Predictions for Three States

February 07, 2012

Today is the first multi-state election day for the 2012 Republican presidential primary. Voters in Colorado and Minnesota will caucus tonight, and in Missouri there is a non-binding primary vote that might signal the opinion of the electorate (but the delegates in the state will be chosen with an unconnected caucus next month--so Missouri is basically having a big taxpayer-funded opinion poll). The three votes today could be important in setting the tenor of the race in what is about to be slow campaign period. Although the Maine caucuses are happening this week and conclude on Saturday, no other states will vote for three weeks! Thus, tonight's results could hang over the race for quite some time. Yet, there have only been two recent polls in each of the three states, so there are a lot of unknowns in today's voting states. 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), in South Carolina I got 92 percent correct (see post here), in Florida I got 90 percent correct (see post here), and in Nevada I got 94 percent correct (see post here).

1. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney will win Colorado. He won the Centennial State in 2008 with a whopping 60 percent of the vote (with Senator John McCain a distant second with only 18 percent). Although he should win the state again, it seems unlikely he will match that strong performance--and he will probably fall behind his 2008 vote totals even more than he did in Iowa and Nevada. Emerging in second will likely be former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, who does better in caucus states than former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

2. Minnesota will likely be the closest race tonight--not just in the difference between first and second place, but also in the difference between first and fourth. We might see all four candidates garnering at least 20 percent of the vote in the North Star State. In 2008, Romney won the state with 41 percent of the vote (over McCain's 22 percent and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee's 20 percent). Not only will Romney underperform that mark, but it is quite possible Santorum will beat him. Santorum has polled well and focused on the state. Additionally, Santorum does best in Midwestern states (like Iowa) and Romney has struggled in that region this cycle. U.S. Representative Ron Paul did better in Minnesota than in Colorado in 2008 and has been building on his support in every state, but even that might not be enough to get him out of fourth place in either state.

3. If there is any doubt Santorum could have a great night, the Show Me State should make that obvious. Santorum should win Missouri--and perhaps by double-digits. Santorum will do well in Missouri for several reasons: he has campaigned there more than anyone else (since others have focused on delegate races), it is a Midwestern state, and Gingrich's campaign was so disorganized that he failed to make the ballot (meaning this is the first ballot where the social conservative anti-Romney vote is united in one candidate). Santorum has been using confessional politics in the state. Last week, he and Focus on the Family founder James Dobson had a rally at a church in Columbia (where I lived for a few years). Then, longtime conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, a Catholic highly admired in conservative evangelical circles, announced that she would vote for Santorum. Schlafly, who lives in St. Louis, last year endorsed U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann (see post here). The photo is one of Thomas Jefferson in front of the Missouri State Capitol building (this is how I imagine him reacting to confessional politics).

So, all of that means it could be a more exciting night than the last couple of non-dramatic states. With few polls, little attention to the grassroots organization of the campaigns (which is especially important in caucuses), and uncertainty regarding how many Missourians will decide to vote despite the non-binding nature of the primary, there are a lot of unknowns heading into tonight. However, I will give it my best shot to predict the order for the three states.
Colorado: Romney (40%), Santorum (28%), Gingrich (18%), Paul (14%)
Minnesota: Santorum (32%), Romney (27%), Gingrich (21%), Paul (20%)
Missouri: Santorum (47%), Romney (31%), Paul (17%)

UPDATED [2-8-12]: Wow! Santorum had quite a night that seemed to shock everyone--even Santorum. I really had an off-day on predictions, which unfortunately was on a day with three states. In Colorado, Santorum had his biggest upset since no poll predicted him even close to beating Romney. Meanwhile, Romney came in a full 25 percentage points lower than when he won the state in 2008. All of that means I only got 76 percent of the vote, with Santorum alone accounting for half of the error. In Minnesota, Romney fell harder than I expected (dropping 24 percentage points from his 2008 showing) and Paul rose higher (he usually does good in caucuses but I undervalued him because of his poor showing recently in the Nevada caucuses). This resulted in me only getting 60 percent of the vote correct with none of the candidates close to my prediction. In Missouri, Santorum's win was bigger than I expected. In fact, he won every single county in the state! As one who lived through a lot of Missouri election, I recognize how impressive and unusual that is. Romney dropped 5 percentage points from his 2008 showing--but even in that third place finish four years ago Romney won several counties. Turnout was way down in Missouri due to the non-binding nature of the race, but Santorum supporters clearly decided to vote. In the Show Me State, I only got 78 percent correct--which was my best state of the night despite being worse than any previous state. Ouch! Here are the final results.
Colorado: Santorum (40%), Romney (35%), Gingrich (13%), Paul (12%)
Minnesota: Santorum (45%), Paul (27%), Romney (17%), Gingrich (11%)
Missouri: Santorum (55%), Romney (25%), Paul (12%)