Polling rarely takes a holiday, and this Presidents' Day weekend was no exception. In addition to the first set of fairly sobering poll numbers for Barack Obama in recent memory (whether we call these outliers or not is going to depend on what we see in the next couple of days), we also see three new polls which hint at an exceptionally close race not only in Michigan, but also in Arizona. With those two states the next ones to cast ballots on February 28th, all eyes will be on them as Republicans try to edge ever closer to settling on a candidate to challenge the president.
Interestingly, even though Mitt Romney seems to be rebounding in Michigan, he seems to be losing a bit of his grasp not only in Arizona, but in other states, as well. Meanwhile, his standing in the Gallup tracking poll of the GOP primary nationally is near a low-point, as Rick Santorum has forged a double-digit advantage.
NATIONAL (Gallup Tracking): Santorum 36, Romney 26, Gingrich 13, Paul 11On the general election front, Gallup heads back into the breech with a set of numbers that, given where every other pollster has been for weeks, has to provoke some head scratching. However, we also see a significant softening in the Rasmussen tracking poll over last week, plus the respected Iowa poll had some pessimistic data for the president, as well. Either several pollsters are suddenly missing the fairway, or the numbers for Barack Obama have softened markedly from earlier in the month.
ARIZONA (PPP): Romney 36, Santorum 33, Gingrich 16, Paul 9
MICHIGAN (PPP): Santorum 37, Romney 33, Paul 15, Gingrich 10
MICHIGAN (We Ask America): Romney 29, Santorum 29, Paul 12, Gingrich 10
OKLAHOMA (Sooner Poll): Santorum 39, Romney 23, Gingrich 18, Paul 8
TEXAS (Univ. of Texas/Texas Tribune): Santorum 48, Gingrich 17, Romney 16, Paul 14
VIRGINIA (Christopher Newport Univ.): Romney 53, Paul 23
NATIONAL (Rasmussen): Obama d. Santorum (47-44); Obama d. Romney (46-42)A quick look at what today's numbers mean, and why there is good and bad news for Mitt Romney therein, after the jump.
NATIONAL (USA Today/Gallup): Romney d. Obama (50-46); Obama d. Santorum (49-48)
IOWA (Selzer/Des Moines Register): Paul d. Obama (49-42); Santorum d. Obama (48-44); Romney d. Obama (46-44); Obama d. Gingrich (51-37)
TEXAS (Univ. of Texas/Texas Tribune): Santorum d. Obama (51-37); Romney d. Obama (49-36)
VIRGINIA (Christopher Newport University): Santorum d. Obama (46-42); Romney d. Obama (46-43); Obama tied with Paul (43-43); Obama d. Gingrich (45-40)
WASHINGTON (SurveyUSA): Obama d. Romney (50-39); Obama d. Paul (50-37); Obama d. Santorum (51-38); Obama d. Gingrich (56-34)
As has been the case for Mitt Romney for about the past two weeks, there is no shortage of suck in these numbers. But, on a bit further review, there are also some tiny bits of silver lining in these numbers, as well.
Looking purely at a delegate standpoint, the polls out today make the case that Mitt Romney will walk away next week with more delegates than he looked to get last week. That's because Michigan allocates by district, while Arizona is winner-take-all. Therefore, as long as Romney can carry Arizona, winning by three points or ten points is pretty much irrelevant. But being closer to Santorum in Michigan can yield big dividends, in the form of nabbing additional delegates.
Also, the consternation in Texas is clearly to Mitt Romney's benefit, as he is flat-out getting smooshed there right now, according to today's poll. Once scheduled for the first week in April, the primary looks likely to be no earlier than late May. This gives Mitt Romney time to put away Rick Santorum before then, rendering Texas irrelevant. If Texas still matters by the time Memorial Day comes around, it could be the dagger for Romney, if this poll is to be believed.
That said, there is also a lot here for team Romney to be concerned about. Of deepest concern to the Mitt-sters, no doubt, is the fact that in the state general election trial heats, Santorum actually outperforms Romney in the bulk of them when paired with Barack Obama. The grudging acceptance of Romney on the part of the GOP base has always been predicated on the notion that while he wasn't everything they wanted, he was the guy best suited to defeat Barack Obama. If that is no longer true, one has to believe that hurts Romney's standing in the Republican primary.
Romney's continued swoon in the Gallup tracker also is noteworthy, although one must remember that there was a time in the not-too-distant past when the first Newt boomlet (the December one, not the South Carolina one) staked Gingrich to a 15-point lead over Romney. That said, the stats are the stats--Mitt Romney has dropped 11 percent in the past twelve days, while Rick Santorum has shot up 19 percent.
Another way to look at these "anti-Mitt" surges: when Newt Gingrich had his second boomlet centered around South Carolina, he either rose in support or held his ground for thirteen consecutive days. Monday marked the seventeenth consecutive day that Santorum has done so. However, Santorum has failed to break above 37 percent, a fact that was also true for Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. I can't think of a more compelling stat to point out how generally unenthusiastic the GOP is about their field of candidates than that single number.