Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Illinois Polls Give Romney the Edge by 14-15 Points. A Test of Turnout and Impact of Negative Advertising – Will ILL be a Repeat of MS for Santorum?

Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney - the last men standing (given recent results and current polls in upcoming primary contests) - image Salon.com

There are two polls taken over the weekend that give GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, a considerable lead over his nearest rival, Rick Santorum – Romney leads in both polls by double digits. The first, a poll by American Research Group has Romney up by 14 points over Rick Santorum with Gingrich at 13% and Paul at 8% - The poll taken between March 17-18 used a random telephone survey method of 600 participants and has a margin of error of plus/minus 4% .

The second, by Public Policy Polling, released yesterday used a random telephone survey, of 506 respondents over a two day period, the focus was mainly on the urban and suburban areas, 20% Urban, 48% suburban and 31% rural. In this poll, Romney has 45 % to Santorum’s 30%, Gingrich at 12% and Ron Paul at 10% - The two polls are rather in concert as to the outcome, given the point difference between the two firms in a random sample of respondents per candidate.

That said, in looking at PPP’s marginals, the question becomes one of geography, in a poll released last week by the Tribune, there was a 6 point difference between the two top tier candidates, with Romney outside the margin of error by one point. In that particular poll, the geography was taken into consideration with 95% of the state outside of Chicago and suburbs, having equal population, with Santorum over performing in the state outside of Chicago, and Romney over performing in the Suburban areas. It will be of interest to see how geography factors into this contest dubbed as the “next critical” state for Romney to win. At this point, taking away the hype, both Santorum and Romney need to win each state going forward, as the game of attrition of delegates is quickly becoming outside the grasp of candidates Gingrich and Paul, as the focus is on the front-runner Mitt Romney and the his potential replacement – Rick Santorum. (This based on voters preference and placement in the second half of the March contests.)

On paper it appears as if this primary should be a “walk in the park” for Romney, and Matt Drudge can be predicted to once again, announce him as the “winner” at approximately 4PM eastern, well before the polls close in ILL. The site did so based on polling on the Mississippi Primary, and had to adjust the message as the votes began to be tallied – the final message of the evening: Rick Santorum wins Mississippi.

It is not that Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report was wrong about the polls, and that Romney was clearly ahead in Mississippi, however, what was taking place on the ground was a two-fold phenomena that clearly favored Santorum – low enthusiasm and voter turnout for Romney and exit polls indicating that voters were clearly turned off by the deluge of negative advertising.

Moving to Illinois, there are difference from state to state, but voter turnout is critical – something that the Romney team has yet to be able to effect with the exception of New Hampshire, Massachusetts (although there were zero signs of a Romney Campaign in MA), and in Puerto Rico. The organization is, from sources, apparent in Illinois, but in the Suburbs focused on Chicago, rather than the 95% of the state which is considered stronger for Santorum – The enthusiasm gap between Santorum supporters and Romney supports has been evidenced in the past as far as the get out the vote effort is concerned. There are several factors in play to consider: Romney has the establishment GOP and those earning 100K or more Republican’s, while Santorum continues to pull blue collar, and those earning less than 100K in each state. Those with more to gain and less to lose generally are more enthusiastic when it comes to getting out the vote. In addition, the constant media hype of Romney as the front-runner and eventual nominee has not helped his campaign rather, it has made his target voter complacent - complacent voters generally vote in absentee or depending on the weather, not at all.

Finally, the negatives advertising which had a huge impact on the upset in Mississippi, may or may not have the same impact moving north to Illinois. In Mississippi exit polls from CNN showed that negative advertising factored 2 to 1 in decisions to vote for Santorum over Romney. As of now, Negative ads run by the campaigns and certain Super PAC’s supporting both candidates (outside of the control of both candidates), are giving Illinois the Mississippi treatment but by a larger margin. According to PoliticoRomeny is outspending Santorum 21 to 1 in Illinois, specifically in the Chicago Market (includes Super PAC’s). Obama Advisor, David Axelrod a big believer is spending on advertising, noted that “Romney will Roll in Illinois” due to what he termed a” Mittzkrieg”. Axelrod is the brains behind the careers of both Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and President Obama – obviously watching this contest closely.

But will negatives work in Illinois? That is the question. Between Apathy, or lack of enthusiasm (The Atlantic) affecting voter turnout and the notion that a vote against Mitt Romney is a vote against Negative Campaign adverting (Chicago Examiner) one has to wait and see how this will play out in when the polls close at 7PM central – 8PM eastern.

If the networks (or the AP) do not call the race within the first 10 minutes, then look for a long night – if Romney begins with a larger lead, and holds it, then the polls play out, however, if it is a repeat of Mississippi (polling similarly had Romney up over Santorum outside of the margin of error) , with lower voter turnout (especially in the suburbs and urban areas), and a distaste for negative ads is a factor, watch for a long night and a possible Santorum upset.

David Axelrod will be watching as well, and looking toward framing the message that the President will use in his reelection campaign going forward.

Where to Watch: CNN – best primary coverage hands-down: Based on: Wolf Blitzer and Jon King and the “map”, with real time results coming from reporters covering counties that are normally critical in elections, giving the avid political junkie, an inside scoop of factors affecting a win in a pivotal county, and exit polls that reflect the trends in diverse sections of a state and by demographics.

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