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POLL: Michigan primary narrows, but outcome remains fluid

The Republican nominating race for president in Michigan narrowed last week between frontrunner Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, a survey of 602 likely Republican primary voters in Michigan Feb. 17-19 concludes. But the race remains fluid in the final week leading up to Michigan's Feb. 28 voting.Santorum has a 4-point lead over Romney, 37-33 percent, with 15 percent for Ron Paul and 10 percent for Newt Gingrich, concludes Public Policy Polling of North Carolina.

Here's what PPP concluded:

"The tightening over the last week is much more a function of Romney gaining than Santorum falling. Santorum's favorability spread of 67/23 has seen no change since our last poll, and his share of the vote has dropped only 2 points from 39% to 37%. Romney meanwhile has seen his net favorability improve 10 points from +10 (49/39) to +20 (55/35) and his vote share go from 24% to 33%.What we're seeing in Michigan is a very different story from Florida where Romney surged by effectively destroying his opponent's image -- here Romney's gains have more to do with building himself up.

Groups Santorum has double digit leads with include Protestants (up 47-30), union members (up 43-23), Evangelicals (up 51-24), Tea Partiers (up 55-20), 'very conservative' voters (up 54-23), and men (up 40-28).

Romney is leading the field with women (38-34), seniors (42-34), moderates (35-24), 'somewhat conservative' voters (40-34), and Catholics (43-31).

Newt Gingrich's continued presence in the race is helping Romney a lot. If he dropped 45% of his supporters would go to Santorum, compared to only 29% for Romney and it would push Santorum's lead over Romney up to 42-33. 47% of primary voters think Gingrich should drop out while only 40% believe he should continue on, but he's certainly not showing any indication he'll leave.

Santorum's advantage over Romney seems to be a reflection of voters being more comfortable with where he is ideologically. 48% of voters think Santorum has more similar beliefs to them, compared to only 32% who pick Romney on that question. 63% of primary voters think Santorum's views are 'about right' compared to only 42% who say that for Romney. 37% believe that Romney is 'too liberal.'

Other notes from Michigan:

--Romney's bailout stance isn't hurting him. 34% of voters say they're more likely to vote for someone opposed to the bailout, while only 27% consider that opposition a negative. 35% say it doesn't make a difference to them either way.

--Romney's endorsement by Rick Snyder probably doesn't have much to do with his surge in the last week. Only 13% of primary voters say Snyder's endorsement makes them more likely to vote for Romney, while 28% actually consider it a negative and 57% say it doesn't make a difference either way. Those numbers are similar to what we found on a Nikki Haley endorsement in South Carolina.

--Romney's still not convincing anyone that he's a Michigander- only 29% of voters consider him to be one, while 62% do not. But given that he's risen in the polls over the last week without making any progress on that front, it looks like it doesn't really matter whether or not Michigan Republicans consider him to be one of their own.

This is still an extremely volatile race. 36% of voters say they could change their minds in the next week. 69% of Romney's supporters are strongly committed to him, compared to only 63% of Santorum's backers. With momentum on his side and a more reliable group of supporters there are plenty of reasons to think Romney can continue this comeback and win next week."

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