum’s relatively strong appeal to regular church attending Republicans has had and may continue to have a powerful effect on the vote in certain highly religious states. Unfortunately for Romney, two of those states are up and coming this next week.

Of course, religiosity isn’t the only variable that relates to voting among Republicans. Romney may well win in Alabama or Mississippi for reasons that override religion. Nevertheless, at this point in the ongoing saga of the GOP campaign, highly religious Republicans are, on a relative basis, disproportionately likely to support Rick Santorum.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Romney Still Not Generating Excitement

Democrats have more intensely positive feelings about Barack Obama than Republicans have about Mitt Romney.

In the latest update of our Gallup Positive Intensity Scores for various presidential candidates, 42% of Democrats say that they have a strongly favorable opinion of Obama. More broadly, Obama’s image breaks down 86% favorable and 12% unfavorable among Democrats.

Republicans are less intense about Mitt Romney. In the same survey, 20% of Republicans say they have a strongly favorable opinion about Romney. Romney’s overall image among Republicans breaks down 67% favorable and 27% unfavorable.

In other words, Romney has a much less positive image among his native Republicans than does Obama among his native Democrats. And, most importantly, Romney is simply not generating the same kind of positive intensity among his base as Obama is.

Romney has, in fact, not been able to generate the same level of positive intensity as other GOP candidates this entire election cycle. As my colleague Jeff Jones pointed out in his analysis, Romney's current Positive Intensity Score of 13 (the percent who have a strongly favorable opinion minus the percent who have a strongly unfavorable opinion) is much lower than the Positive Intensity Score of 34 for Herman Cain at one point last fall, Mike Huckabee's maximum Positive Intensity Score of 27, Rick Perry's 25, and Newt Gingrich's 20.  Romney himself, it should be noted, had a Positive Intensity Score of 20 a year ago -- just after Gallup began tracking this measure -- but has not been able to climb back to these heights since.

Now, to be sure, some of this is because Romney is in the middle of a heated campaign in which his GOP opponents are constantly criticizing him.  Right now, as a matter of fact, more than half of Republicans say they support a Republican candidate other than Romney or no candidate at all.

If Romney wins the nomination, it is possible if not probable that his fellow Republicans and Republican-leaning independents will coalesce round him -- and perhaps get more excited about him.

Still, at this point in time, Romney is not “Mr. Excitement” as far as Republicans are concerned. They do not feel as strongly about him as they have felt about other Republican candidates over this election cycle.  They certainly don’t feel as strongly positive about him as Democrats do about their nominee, Barack Obama.

There is, however, some slightly-less bad news for Romney. He is not nearly as disliked by Democrats and Democratic-leaners as Obama is among Republicans and Republican-leaners. Yes, Romney has become more disliked by Democrats as the campaign has gone on this fall. The percentage of Democrats who say they have a strongly unfavorable opinion of Romney is now at 26%, up from 14% in mid-December. But, that’s nowhere near as negative as Obama’s image among Republicans. Fully 53% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents now say they have a strongly unfavorable opinion of Obama.

The key is the trajectory of the path of Romney’s image among Democrats in the months to come, assuming that he wins his party’s nomination. The Obama campaign has yet to turn on their full campaign machinery, which will spare no prisoners in its effort to de-legitimize, and marginalize the GOP nominee once he is known. The Republican campaign will likewise begin to turn its full focus on de-legitimizing Obama. It will be fascinating to track the images of the two candidates as this process unfolds.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Religion and Super Tuesday

Rick Santorum, despite being a Catholic, does significantly less well among Catholic Republicans nationally than does Mitt Romney, who is a Mormon. Santorum, on the other hand, does better than Romney among Protestants.

The data on which I base these conclusions -  an aggregate of our Gallup daily tracking of Republicans nationwide in February -- are presented in the table below.

Catholic Republicans supported Romney over Santorum by a 12-percentage-point margin in February. Protestant Republicans supported Santorum over Romney by a four-point margin.

It comes as no great shock to note that 88% of Mormon Republicans supported Romney.

Those Republicans who have no religious identity split their support about evenly between Romney and Ron Paul, with Newt Gingrich and Santorum behind. (I didn't include in this table Republicans who identify with other, non-Christian religions because of low sample sizes).

Now, as you have no doubt noted by this time, the data show that the religiosity of Republicans also makes a big difference in candidate preference -- within both Protestant and Catholic segments of Republicans.
Santorum leads Romney by 14 points among Protestant Republicans who attend church weekly. Romney ties Santorum among those who attend nearly every week or monthly, and Romney moves to a nine-point lead among Protestant Republicans who seldom or never attend church.

The same thing occurs within Catholic Republicans. Santorum wins by five points among weekly church-going Catholics, but loses badly to Romney among Catholics who are less frequent church attenders.

So, when we put it all together, we find only two segments included in this analysis in which Santorum beats Romney:  1) weekly-church-attending Protestants and 2) weekly-church-attending Catholics.

Keep in mind that these data are an aggregate for all of February, a month that saw Santorum surge and then fall back in support. But the central conclusion is clear: Santorum’s base of strength lies among highly religious Republicans, regardless of their religion.

Now, let’s look ahead to Super Tuesday, when Republicans in 10 states will be going to the polls. Our basic assumption is that -- everything else being equal -- Santorum should do best in the states that have the highest percentage of weekly church going Republicans.

Here are the data:

Everything else being equal, Santorum should do best in the states at the top of the list -- the most religious states, and Romney should do best in the states at the bottom of the list -- the least religious states. 

Tennessee and Oklahoma -- both highly religious states with half or more of Republican residents saying they attend church weekly -- should tilt toward Santorum.

Vermont, Massachusetts, and Alaska -- all three with a third or less of Republican residents saying they attend church weekly -- should tilt toward Romney.

Of the remaining states, our “church attendance predictor” suggests that Idaho, North Dakota, and Georgia could tilt toward Santorum, and Virginia should tilt toward Romney.

The critical state of Ohio sits right in the middle.

Of course, there are other factors involved in the voting behavior of Republicans in these states. Romney is from Massachusetts, and Vermont is contiguous to Massachusetts, so his almost-certain victory in those states is going to be due as much to his history there as to the relative low rate of religiosity among Republicans in those states.

Since Newt Gingrich and Santorum are not on the ballot in Virginia, Romney will do well in that state no matter what the level of religiosity of its Republican residents. Gingrich is from Georgia, so he would be predicted to do at least relatively well there, even if the state were full of atheist Republicans.

Now, what about Ohio? That’s the most crucial state of all next Tuesday. As I’ve been reviewing, Romney victories in the New England states and perhaps in Alaska and Virginia are pretty much expected, and Romney losses in Georgia, Tennessee, and Oklahoma are pretty much expected as well. But Ohio is much more of a bellwether state. A Romney victory there could go a long way toward cementing his front-runner, inevitable status, and a Romney loss there could do real damage to his claim to be the inevitable nominee.

What does the relative religiosity of Republicans in Ohio tell us? Well, one clue comes from a comparison of the religiosity of Republicans in Ohio and in Michigan.  We find that Republicans' religious behavior is almost identical in these two states. To be specific, 42% of Republicans in Michigan attend church weekly, compared to the 44% in Ohio. And 36% of Michigan Republicans seldom or never attend church, compared to 32% of Republicans in Ohio.

Romney won Michigan by 3% points on Feb. 27. The relative similarities of the religiousness of Republican residents in Ohio compared to Republicans in Michigan predict a similarly close race in Ohio next Tuesday.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Support For Santorum Retreating, Having Gone from 3% to 34%

Attorney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is now suffering the fate of former college professor and Congressman Newt Gingrich -- rising to front-runner status among Republicans nationwide and then falling right back down again. Santorum led dual-Harvard degree holder Mitt Romney by 10 percentage points as recently as our Feb. 21 report, but has now fallen behind by eight points as of our Feb. 29 report.  This is Santorum’s first brush with the ups and down of success in this regard; Gingrich has experienced the roller coaster effect twice since we began tracking on Dec. 1.

Santorum now has the record for the largest range of support since we began tracking -- going from 2% of the vote back in early December to 36% of the vote for three days running back in mid-February after his “three victory” day -- Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado -- on Feb. 7. Santorum, as of our Feb. 29 report, is now at 25% support and falling.

Gingrich’s range has been 24 points, from his low of 13% support in mid-January to his high of 37% in early December. Gingrich's support went from 37% when we began tracking on Dec. 1, to 13%, back to 32%, and is now at 16%.  Gingrich's support levels have been the most labile of any we have monitored.  His campaign team is hoping, of course, that this lability at the national level becomes evident again after next week's Super Tuesday primaries, one of which will be held in his home state of Georgia.  

Romney has operated in a more narrow range, from a low of 21% support just before Christmas to a high of 37% in early February. He is at 33% as of the Feb. 29 report.  His roller coaster ride, in other words, has been less exciting than Gingrich's. In this latest iteration of the "falling from grace" scenario, Romney was down only to a low of 26% as Santorum surged and, as noted, is now back on on top once again.

Doctor and Congressman Ron Paul has been steady as she goes, with support ranging only between 8% and 14% since Dec. 1. He is now at 11%.

I'm writing this on the day after Romney won the primaries in Arizona and Michigan.  If past history is a predictor of future behavior, we will see Romney's lead get larger in the days ahead -- leading into next week's Super Tuesday voting.

Of note is the fact that GOP voters in Michigan and Arizona were more likely to chose electability (“can defeat Obama”) as the most important candidate characteristic they took into account  in voting than they were any of the other three characteristics listed for them by exit pollsters -- the others being right experience, strong moral character, or true conservative. The good news for Romney was that he won among these “defeat Obama” voters. 

Santorum won among the “strong moral character” and “true conservative” voters in both states. A combined total of 40% of Michigan Republican primary voters said that strong moral character and true conservative were the most important candidate characteristic to them. Among Arizona Republicans, the similar percentage was 32%. Romney won by 3 points in Arizona, and by 20 points in Michigan.

I think that “electability” is another way of saying “the economy,” since every survey I am aware of shows that in the general election, at least as of now, the economy will be the top issue. Thus, if Republicans want a candidate who is the most electable (i.e., the best chance of beating Obama), they need a candidate who has the strongest positioning on the economy.

Santorum’s people know all of this, of course.  It was notable that in his concession speech Tuesday night (in which he didn’t really concede to Romney), Santorum talked about the economy and not moral and values issues. I’m sure that he and his campaign team are not happy that moral and social values issues have dominated news coverage of the candidate in the last several weeks, after his win in three states on Feb. 7.   However, as Susan Page of USA Today said in our Election Matters show this week, Santorum gets dogged with this moral values news coverage in part because he says such quote-worthy things when asked these types of questions.

At any rate, our data show that Republicans, independents, and Democrats alike prefer a candidate in whom they have confidence on the economy to one with whom they agree on moral and values issues. Moral issues are also dead last when we asked voters to rate the importance of nine different issues to their presidential vote this year.

So much of this election depends on the economy. You may have seen the Conference Board report showing that their consumer confidence measure improved in February. That was of course old news to those following our Gallup Economic Confidence Index. Since the Conference Board cut-off for their measure is Feb. 15, their report missed a modest leveling off in confidence that we have been tracking in the latter part of the month. We’ll see where that goes, but in general ,every uptick in economic confidence is good news for Obama’s re-election chances.

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