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Morning Jay: How Romney Won Illinois, and What it Means

1:55 AM, Mar 21, 2012 • By JAY COST
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Mitt Romney won a solid victory last night in the Land of Lincoln. Let’s take a close look at how he pulled it off.

Throughout this primary battle, we have seen political divisions along some pretty straightforward demographic and ideological lines. Mitt Romney has typically done well with urban and suburban voters, as well as socioeconomically upscale voters (i.e. those who have college degrees and make more than $50,000 a year). On the other hand, Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum have typically had an advantage among rural voters, socioeconomically downscale voters, and very conservative voters. Layered atop this, Romney has done better in primaries than in caucuses, and in the North than the South.

So, in many respects, Illinois was thus “bound” to favor him. It is a Northern primary state with a favorable demographic mix for the former Massachusetts governor. To appreciate the latter point, consider this comparison between Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio along key demographic lines.

This clearly suggests that the Illinois primary sampled more heavily from core Romney groups. This is a consequence of the metro Chicago vote. Romney won the Cook County suburbs as well as the collar counties by 20 points, where these sorts of voters are numerous. He also won the smaller cities in the state – Champaign, Peoria, and Springfield.

When we break it down, we see Romney actually did about as well with his core voters in Illinois as he did in Michigan and Ohio. In other words, the magnitude of his victory was not because of any major shift in his direction, but because his voters were simply more numerous.

To appreciate this, consider this chart, which tracks Romney’s margin of victory (or defeat) over Santorum in the three key Midwestern primaries to date – Michigan, Ohio, and now Illinois.

As we see, the same basic pattern has held across all three states: good hauls with urban voters, decent hauls with suburban voters, and losses among the rural populations. In Illinois, Romney’s improvement with the urban and suburban vote last night was checked by a slight decline (relative to Michigan) with rural voters.

We see basically the same thing when we look at socioeconomic status.

Again, same basic pattern here, although with a bit of movement toward Romney. He wins the upscale by more than he did previously, and basically ties among the downscale, which he lost in the previous contests.

Finally, let’s look at ideology.

Same story – Romney improved with his core voters and made some progress with Santorum’s, but did not flip them.

So what is the bottom line?

Simply put: Mitt Romney is winning an overwhelming plurality in the race for votes because his core supporters – the moderates and somewhat conservatives, the suburbanites and urbanites, and the socioeconomically upscale – are the most numerous groups in the GOP electorate. However, he is still falling short of an outright majority because of sustained opposition from a sizeable bloc of Republicans: the rural vote, the socioeconomically downscale, and the very conservative. These groups moved in his direction last night, but not by enough to suggest a major shift in the overall shape of the race.

What can possibly break the seeming deadlock? Answer: Pennsylvania.

The demographics of the contest point to a fairly nice opportunity for Romney, with a huge number of votes up for grabs in suburban Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. But it is also Santorum’s home state. If Romney wins there, game over. If Santorum wins, then the race is likely to drag on through June.

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