Much has been talked about Mitt Romney failing to get the base of the Republican Party to support his nomination bid. Now that we have had a number of GOP primaries and caucuses, can we see any patterns from these sets of exit polls taken in the GOP contests?
The First True Test: Self-Identified Republicans
In the 13 exit polls* conducted so far, voters were asked to identify their party affiliation. What we know from previous national elections is that self-identified members of the two primary political parties vote 90 percent of the time with their party.
Among those self-identified Republicans, Romney has received, on average, 42 percent of the party’s supporters. However, he ranged from a low of 25 percent among Georgia Republicans, 28 percent in SC, and 29 percent in Tennessee and Oklahoma, to a (not-surprising) high of 78 percent in his home state of Massachusetts.
Another core constituency of the modern GOP are those who identify as “conservative.” In the 2008 national exit polls, 78 percent of those who identified as “conservative” voted for John McCain.
In the exit polls so far this year, only 31 percent (on average) of those who identify as “very conservative” support Mitt Romney. The high was in Massachusetts (64 percent); the low was in Iowa (14 percent). Tennessee (18 percent), Georgia and South Carolina (19 percent) weren’t far behind.
One of the interesting aspects of both of these key demographics is that Romney’s lowest numbers, with the exception of Iowa, come in the most critical region for the GOP: the South.
Is Romney the Richie-Rich Candidate?
Much has been made of Romney’s wealth, from his Bain Capital days to the “$10,000 bet” he tried to make with Rick Perry. Some commentators have labeled him the “Richie Rich” among the GOP presidential candidates, and voters may be seeing him in that light.
Among voters who said their incomes were below $30,000, Romney averaged 34 percent support, while among those voters who said their incomes were greater than $100,000, an average of 45 percent supported Romney.
But for the “middle class” of voters (those who identified their incomes as being between $30-50,000), Romney has received, on average, only 34 percent of their vote. In Iowa, the beginning of the GOP battle, Romney got only 16 percent of those middle-class voters’ support, while Massachusetts middle-class voters gave the highest support, 71 percent.
Tea Party Supporters aren’t Supporting Romney
The Tea Party is an influential and critical component to the Republican Party, yet those who identified as supporting the Tea Party haven’t shown much love to the presumed front-runner.
On average, only 31 percent of “Tea Party strong supporters” voted for Romney, with a range of 14 percent in Iowa to 37 percent in Michigan and Vermont (his home state Massachusetts gave him 64 percent).
White Evangelicals Haven’t Congregated Around Romney Either
Since the early 1980s when Ronald Reagan solidified the modern Republican Party with a coalition of fiscal conservatives, national security conservatives, and social conservatives, white evangelical voters have become a centerpiece of GOP politics.
But white evangelical/born-again voters have not solidified their support around Mitt Romney. On average, Romney has received only 32 percent support from these voters, with a low of 14 percent in Iowa and 21 percent in South Carolina, and a high of 57 percent in Massachusetts.
In comparison, those voters who don’t identify as white evangelical/born-again cast, on average, 45 percent of their votes for Romney. But white evangelical/born-again voters cast nearly three-quarters of their votes for the GOP and constitute nearly a quarter of the electorate. Romney’s inability to “close the deal” with evangelicals voters, along with Tea Party supporters, should raise some flags for November’s general election.
But in looking at the general election, there is a positive sign for the Romney campaign—as well as one large negative.
So What Do You Want in a GOP Nominee: Defeat Obama or a True Conservative?
When it all comes down to it, this election for Republicans is a simple choice: defeat Obama. And this is one of the key strengths that Romney can latch on to and use in solidifying the Republican base around him.
An average of 55 percent of voters in the Republican primary exit polls say they voted for Romney as the candidate who can defeat Obama.
But within that same question of the “most important candidate quality,” those who voted for the “true conservative” in the GOP race did not pick Romney (only 8 percent of those voters who wanted a true conservative cast their vote for Romney). Romney has A LOT of work to do with those GOP voters who want a “true conservative” as their nominee for president.
While the continued race for GOP delegates is key, it’s worth noting that Romney may have two intensive battles on his hands if he is able to secure the nomination against Obama while rallying his own troops to the cause.
If Romney isn’t able to win the latter battle, his hopes of winning the former may not only be in jeopardy. Offices further down the ballot battles, like the North Carolina governor’s mansion, will also be in trouble.
* Because only Romney and Paul competed in the Virginia primary, those exit poll responses are not included.