March 14, 2012

Election 2012: What Do Alabama Exit Polls Tell Us about the Republicans?

After the American Century

No one really "won" in Alabama. Rather, three candidates split the vote into almost equal segments, with Ron Paul getting only 5 percent. But exit polls also tell us more about how the electorate is divided. Alabama is more interesting than Mississippi here, because the latter is so rural and so poor that it is an extreme case.

So, here are the conclusions one can draw from exit polls. First of all, there are virtually no Black people in the Alabama version of the Republican Party, being less than 2% of the primary voters there, or about 4,000 people. Perhaps these are Black Mormons or Black millionaires? No less than 93% of the Republican voters were white, and of the three main candidates Romney finished last with just 28%.

In terms of gender, Gingrich is the most popular among men (34%), especially those who have never gone to college. Apparently, they are the most impressed by his repeated claims to be the smartest candidate. He was strongest in the suburbs, with 35% there, and fully 40% think he is the candidate best able to deal with an international crisis.  Otherwise, in most categories Gingrich comes in second or third.

Santorum is the most popular among women, especially working women, and he is also the most popular among college graduates. (Remember that college in Alabama is often primarily about football.)  Santorum is also the most popular among younger voters, especially those under 30, where he got 41% of the votes. Apparently his intense moralism appeals to them, as well as to that half the Alabama Republicans who think a candidate's religious beliefs matter a great deal, 48% of whom voted for him. He was the most popular candidate in both rural and urban (but not suburban) Alabama. However, even his supporters think he is the least well prepared to deal with an international crisis.

Romney is not particularly liked by the intensely religious, the rural, the young, men, or women.  The only groups where his attraction rises to above 35% are those over 65 and those who make more than $100,000 a year. The logic seems to be that Romney would win a massive victory among rich, dead people, as, like him, they do not drink and are pretty rigid.  This constituency has little gender left and are almost all over 65. Given Mormon theology, in which the dead can be posthumously made a member of the church, this would seem an incontrovertible result. 

Romney also got 35% of the voters who had studied beyond the BA level. He is clearly understood, even by the Republicans, to be aloof from  ordinary people. Only one in five voters thought Romney best understood the average American's problems. Why is he getting about a third of the support, then? Two factors keep Romney viable in this race. (1) Not less than 59% of the Republican voters perceive the economy as the most important issue (compared to 25% who think it is the federal budget deficit, the 9% who think abortion is, or the 3% who say it is illegal immigration). Romney is generally thought to be the man who can deal with the economy.  (2) Romney is also perceived as the man who can most likely defeat Obama.

There are some curiosities that may not apply elsewhere. For example, it seems surprising that Romney only polled 28% among the Independent voters,  while 33% of them voted for Santorum. To be an "Independent" in Alabama apparently often means that one is further to the Right than the Republican Party, as Ron Paul did twice as well with them (11%) as he did overall. Overall, in Alabama 72% of the Independent voters voted for Gingrich, Santorum, and Paul. This is in contrast to most of the nation, where Independents tend to be moderate, centrist voters.

37% of the Alabama voters made up their minds in the last days before the election, and Romney narrowly won among this thoughtful group who realized that the choice was difficult because quality is missing. In contrast, Santorum won among those who made up their minds during the last few weeks (when he began to surge), while Gingrich won among those who decided long ago. In other words, Romney's heavy spending and massive negative advertising did sway some of the undecided voters during the last days of the campaign. Nevertheless, as predicted several days ago, he was never going to do well in these Southern primaries.