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Why the polls might be wrong about Romney in Ala., Miss.

Rogelio Solis / AP

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at the Mississippi Farmers Market in Jackson, Miss.

 

Mitt Romney’s campaign and Super PAC have spent more than $2 million ahead of tomorrow’s contests in Alabama and Mississippi. Polls show a tight race, with Romney within the margin of error of the lead against Newt Gingrich.

But Romney is no natural fit in the Deep South -- and he knows it.

"I am learning to say y'all and I like grits,” Romney said Friday. “Strange things are happening to me," added the born-in-Michigan, former Massachusetts governor.

The fact remains that Romney faces an uphill climb tomorrow in Alabama and Mississippi, and it’s not just because he’s not a big grits and biscuits eater. It's demographics.

Looking at three questions in exit polls dealing with education, wealth, and religion, the two states show Romney far outside his comfort zone.

Romney’s wins have all come in places where voters were more educated, wealthier, and less evangelical.

Nine states where Romney won -- and exit polls are available -- showed the average Romney state is a place where 51% of GOP primary voters are college grads, 31% made more than $100,000 a year, and 35% were born-again or evangelical Christians.

The average state Romney lost included 48% college grads, 28% made more than $100,000, and 68% born-again, evangelical Christians. Alabama and Mississippi are even worse than those numbers for Romney.

In 2008, in Alabama, just 42% said they were college grads, 18% made more than $100,000, and 77% were born-again or evangelical Christians. In Mississippi, the numbers were similar -- 38% college grads, 19% made more than $100,000, and 69% were born-again or evangelical Christians.

If the numbers of born-again or evangelical Christians hold, they will be the largest share of any single state to vote yet outside of Tennessee and Oklahoma. Tennessee may be a great example, where Romney allies spent a lot of money, polling started to show him doing well, but in the end, lost by more than pre-primary polls suggested. And Tennessee in 2012 had higher percentages of college grads and those making more than $100,000 than Alabama and Mississippi in 2008.

But if Romney does pull off the win, or does better than expected, of course, that will signal for the first time that Romney can win outside his core groups -- and that conservatives may very well be ready for this race to be over. Or, as some on Twitter and colleagues note, it could just be that Rick Santorum and Gingrich split the conservative vote and give Romney a path to victory.

NBC's Adam Perez contributed to this report.

2008 exit polls:

Mississippi:
38% college graduates
19% made more than $100,000
69% born-again or evangelical Christian

Alabama:
42% were college grad
18% made more than $100,000
77% born again or evangelical

States Romney won 2012:

New Hampshire:
55% college grad
37% made more than $100,000
22% born again/evangelical

Michigan:
51% college grad
33% made more than $100,000
42% evangelical

Ohio:
45% college grad
30% made more than $100,000
49% born again/evangelical

Florida:
50% college grad
31% made more than $100,000
47% born again/evangelical

Nevada:
48% college grad
28% made more than $100,000
28% born-again or evangelical Christian

Arizona:
46% college grad
26% made more than $100,000
42% born-again or evangelical Christian

Massachusetts:
56% college grad
40% made more than $100,000
16% born-again or evangelical Christian

Vermont:
48% college grad
19% made more than $100,000
27% born-again or evangelical Christian 

Virginia:
58% college grad
39% made more than $100,000
46% born-again or evangelical Christian

* Exit polls were not conducted in Maine, Idaho, Wyoming, Guam, the Northern Mariana Island, or the Virgin Islands – all states Romney also won.

States Romney lost 2012

Georgia
52% college grad
38% made more than $100,000
68% born again/evangelical

Iowa
52% college grad
28% made more than $100,000
57% born again/evangelical

Oklahoma
45% college grad
21% made more than $100,000
74% born again/evangelical 

Tennessee
46% college grad
27% made more than $100,000
76% born again/evangelical

South Carolina
47% college grad
27% made more than $100,000
65% born again/evangelical

* Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, and North Dakota did not have exit polls