PPP, Survey USA point to Romney win in today's WA caucuses

Another Saturday, another non-binding caucus to provide some bragging rights over momentum ahead of a primary — in this case, a whole lot of primaries.  The state of Washington holds its GOP caucus today to not allocate delegates to the Republican presidential candidates, but the state has still attracted attention from the campaigns.  A couple of weeks ago Rick Santorum seemed headed for another caucus victory, but two polls in the last two days show Mitt Romney pulling ahead.

First, PPP reports a shift in momentum but only a small difference between Santorum and Romney:

Momentum has swung strongly in Mitt Romney’s direction among Washington Republicans over the last two weeks. He now leads in the state with 37% to 32% for Rick Santorum, 16% for Ron Paul, and 13% for Newt Gingrich. That represents a reversal from PPP’s previous poll which found Santorum in the driver’s seat with 38% to Romney’s 27%. The large shift in Washington reflects what has happened in the race nationally over that period of time.

Two weeks ago Santorum’s net favorability was 46 points better than Romney’s in Washington.  Now it’s only 11 points better. Santorum’s popularity has declined, going from +51 (69/18) to just +29 (60/31). Meanwhile Romney is on the up swing, going from only +5 (47/42) to +18 (55/37). …

In the places he’s been successful Santorum has dominated the race with three core groups: Evangelicals, Tea Partiers, and those describing themselves as ‘very conservative.’ He’s winning all those groups in Washington, but not by nearly the margin he needs to. He’s only up 41-30 with Evangelicals, 41-34 with Tea Party identifiers, and 38-35 with those self labeling as ‘very conservative.’

Among voters who say they will ‘definitely’ caucus on Saturday Romney’s advantage is only 35-32. His overall advantage is larger because he’s up 40-30 with those who will ‘probably’ caucus, but those folks may or may not end up showing.

PPP also considers the Mormon vote a key in Washington, as it will comprise 14% of the likely turnout today.  Still, even with that advantage (almost two-thirds of those support Romney), Romney’s lead is at the margin of error. Turnout will matter most, if PPP’s analysis proves correct, although Romney’s organization should give him an edge in that department, too.

Survey USA polled Republicans only, as compared to PPP’s mix of 79% Republicans, 17% indies, and 4% Democrats, which is more appropriate for the open caucus taking place today (Washington does not have party affiliations on their voter registration).  In PPP’s poll, Romney has a seven-point advantage among Republicans, but in Survey USA’s poll, it goes to double digits:

Washington State Republicans by 5:1 say economic issues are more important to them than social issues, say Mitt Romney is the best Republican to tackle the nation’s economy, and as a result, see Mitt Romney overwhelmingly as the Republican best able to defeat Barack Obama in November, according to a SurveyUSA poll conducted for KING-TV in Seattle on the eve of the state caucuses.

This was a strangely-constructed poll, though.  It doesn’t sample likely caucus goers, and it also includes Barack Obama on its list of candidates as a general-election question.  (He gets 6% of the vote.)  Romney wins handily on the question of being the best to take on Obama (50/18 over Santorum) and best on the economy (41/20 over Gingrich).  Santorum, on the other hand, has a double-digit lead in being able to identify with “ordinary people” (36/23 over Romney).  Romney narrowly wins on trustworthiness, 32/26 over Santorum, a result that actually increases to 33/17 among Tea Party members.

This looks like Romney is poised for a win today that will give him a psychological boost going into Super Tuesday, but nothing more significant — except perhaps the opportunity to deny Santorum a psychological boost.