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Florida Predictions

Today, voters in the Sunshine State will weigh in on the Republican presidential field. Since the first three states split for the first time in modern Republican presidential politics, Florida matters more than they have in previous primary campaigns. Here are my predictions for what the results will be, and feel free to add your own in the comments. In Iowa I got 89 percent of the vote correct (see post here), in New Hampshire I got 83 percent correct (see post here), and in South Carolina I got 92 percent correct (see post here).

1. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney will win. The real question, like it was on election night in New Hampshire, is by how much. A double-digit win, which most of the polls suggest, should give Romney momentum and show he is back as the clear frontrunner in the race. This could be particularly important since February will be a slow month with only a few primaries and caucuses. Thus, a poor showing by some of Romney's opponents could make it harder for them to keep raising money and attention in hopes of being competitive for "Super Tuesday" in early March.

2. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich will come in second, even though he briefly led in the polls last week after his win in South Carolina. The one thing that might help him beat expectations is that a lot of people voted early before Gingrich dropped in the polls (which means current polls might not capture the true voting sentiment). Gingrich is pledging to stay in--and he has no reason not to since there are few delegates actually given out yet (and since this will be his only presidential run so he will not be hurting his future campaign potential). He is holding on in this campaign thanks to money from SuperPACs, which are outspending candidates--thus explaining why the ads are so negative (since, as I noted in a study a few years ago, candidates run fewer negative ads than organizations).

3. Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum and U.S. Representative Ron Paul will come in distant third and fourth places. In fact, both have already left the state to campaign in other upcoming states in hopes of lowering expectations in tonight's results. Although Santorum might give into pressure to bow out at some point in the next month, Paul will be in this race until someone captures enough delegates to garner the nomination--which will not be for at least a couple of months.

So, I put the order at Romney (43%), Gingrich (31%), Santorum (13%), Paul (12%).

Regardless how the vote turns out, it is clear the candidates are still strongly using confessional politics. Hoping to ease concerns about his Mormon faith, Romney opened up and became quite confessional during a recent call with conservative evangelicals. Romney has also accused Obama of waging "an assault on religion." Gingrich then took it further by attacking Obama and Romney for both being against religious liberty, adding that he wanted Romney "to respect our religion." Gingrich, however, faces religious questions of his own as some evangelicals are concerned about the casino money bankrolling his SuperPAC. Additionally, Gingrich's campaign mistakenly added some pastors to its "Florida Faith Leaders Coalition," even though the pastors did not agree to join the campaign. Santorum, for his part, has continued his habit of campaigning in churches. He also drew criticism from Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims for claiming "the concept of equality" is only found in Jewish and Christian religious teachings. It will be interesting to see how all of this plays in Florida since evangelicals will likely make up less of the vote than in Iowa and South Carolina and since the state's Christian community has greater diversity, including a growing community of Hispanic evangelicals.

UPDATE [2-2-12]: Well, I got Santorum right, was off a point Gingrich, and was off three points with Romney. However, I overestimated Paul's strength and was five points off with him. That put me at getting 90 percent of the vote correct. I got 89 percent correct in Iowa, 83 percent correct in New Hampshire, and 92 percent correct in South Carolina. The final results were: Romney (46%), Gingrich (32%), Santorum (13%), Paul (7%).

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