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Live Coverage: the Michigan and Arizona Primaries

Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s live blog of the Michigan and Arizona primaries. The stakes are high, particularly in Mitt Romney’s boyhood home, Michigan, where polls show a dead heat. As the votes are counted, we’ll have exit-poll results, data-driven analysis and historical context.

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11:59 P.M. Romney’s Arizona Win More Impressive than Michigan

Mitt Romney has won the Michigan primary by 3 percentage points over Rick Santorum. In a strict mathematical sense, that margin was quite close to the polls, which showed a 1-point lead for Mr. Romney on average instead. But it comes as a huge relief to Mr. Romney: a 2-point swing in the other direction would have cost him the state.

The result that is more impressive in some ways is Mr. Romney’s sweeping win in Arizona, a state that was once thought to be the more challenging of the two for him. Mr. Romney leads by 21 percentage points based on the votes counted in Arizona so far. The margin is likely to narrow slightly because most of Mr. Romney’s stronger areas are in, but it will probably exceed the already-impressive 16-point victory margin projected for him by polls.

Turnout was slightly up in Michigan from 2008, although the difference was accounted for by a larger number of Democrats and Republicans crossing over. It looks as though Arizona turnout should be quite close to the 540,000 votes there in 2008.

There remains some ambiguity about which candidate will win more delegates in Michigan. The most likely outcome is perhaps an even 15-15 split, but several Congressional districts remain too close to call, and estimates are complicated by the fact that Michigan is using its new and provisional boundaries for Congressional districts, rather than those that were in place previously.

FiveThirtyEight is wrapping up our coverage for now; thank you for joining us this evening.

Nate Silver

11:44 P.M. Michigan Turnout Up Slightly From ’08

With 96 percent of precincts reporting, about 930,000 votes have been counted in the Michigan Republican primary. That’s up slightly from 2008, when 870,000 voted in the G.O.P. contest.

It looks, however, as though most of the improvement has come crossover voters who identified themselves as Democrat or independent. Some 40 percent of voters did so this year, as compared to 32 percent four years ago.

Excluding the crossover vote, turnout was about 590,000 self-identified Republicans in 2008. It looks as though it should be very close to that this year — probably about 580,000 self-identified Republicans once the remaining precincts are counted.

Nate Silver

11:19 P.M. All Bright Spots for Romney in Arizona

Mitt Romney achieved a sweeping win in Arizona, improving on his 2008 performance in almost every county in the state (of course, it helps that Arizona Senator John McCain is not running this year).

Mr. Romney added 8 percentage points to his 2008 vote share in Mohave County ( View on Map), one of Arizona’s most conservative areas. But he also improved his 2008 vote share by 7 percentage points in Pima County ( View on Map), where voters tend to hue closer to the idealogical middle.

The county that mostly explains Mr. Romney’s dominant performance in Arizona, however, is Maricopa County ( View on Map), home to Phoenix and a majority of Arizona’s population. In 2008, Mr. Romney won 33 percent of the vote there. This year, he is nearing 50 percent.

The one county where Mr. Romney has not really improved much on his 2008 levels is Cochise County ( View on Map), in Arizona’s Southeast corner. With about three-quarters of the vote counted there, he has 39 percent, essentially the same as the 40 percent he earned in 2008. To be honest, it’s not clear why Cochise is bucking the trend.

Micah Cohen

11:06 P.M. Close Definitely Counting for Romney

Just a quick observation based on what I’m seeing in my Twitter feed tonight: it looks like Mitt Romney’s win in Michigan tonight is producing quite a strong media narrative for him, despite the results having been quite close.

With 84 percent of the vote counted, Mr. Romney leads by slightly more than 3 percentage points against Rick Santorum, close to the 1 percentage point margin projected for him by the polls. Nor is Mr. Romney assured of picking up the most delegates in the state.

In some ways, Mr. Romney may have benefitted from the late shift in the polls back toward Mr. Santorum, which reset expectations about the race and made Mr. Romney’s victory seem more hard-earned. He also may have benefited from the fact that Michigan counted its vote quite quickly and efficiently (setting a good example for other states). And of course he benefitted from Arizona, where he won by a huge margin tonight.

The point is simply that winning counts for a lot in the way these events are covered, as does exceeding expectations by even a small margin. There isn’t much hedging about the implications of the race based on the margin of victory, unless it is perhaps literally so close that it appears headed for a recount.

But the coverage is fair to Mr. Romney in this sense: Michigan surely would have been portrayed as a terrible outcome for him had he lost the state by 3 points instead.

Nate Silver

10:43 P.M. Michigan Delegate Math Update

Based on the results reported so far, as well as some crude projections based on county-by-county results, it looks likely that Rick Santorum will win the 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th Congressional districts in Michigan — although that conclusion is more tenuous in the 3rd and 7th districts than the other two.

Meanwhile, it looks as though Mitt Romney will win the 8th, 9th, 11th, 12th and 14th districts.

That leaves the 1st, 4th, 5th, 10th and 13th Congressional districts as being very hard to call. Mr. Santorum perhaps has the slightest edge in the 1st, 4th and 10th districts. The 13th probably favors Mr. Romney based on his overall strength in the Detroit region, but it is hard to say for sure because it contains so few Democratic votes. I would not characterize the 5th district as leaning one way or the other.

Thus, it seems possible that Mr. Romney could win as few as 5 congressional districts or as many as 10, depending on how the remaining results trickle in. It’s also still possible that Mr. Santorum could win more districts despite losing the popular vote in the state.

Background on Michigan’s Congressional districts and the way that delegates are awarded in the state can be found here.

Nate Silver

10:14 P.M. Santorum’s Vote Closely Tracks Huckabee’s

Rick Santorum’s vote in Michigan has closely followed the pattern of Mike Huckabee’s vote in 2008. In the chart below, I’ve compared Mr. Santorum’s performance this year to Mr. Hucakbee’s in Michigan in 2008, based on counties that have reported at least 50 percent of their results so far in Michigan.

It is not a huge surprise, of course, that Mr. Santorum would do well in the areas that Mr. Huckabee did. And it must be added that Mr. Santorum is doing much better statewide than Mr. Huckabee, who won 16 percent of the vote in 2008.

At the same time, even a supercharged version of the Hucakbee coalition — plus a few cross-over votes from Democrats — looks as though it may not be quite enough for Mr. Santorum to win the state.

Nate Silver

9:54 P.M. Romney Outperforming ’08 Results in Most Mich. Counties

Mitt Romney has received a larger share of the vote than in 2008 in 62 of the 76 Michigan counties to have reported at least some results so far.

This is a good sign for him and indicates some breadth in his numbers. The 39 percent of the vote that Mr. Romney won in Michigan in 2008 closely matched our forecast for his vote share this year.

Nate Silver

9:48 P.M. Virtual Tie Among Mich. Counties Reporting All Results

Some 15 counties in Michigan have reported results from all of their precincts so far. Among those counties, Rick Santorum won 39.8 percent of the vote, slightly higher than Mitt Romney’s 39.2 percent.

There is some value in looking at these numbers because they avoid any skews from early and absentee balloting, which favored Mr. Romney and are sometimes reported before Election Day results come in.

Still, this is not all that encouraging a result for Mr. Santorum because it does not include any vote from counties like Oakland and Wayne ( View on Map), where he runs well behind Mr. Romney.

Nate Silver

9:37 P.M. Turnout Pace Strong So Far in Oakland County

So far, about 65,000 votes have been counted in Mitt Romney’s stronghold of Oakland County, Mich. ( View on Map), even though only about 17 percent of its precincts have reported. That would put it on a pace to considerably exceed the 133,000 votes that the county cast in 2008, a good sign for Mr. Romney.

Still, it may be that some of the largest precincts in Oakland County have reported while the smaller ones have not, or that the vote count is heavy with early and absentee ballots. So the vote pace will probably slow down somewhat.

Mr. Romney is leading in Oakland County by 15 percentage points based on votes counted there so far, slightly behind his 2008 margin of 20 percent but probably good enough to put him on a winning trajectory with a strong turnout there.

Nate Silver

9:23 P.M. The Tea Leaves in Kent

The demographics of Kent County, Mich. ( View on Map), present advantages to both Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.

Kent is home to a significant number of blue-collar workers and social conservatives, both groups that have shown affinity for Mr. Santorum. But Kent also includes wealthy, business-oriented voters in the suburbs of Grand Rapids, a natural Romney constituency.

Accordingly, Kent makes for a useful — though imperfect — weather vane as to whose voters are more motivated to go to the polls. So far, Mr. Santorum is leading in Kent, but only 5 percent of precincts have reported. Moreover, Mr. Romney has a narrow lead statewide with over a quarter of precincts reporting. Still, as the vote continues to be counted in Michigan keep an eye on Kent County.

Micah Cohen

9:28 P.M. Romney Results Middling Among Hispanics in Arizona

Although Mitt Romney should win Arizona easily tonight, exit polls show him doing somewhat more poorly with Hispanic voters there than with the electorate as a whole.

Mr. Romney is projected to win 33 percent of the Hispanic vote in Arizona, according to the exit poll, as compared to about 44 percent of the overall vote in the state.

Nate Silver

9:16 P.M. Intrade Bets Big on Romney in Michigan

With Mitt Romney having taken a 3 percentage point lead in Michigan with 20 percent of precincts reporting, the betting market Intrade is starting to like his chances. He is now about a 90 percent favorite to win the state, according to bettors there.

Nate Silver

9:07 P.M. Arizona Exit Polls Closely Match Projections

Exit polls project Mitt Romney to win about 44 percent of the vote in Arizona, versus around 28 percent for Rick Santorum.

That would closely match our pre-election forecasts of the state, which had Mr. Romney at 43 percent and Mr. Santorum at 27 percent.

Nate Silver

8:59 P.M. Santorum’s Early Lead in Ottawa County

Mr. Santorum has a large lead so far in Ottawa County ( View on Map). With about a quarter of precincts reporting, he is leading Mr. Romney 53 percent to 31 percent.

It’s a substantial margin, but Ottawa County is among the most conservative in Michigan, and Mr. Santorum needs margins of about this size to counterbalance Mr. Romney in the more populous, affluent and Romney-friendly suburbs to the north of Detroit.

Micah Cohen

8:54 P.M. Romney Leads Narrowly in Oakland and Macomb

Mitt Romney leads Rick Santorum by 12 percentage points so far in precincts reporting from Oakland County, Mich. ( View on Map) , a wealthy suburban county that is his stronghold. He also leads by about 3 points in Macomb County ( View on Map) , which is somewhat more working class but was also thought to favor Mr. Romney.

Those results, however, are probably somewhat behind the pace he would need to carry the whole state; Mr. Romney won both counties by 20 points in 2008.

These counties have reported between 3 and 4 percent of their results so far; there’s a good chance that Mr. Romney’s lead will expand as a more representative sample of precincts begin to report. Still, it’s not a terrific result for him so far.

Nate Silver

8:31 P.M. Santorum Strong So Far Outside Detroit

A handful of precincts are starting to report results in Michigan. They are mostly from outside the Detroit metropolitan area, however, where Rick Santorum is performing fairly well. He leads in 8 of the 11 counties that have reported results from outside Metro Detroit so far, including a slight lead in Huron County, which has reported about half its vote so far and which Mitt Romney won in 2008.

Nate Silver

8:16 P.M. Meanwhile, in Wyoming…

Although the political world’s attention is focused on Michigan and Arizona tonight, there is also voting taking place in Wyoming, where three counties — Converse, Park and Platt — are conducting a straw poll of Republican voters.

Most Wyoming counties have already participated in the straw poll, which is conducted on a rolling basis. Mitt Romney leads with 41 percent of the vote so far, to 31 percent for Rick Santorum and 20 percent for Ron Paul.

Sweetwater County in southwestern Wyoming will hold its straw poll tomorrow, becoming the last Wyoming county to vote.

As in most other caucus states, the straw poll results are a “beauty contest” and are not binding on delegate selection in Wyoming.

Nate Silver

7:59 P.M. In Michigan, Beware of Commenting on Cadillacs

FiveThirtyEight’s forecasting model is built on the premise that past election results can help us interpret contemporary data. If you ever doubted that politics has a way of circling back on itself, consider this: amazingly enough, Mr. Romney’s “Cadillac” gaffe — in which he said his wife “drives a couple Cadillacs, actually” — was not the first time a Cadillac comment landed a Republican presidential hopeful into some hot water in Michigan.

In the 1992 Republican primary, Patrick J. Buchanan, challenging the incumbent, President George H. W. Bush, was hammered by Mr. Bush for describing Cadillacs he had owned once as “lemons.” Mr. Buchanan also got into trouble for owning a Mercedes-Benz, which, of course, is not made in Michigan.

Micah Cohen

7:54 P.M. Michigan’s G.O.P. Electorate Skews Older

Just 24 percent of voters in Michigan’s Republican primary are under 45 years of age, according to early-stage exit polls. That would represent a significant drop from 2008, when 37 percent of voters were under 45.

Meanwhile, 29 percent of Michigan voters are aged 65 and older, according to the exit polls so far, as compared to 16 percent in 2008.

Mitt Romney generally performed stronger with older voters in pre-election polls, especially those aged 65 and up.

One reason to be cautious here, however: older voters tend to vote earlier in the day than younger ones, so preliminary exit polls conducted midway through the voting day can sometimes overestimate their share of the electorate.

Nate Silver

7:44 P.M. Michigan Crossover Turnout Appears Higher Than Expected

According to early-wave exit polls, 59 percent of voters in Michigan’s primary today identified as Republican, versus 41 percent who said they were independents or Democrats.

The 41 percent figure is somewhat higher than most recent polls anticipated. Surveys from Public Policy Polling and Rasmussen Reports pegged crossover turnout at 36 percent, American Research Group at 37 percent and a Mitchell Research poll at 19 percent.

Crossover turnout was 32 percent in Michigan’s primary in 2008, according to exit polls, when 7 percent of Michigan’s voters said they were Democrats and 25 percent said they were independents.

Nate Silver

7:21 P.M. Caution on Early Voters, Turnout and Exit Polls

Anecdotal accounts suggest that turnout could be fairly low in Michigan’s Republican primary. Is that good news or bad news for either candidate?

A reasonable first cut might be that it’s good news for Mitt Romney, since he is thought to have a lead among early voters. Some 219,000 early Republican ballots were returned in the state, according to the Michigan Secretary of State’s office. Those votes are locked in; the more Election Day ballots are cast, the more opportunity Rick Santorum would have to make up his early-vote deficit.

But I’d be a little cautious here. Mr. Santorum would like turnout among his Election Day voters to be as high as possible — and for turnout among Mr. Romney’s Election Day voters to be as low as possible. It is not safe to assume that turnout will be at some uniform rate among supporters of the various candidates; in South Carolina and Colorado, for instance, counties that tended to support Mr. Romney reported fairly low turnout, while those that tended to support his opponents showed it steady or increasing.

In other words, it’s really more a question of who is turning out — and where they are turning out — than any sort of absolute number. Although the exit polls can provide some vague clues about that, it’s really won’t be until we see whole counties reporting that we can estimate this with much certainty.

I’d also be cautious about interpreting reporting on the number of early voters represented in the exit polls.

For the time being, the exit polls are assuming that early voters will represent 20 percent of Michigan’s turnout.

A technical note: early voters represent a larger fraction, 25 percent, of the unweighted sample in the exit polls, which are based on a combination of interviews at precincts with Election Day voters and telephone poll of early voters. But the reports you are seeing on the proportion of different demographic groups in the electorate are based on the weighted assumption of 20 percent early voter turnout, according to Joe Lenski of Edison Research, which conducts the exit poll.

That 20 percent figure, however, is as much an assumption as a hard data point — it is challenging to calibrate these figures until one knows exactly how many voters turned out.

If 20 percent of Michigan’s votes were in fact cast early, that would be on the high end of prediction made by polls and among statewide officials, who anticipated that the fraction would be between 15 and 20 percent. It would be consistent with 2008, however, when 21 percent of voters cast their ballots early.

Nate Silver

6:59 P.M. Crossover Appeal

There has been a lot of chatter about mischievous Democrats in Michigan voting for Rick Santorum, believing he will prove the weaker general election candidate against President Obama. A registered voter in the Wolverine state can vote in either party’s primary simply by selecting the Republican or Democratic ballot at their polling place. Mr. Santorum himself has deployed an automated phone call encouraging Democrats to vote against Mitt Romney, a tactic Mr. Romney called a “dirty trick.”

But this sort of strategic crossover voting is not new for Michigan. In 1972, George Wallace, the governor of Alabama, won the Democratic primary in Michigan over Senator George McGovern, 51 percent to 27 percent. Mr. Wallace was shot five times the day before the primary, but a New York Times survey showed that sympathy played just a small part in Mr. Wallace’s win. Instead, the survey found that the main factors were his vehement stance against school busing and a flood of Republicans and independents crossing over to vote for him. According to The Times’ survey, only half of Mr. Wallace’s support came from Democrats. The rest came from “persons who do not regard themselves as Democrats,” Jack Rosenthal wrote.

In 2000, Senator John McCain upset Texas Governor George W. Bush in Michigan’s Republican primary, helped significantly by Democrats and independents. According to exit polls, 17 percent of voters in the 2000 G.O.P. primary were Democrats. In Michigan’s 2008 Republican primary, just 7 percent of voters were Democrats, and in 1996 it was 10 percent, according to exit polls.

In fact, if Mr. Romney’s admonitions of Mr. Santorum sound familiar to some of you, here was the beginning of an Associated Press article written by Glen Johnson on Feb. 23, 2000, the day after Mr. McCain’s triumph in the Michigan primary:

George W. Bush said Wednesday he lost the Michigan primary because of Democrats “trying to hijack the election,” and he declared that would stop in upcoming states that require voters to decide on one party or the other.
The Texas governor criticized his Republican presidential rival, John McCain, for encouraging “crossover” voting by people who may well forsake the party in this fall’s general election.

Preliminary exit polls today, however, show that about 1 in 10 voters are Democrats. That number, if it does not change drastically, would match up closer with Michigan’s 2008 and 1996 primaries, years when Democrats were not a major factor in the state’s primary.

Micah Cohen

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.