The (Political) State of Michigan

It's shaping up to be a close race in the Michigan Republican primary.


Tomorrow my home state of Michigan votes. Or at least the Republicans will vote. The Democratic National Committee has stripped the state of its delegates for holding its primary too soon and has commanded its candidates not to campaign there. They have obeyed, although Hillary Clinton and (now noncandidate) Christopher Dodd have left their names on the ballot. Some Democratic Party leaders have urged voters supporting candidates other than Clinton to vote for the uncommitted line. It's not at all clear how or for which party's candidates Democrats will vote.

It seems to be a very close race. The average of eight recent polls, all taken since the New Hampshire primary January 8, shows Mitt Romney leading John McCain 27 to 26 percent, with Mike Huckabee in third place at 15 percent. Trailing are Ron Paul (7), Rudy Giuliani (6), and Fred Thompson (5).

In 2000, John McCain carried the state 49 to 41 percent. McCain benefited because there is no party registration in Michigan and there was no simultaneous Democratic contest (even of the asterisked sort) this year. Some 40 percent of Republican primary voters were self-identified independents and some 20 percent self-identified Democrats, leaving the 40 percent or so of self-identified Republicans as a minority in their own party's primary: the least Republican primary electorate of the 2000 cycle. Many Democrats were motivated by a hatred of then Gov. John Engler, who had beaten the Democrats up and down the line and who was strongly supporting Bush and visibly hoping for a big job in a Bush administration. He didn't get it and was barred from running again in 2002; he is now president of the National Association of Manufacturers. In other words, one motive that prompted many Democrats to vote in the Republican primary is absent this year.

We see in this year's polling the same split among self-identified Republicans, independents, and Democrats as we did in 2000, but it's not clear that as many independents and Democrats will vote in the Republican primary. Zogby, for example, has Romney winning 30 to 21 percent among Republicans but McCain winning 33 to 18 among independents and 35 to 17 among Republicans. Pollster Steve Mitchell says the sample has risen from 62 percent Republicans to 75 percent Republicans in his tracking; we'll see if that proves as accurate a forecast of turnout as Iowa pollster Ann Selzer's finding that more young voters were participating in the caucuses there.