Romney’s Challenge: Midwestern, Young, Highly Religious GOP

PRINCETON, NJ — As Mitt Romney pivots his campaign to the general election, he faces the challenge of building enthusiasm and, hence, turnout among certain key groups of Republicans among whom he has done less well during the primary contests so far. These include Midwestern, young, highly religious, and conservative Republicans.

Republican Nomination Preferences, April 2-8, 2012

The data in the accompanying table show Romney’s relative positioning among Republican subgroups as of April 2-8, the final full week of Gallup Daily tracking of the GOP race. During this time, Romney held a 41% to 25% advantage over Santorum among all Republican voters.


Romney ended up doing well among Republicans in all regions of the country except the Midwest, where he just managed to tie Santorum at 32% support each in Gallup’s final weekly summary.

See all election 2012 data

The Midwest contains a number of the key swing states that will be pivotal in the coming general election, including Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Romney lost the Iowa caucuses by a very small margin to Santorum, and won, albeit by margins of one to seven percentage points, in Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

Romney’s relative lack of strength among Midwestern Republicans suggests this region may present a challenge in terms of motivation and turnout for his campaign in the general election.

The Young

Romney has a significant problem among younger Republican voters, who up through last week were almost as likely to support Ron Paul as Romney. Romney’s support among 18- to 34-year-old Republicans was 30%, Paul’s was 27%, and Santorum’s, 15%. This is the only subgroup in which Paul was a major contender. Romney led among 35- to 54-year-olds by nine points, and by 22 points among Republicans 55 and older.

Neither Paul nor Romney is a young candidate; Romney is 65 and Paul is 76. But, despite his advanced age, Paul has captured, and apparently continues to capture, the hearts and minds of young Republicans across the country. Santorum is the youngest of the four GOP candidates, at 53, but his failure to do well among young voters underscores the finding that the actual age of a candidate does not appear to be the deciding factor when it comes to young Republicans’ allegiance.

Paul continues to campaign for the GOP nomination, making it unlikely that Romney will get his endorsement anytime soon — if ever. It’s also possible that Paul will run as a third-party candidate. It’s unclear how much of Paul’s unusual appeal to young Republicans would transfer to Romney even if Paul did exit the race.

Young voters overall tend to identify more strongly with the Democratic Party than the Republican Party, so it is highly likely that they will break for Obama in the general election. Romney’s challenge is to capture some of the enthusiasm young Republican voters have for Paul in an attempt to blunt Obama’s strength among this group. Romney’s demonstrated lack of appeal to younger Republicans in the primary season suggests this may be difficult.


Romney had an eight-point lead over Santorum last week among conservatives, well below the 31-point lead he had among moderate and liberal Republicans. The fact that Romney leads at all among conservatives is significant. At his worst, in mid-February, Romney was losing by 18 points to Santorum among conservatives. When Gallup started Daily tracking of the race in early December, Romney was losing to Gingrich by 20 points among conservatives.

The Highly Religious

Santorum consistently did well among highly religious Republican voters throughout his primary campaign, exemplified by his victories over Romney in Southern states with high concentrations of evangelical Republicans, and by his relative strength among these voters in Gallup’s tracking of national Republican sentiment over the last two months.

In Gallup’s April 2-8 weekly average, Romney was marginally ahead of Santorum among Republicans who attend church weekly, by 39% to 33%. Among Republicans who attend church almost every week or monthly, Romney led by 19 points, and among those who seldom or never attend church, Romney was ahead by 25 points.

Still, Romney’s six-point margin over Santorum among weekly churchgoing Republicans was Romney’s largest since late January, a time when Santorum had only 16% support overall.

Highly religious Republicans have clearly been looking for a candidate who will specifically and directly address their concerns about social, family, and values issues. Although weekly churchgoing Republicans disproportionately favored Santorum — compared with Republicans who attend church less often — Romney wound up with a modest edge among this group as the nomination contest ended. The key challenge for Romney will be capturing at least some of the same type of motivation and turnout among this group that was generated by his erstwhile competitor, Santorum.

Bottom Line

Romney, now the almost-certain Republican presidential nominee, is turning his attention to the general election fight against President Barack Obama. The success of his campaign will hinge on Romney’s ability to attract the vote of certain groups of key swing voters, mainly independents, and his ability to generate enthusiasm and, hence, turnout among Republicans and Republican-leaning independent voters.

Gallup’s final week of interviewing Republicans nationally shows that among Republicans, Romney has less than a 10-point margin over his nearest GOP competitor among:

  • Midwestern Republicans
  • young Republicans (18 to 34) and, to a lesser degree, 35- to 54-year-olds
  • highly religious Republicans
  • conservative Republicans

These will be the key subgroups of his GOP base among whom Romney will need to shore up support and create enthusiasm and, hence, turnout.

Still, Romney has quite solid support among older Republicans (55+) — which carries with it a tactical advantage since this group reliably turns out to vote in high numbers. Romney also enjoys strong support among Republicans living in regions other than the Midwest, liberal and moderate Republicans, and those who are less religious.

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Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted April 2-8, 2012, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 1,440 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, who are registered to vote.

For results based on the total sample of Republican registered voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup’s polling methodology, visit

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