Romney’s Shifting Iowa Coalition

Mitt Romney has famously been running for president for the past four years. He seems to be having more success this time; at the moment, Romney is the unquestioned frontrunner for the Republican nomination.

A previous post analyzed Romney’s voting coalition based off of exit polls. Given that Romney also ran for president in 2008, there are also a lot of exit polls which provide information of Romney’s coalition in 2008.

Exit polls were conducted in both the 2008 and 2012 Iowa Republican Caucuses; the 2008 exit poll can be found here, and the 2012 exit poll can be found here. This post takes all the questions which the two exit polls had in common and then places them side-by-side. The fact that Romney got 25.2% of the vote in 2008 and 24.5% of the vote in 2012 makes the comparison especially interesting. By examining the exit polls one can get a sense of how Romney’s 2012 supporters are different from his 2008 supporters.

The results are quite revealing.

Let’s start with a pretty basic question:

Gender Romney 2008 Romney 2012
Male 26% 23%
Female 24% 25%

This is probably the least interesting of the polls. There is essentially no gender gap in Romney’s support. The differences in support are minuscule enough to be a function of sample size error.

Here is the next question, which asks about something much more interesting:

Born-Again Evangelical Christian? Romney 2008 Romney 2012
Yes 19% 14%
No 33% 38%
Evangelical vs. Non-Evangelical Support Gap 14% 24%

These exit polls indicate that Romney does substantially worse amongst evangelicals than amongst non-evangelicals. In fact, in 2008 the gap between evangelical support for Romney and non-evangelical support for Romney was greater than any other divide in the 2008 exit poll questions this post examines.

What is even more revealing is that in 2012 this gap widens. Evangelical support for Romney is even less in 2012; non-evangelical support is even greater in 2012. The 2012 evangelical versus non-evangelical divide in support is also greater than all but one in support amongst the questions examined in this post.

One should be a bit cautious, of course. Saying that Romney is doing worse amongst evangelicals in 2012 than in 2008 is very premature. Exit polls are notoriously unreliable, and to draw firm conclusions from unreliable polls of just one caucus is ill-advised.

The next question also shows something very interesting:

Age Romney 2008 Romney 2012
18-29 22% 13%
30-44 23% 20%
45-64 25% 25%
65+ 28% 33%
Oldest vs. Youngest Support Gap 6% 20%

Unlike religion, age has not often been thought of as a factor in whether or not one supports Romney. Yet as these results make clear, there is actually a substantial age gap between support for Romney amongst the elderly and amongst the young. Older voters like Romney more; younger voters are less enthusiastic.

In 2008 the gap is not very wide. Romney’s support does rise slightly with voter age, but the divide is small enough to perhaps be a function of sample error. In 2012 the divide has widened considerably. Romney almost falls into single digits with young voters, while gaining a healthy third of the elderly vote. Much as evangelicals became less likely to vote for Romney in 2012, younger voters – cool to Romney in 2008 – are even less enthusiastic in 2012.

Let’s take a look at income:

Income Romney 2008 Romney 2012
Less than $30,000 19% 15%
$30,000 – $49,999 16% 16%
$50,000 – $99,999 27% 21%
$100,000 or more 32% 36%
Highest Income vs. Lowest Income Support Gap 13% 21%

There have been considerable attacks on Romney on the basis of class; Romney is one of the richest Americans, and it is fair to say that he has never really experienced hardship. Unsurprisingly, poor voters are not exactly enamored of Romney. As with age, there’s a steady progression of increasing support as income increases.

This was so true in 2008, where the lowest income voters were actually more likely to support Romney than the income tier above them. In 2008 the wealth attack was used much less against Romney (back then the main issue was his flip-flops on social issues). In the 2012 campaign Romney has been criticized much more on the issue of wealth, and unsurprisingly the income divide in support has correspondingly increased.

The next question deals with political philosophy:

Political Philosophy Romney 2008 Romney 2012
Very Conservative 23% 14%
Somewhat Conservative 27% 32%
Moderate 26% 38%
Moderate vs. Very Conservative Gap 3% 24%

In 2008 Romney ran as the conservative religious candidate, attempting to win Iowa by running to the right of all the major candidates. His strategy backfired when Mike Huckabee began rising in the polls, and Romney actually did worst amongst very conservative voters that year. Still, 2008 didn’t really feature a big divide in support for Romney; all three numbers are pretty much within the margin-of-error.

In 2012 Romney ran as something quite different: a moderate, business-oriented Republican. Moderates were thus much more likely to support Romney in 2012. Conservatives, however, were turned off by the similarity of his Massachusetts health care plan to “Obamacare.” Their support, always lukewarm, plummeted. In 2012, the moderate-conservative gap thus tied the evangelical versus non-evangelical gap as the largest divide in support for Romney. Out of all the divides in support for Romney, this divide widened the most between 2008 and 2012.

The next table is a bit puzzling:

Party Affiliation Romney 2008 Romney 2012
Independent 19% 19%
Republican 26% 27%
Republican vs. Independent Support Gap 7% 8%

Republicans are more likely to support Romney than Independents. Unlike the case with most of the other questions, the gap in support hasn’t really widened since 2012. This is actually a strange result; it seems to contradict the fact that moderate voters are the most enamored of Romney. It also would suggest some weakness in the general election.

The next questions involves depth of support:

Opinion of Candidate You Support Romney 2008 Romney 2012
Strongly Favor 24% 22%
Some Reservations 26% 29%
Some Reservations vs. Strongly Favor Support Gap 2% 7%

Romney’s share of voters who strongly favor their candidate and his share of voters who favor their candidate with some reservations was essentially the same in 2008. In 2012 the gap has widened somewhat (a pattern that’s coming up again and again). This is perhaps not so surprising considering the many attacks that Romney has received since 2008.

Finally, another question of some utility:

Decided Whom to Support… Romney 2008 Romney 2012
Today 18% 22%
In the last few days 26% 23%
In December 23% 22%
Before That 29% 28%
Earliest Decision vs. Latest Decision Support Gap 11% 6%

This table indicates that Romney generally does best amongst those who make their decisions earliest. This is one of two categories in which the gap between Romney’s strongest and weakest supporters in 2008 narrowed (the other being gender).


The differences between Romney’s 2008 coalition in Iowa and Romney’s 2012 coalition in Iowa can be revealed just by examining his strongest and weakest supporters out of all these categories. In 2008, out of these nine categories, Romney’s strongest supporters were non-evangelicals; he got 33% of their vote. His weakest supporters were people who decided whom to support on election day; Romney got 18% of them. The greatest gap between Romney supporters and opponents was the 14% gap between evangelicals and non-evangelicals.

In 2012 things were somewhat different and similar at the same time. This time, out of these nine exit polls questions, Romney’s strongest support was with non-evangelicals and moderates. The candidate took 38% of their vote. On the other hand, his weakest supporters were voters aged 18-29; Romney won a mere 13% of them. The greatest divide was amongst evangelicals versus non-evangelicals and very conservative voters versus moderate voters. In both, there was a 24% gap.

Consider these statistics in light of the fact that Romney got essentially the exact same share of the vote in both caucuses.

Nevertheless, his coalition has changed in several interesting ways. In general, Romney is doing better with the voters who supported him the most in 2008. On the other hand, he is doing worse with the voters who were most lukewarm towards him in 2008. His coalition has become less broad but more deep.

Of course, it should be noted that one should hesitate before drawing firm conclusions. This is, after all, an analysis of a form of surveying which has proven to be flawed in the past, which has very high margins of error, and an analysis of only one caucus.

A next post will examine the differences between Romney in 2008 and Romney in 2012 with respect to the New Hampshire primary.

This entry was posted in 2012 Republican Primary, Iowa, Mitt Romney, Republicans and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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