There are two ways to be a swing state. One is to have a lot of moderates. That doesn't really describe Oregon; a moderate state like Ohio would never pass an assisted suicide law. The other way is to have both a lot of conservatives and a lot of liberals, who happen to roughly balance one another out. Oregon is one such state.
Exit polls from 2004 contain a basic question about the ideology (conservative/liberal/moderate) of each voter. We can apply a Likert scale to these responses, assigning 10 points to every liberal, 5 to every moderate, and 0 to every conservative. We will call this result a Liberalness Score. The average voter in Oregon has a Liberalness Score of 4.65, which ties it with Minnesota as the 13th most liberal state in the country. (Massachusetts is the most liberal state at 5.65, and Utah the most conservative at 3.30. Note that only a handful of states have a rating above 5 -- that is, have more self-identified liberals than conservatives.)
But here's where it gets interesting. The average Kerry voter nationwide had a Liberalness Score of 6.20 -- just slightly left of center. However, in Oregon, the average Kerry voter was a 7.17. This, as it happens, is the highest score in the country; the Kerry voters in Oregon were more liberal than the ones in Vermont (7.11) or even the District of Columbia (6.97).
Meanwhile, the average Bush voter nationwide had a Liberalness Score of 2.58 -- pretty darn conservative. But in Oregon, the average Bush voter was a 2.01 -- very conservative. And guess what? That is the lowest Liberalness Score for Bush voters anywhere in the country. The Bush voters in Oregon were as conservative as the ones in Tennessee (2.02) or Utah (2.15).
So the liberals in Oregon are as liberal as any in the country, whereas the conservatives are as conservative as any in the country. This is how you wind up with the weird political soup wherein Oregon has decriminalized marijuana but has also passed a gay marriage ban, or how it allows assisted suicide but also has one of the nation's lowest effective tax rates.
A graph of the Liberalness Scores of Bush and Kerry voters in each state is below.
As you can see, there's really not all that much relationship between the Liberalness Scores of Bush voters and Kerry voters in a given state. But there are three basic regional clusters:
1. In the South, where Republicans are very conservative and Democrats are moderate;
2. In New England, where Republicans are moderate and Democrats are liberal;
3. Finally, some western states like Oregon, Washington and Colorado, where the Democrats are liberal but the Republicans are still quite conservative.
There aren't really any states where both Democrats and Republicans are moderate, although Rhode Island almost meets that description. Part of the reason is that the moderate wing of the Republican party is on life support everywhere outside of New England, and even that suffered a big symbolic blow when Linc Chafee was voted out of office in 2006.
But getting back to Oregon, this is a relevant factor in light of the state's closed primary, because the Democratic electorate in Oregon is in fact quite liberal, even though the state as a whole is not. The Democrats in Oregon aren't especially wealthy and they aren't especially well-educated -- but they are pretty darn liberal.
We've gotten so used to talking about demography in the primaries that we've forgotten about plain old ideology -- partly because, until fairly recently, neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama were in any particular hurry to run to the political center. But with Clinton having increasingly run to Barack Obama's right, we will have an interesting experiment on our hands in Oregon. More on this when we do our Oregon delegate preview tomorrow or Monday.
While Barack Obama appears to have a fairly safe lead in Oregon overall, both SurveyUSA and American Research Group have the race essentially tied among people who have already mailed in their ballots. Should Obama be worried?
I'm guessing not for a couple of reasons.
1. Neither candidate is acting like they're sweating the result in Oregon. While Barack Obama is out there today, he's spent his last couple of days in South Dakota and Michigan. And Clinton has Bill out in Oregon today rather than campaigning there herself.
2. As we noted in North Carolina, early voters tend to be older -- a key Clinton demographic.
3. Turnout is probably easier to estimate in Oregon than in most other states, as it's a closed primary and has a tradition of strong turnout. So, it's unlikely that the pollsters are making wild assumptions with their likely voter models.
I do think the result in Oregon could turn out to be closer than expected. But I don't think the outcome is in all that much doubt.
EDIT: To point #1 above, see this item from The Swamp:
[T]here will be no head-to-head combat before Tuesday's voting deadline in Oregon's vote-by-mail primary. After dropping in for a day of made-for-TV campaigning, Clinton scrapped her Saturday plans here and headed for Kentucky, which also votes Tuesday. That leaves Barack Obama alone in this state all weekend, starting today with a rally in the Southern Oregon town of Roseburg, and continuing tomorrow in Portland and rodeo hub Pendleton.
Say what you will about Clinton's schedule, but know this: Some of her allies say privately it's not close to the full-court press she would need to upset Obama in Oregon.
This is the kind of purple-state result that Obama will need more of if he's going to improve on his electoral math. It also underscores that while Hispanics might not quite be the strength for Obama that they are for Hillary Clinton, they are nevertheless an electoral asset for him, and quite probably more of an asset for him than they were for John Kerry.
The conventional wisdom on Hardball right now is that this is great news for Barack Obama. And I thought his remarks were effective today. But this could also be a case where Obama is on the right side of the wrong argument. For one thing, I think there is a bigger gap between the knowledge base of the pundit class and the public on non-Iraq foreign policy than there is on any other issue. We've seen that the public can handle fairly sophisticated debates on the gas tax and a health care mandate, but the intricacies of Hamas and Neville Chamberlain may test their patience. For another, Rasmussen polling indicates that national security is one area where McCain starts out with a big credibility/trust advantage against Barack Obama.
I'll say this: I think this is one time when it's going to be worth looking at the national tracking polls over the course of the next week or so. If Obama gets some kind of bounce out of this -- on what should be McCain's firmest ground -- then McCain could be in a great deal of trouble. If, on the other hand, the polling shows a shift toward McCain, we know that the Republicans will be pressing this issue from now until November, and Obama might need to think more seriously about a VP selection like Sam Nunn or Wesley Clark.
The headline today is that for the first time since we started tracking the state polls in early March, we are now rating Hillary Clinton as a favorite against John McCain. One of the big reasons why is that she is starting to consolidate her positions in blue states like Maine and Washington that previously looked like they might be somewhat vulnerable. What she needs now are some better numbers in Michigan and Wisconsin; if she gets those, her win percentage will go way up.
Barack Obama is also polling quite strongly in blue states recently. However, he appears to be backtracking somewhat in red states like Kansas. This is undoubtedly fairly typical for this point in the election cycle, when support begins to revert toward being more partisan. But the reason why we don't yet show Obama getting a surge in his electoral math even as he has improved his standing in national polls is because we haven't gotten a lot of data from key purple states recently, and what data we have gotten -- as in Wisconsin and New Hampshire -- has not been especially good for him.
There should be a lot of polling coming out next week, notably including SurveyUSA's monthly refresh of data in 15 or 16 states, so we should have a better idea by then.
Firstly, the conventional wisdom that gay marriage was a critical issue in allowing George W. Bush to win the 2004 election is dubious at best. Academic analyses suggest that, while turnout was higher in states with gay marriage ballot initiatives in 2004, George Bush performed no better in those states than he had in 2000.
Moreover, gay marriage questions may be particularly irrelevant given the nature of Barack Obama's and John McCain's constituencies. Support for gay marriage and other gay rights initiatives is strongly aged-based, with younger Americans being far more tolerant. But younger Americans are more inclined to support Obama to begin with, and older Americans less so; the demographics are running along parallel rather than perpendicular tracks. Meanwhile, while civil unions are strongly opposed by evangelical Protestants, they are supported by majorities of Catholics and strong majorities of mainline Protestants. Once again, this tends to match the existing fractures in each candidate's base of support, as Obama does especially poorly with evangelicals but quite strongly with mainline Protestants, with Catholics somewhere in between. In a Clinton-McCain match-up, gay rights issues would have had far more potential to create a "wedge", as Clinton does pick up strong support from older voters and some support from white evangelicals.
There as many as eight distinct policy questions related to gay marriage and gay rights that are likely to receive some play this year. I have summarized those questions below, including each candidate's position on the issue. I have also included data from PollingReport.com on public sentiment on each issue. Because some of these issues are fairly nuanced, and the responses depend heavily on question wording, I have provided an approximate range rather than a precise value for each question.
McCain's reputation as a moderate on gay rights issues rests on his opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have amended the U.S. Constitution to define marriage as being between one man and one woman. Obama also opposed the Federal Marriage Amendment, as do majorities of the public in most surveys.
Although neither candidate supports federal recognition of gay marriages (Obama's opposition has at times been tentative), Obama supports civil unions whereas McCain does not. On this issue, Obama stands with the majority of the public, although this is one instance in which opposition tends to be voiced more strongly than the support.
McCain's best opportunity to win support on the gay marriage issue is to shift the discourse from the relatively unpopular Federal Marriage Amendment to the Defense of Marriage Act, which (i) prevents states from having to recognize gay marriages in other states and (ii) prohibits the federal government from recognizing gay marriages conducted by the states. DOMA is likely to receive renewed attention in the wake of the California decision, as California law would permit gay couples to travel to California to get married there, whereas Massachusetts (the only other state to allow gay marriage) does not. While McCain voted for DOMA continues to support it, Obama has advocated its repeal.
Polling on DOMA is murky because it represents a fairly complicated legal question, making it hard to phrase a survey item appropriately. However, a May 2005 University of New Hampshire poll suggested that a 50-46 plurality opposed Massachusetts marriages from having to be recognized in all 50 states. Moreover, McCain's position is probably easier to frame, as he can defend DOMA on federalism and judicial activism grounds. The attack ads -- "Barack Obama has called for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and would force [insert state here] to recognize gay marriages conducted in San Francisco" -- are easy enough to envision.
However, Obama has a couple of ways that he can pivot on gay rights issues. The first way would be to portray the issue as a distraction and representative of the "old" kind of politics. While public opinion on gay rights issues is mixed, there is no indication that it is a particularly high priority for the public, particularly at a time of war and economic distress.
Moreover, there are three issues -- unrelated to the marriage issue itself -- where Obama's position rather than McCain's is much more in line with public sentiment. The first is gay service in the military and the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy; depending on the phrasing of the question, anywhere from 60 percent to 80 percent of the public supports allowing gays to serve openly in the military. The second is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation. A recent Gallup poll suggested at an overwhelming 89 percent majority of Americans support equal rights for gays and lesbians in the workplace, but McCain is on record as opposing ENDA. And the third issue is including sexual orientation as a category in federal hate crimes statutes -- supported by 70-75 percent of the public but opposed by McCain.
An Obama counterargument would probably take the following form:
"At a time when our nation is at war and our economy is in recession, my opponent is trying to distract you with the same old politics of fear and division. And he supports policies that make it impossible for gay Americans to join the military at a time when we don't have enough troops, and make it harder for them to find jobs when too many people are out of work."
As on the gas tax issue, Obama's counter-punches could prove to be more powerful than any jabs thrown by McCain.
Yesterday, the Obama website showed him as needing 25 delegates to win a pledged delegate majority, whereas today it shows 24. The difference comes because Obama gained one delegate in North Carolina when that state certified its results.
But the Obama website is not counting former John Edwards delegates, even though eight of them have now declared their intentions to do their delegating for Obama. Nor is it counting the Maryland pledged delegate who flipped from Clinton to Obama.
True, the Obama campaign has the luxury not to sweat the small stuff; they will meet their definition of a pledged delegate majority on Tuesday with or without the Edwards delegates. Still, they are intentionally glossing over the fact that delegates aren't bound by rule to vote for any particular candidate. Their working definition of a "pledged delegate" is something like: a delegate as selected at their state convention
EDIT: Well ... maybe never mind all that, since the Obama campaign does seem to be counting the Edwards delegates in its communications to the media. But not, so far, to the public at large.
Just because the Clintons say something doesn’t mean it’s untrue. Hillary’s claim that she would do better against John McCain in swing states such as West Virginia — no Democrat has captured the White House without winning there since 1916 — is quite plausible. Obama is in danger of being cast as the Michael Dukakis of the 21st century (fairly or not). Polls show that in West Virginia, Obama wins only 53 percent of Democratic primary voters in a matchup against McCain. When only half of the party base is willing to vote for the nominee against a Republican, that nominee and that party have real problems.Goldberg has something of a point. West Virginia very much is an electoral advantage to Clinton. Although the general election matchups in the state have not been polled in a long time, we have Clinton winning the state against McCain whereas Obama is way behind. It along with Arkansas are the two states where Clinton has the largest inherent advantage against Barack Obama.
The irony is that Dukakis -- the nerdy, Willie Horton-releasing technocrat from Massachusetts -- actually carried West Virginia by 5 points. And lost the election by 315 electoral votes.
Arguably the fundamental change in American partisan politics over the past 30 years is that the Democrats have gone from being the party of the working class to the party of the bourgeoisie. Jimmy Carter's coalition was built on folks who did not attend college -- but Ford beat him by 10 points among college graduates, and Reagan beat him by 16 four years later. The same pattens largely held for Michael Dukakis.
Clinton -- Bill Clinton -- captured the best of both worlds. He performed well among those voters who hadn't attended college as well as among those with postgraduate educations. But by the time we got through the rabbit hole to John Kerry in 2004, the coalitions had flipped. Kerry was still carrying the postgraduate crowd, but had lost the "no college" voters.
These effects are particularly noticeable in West Virginia, which is among the least-educated states in the country. Indeed, Thomas Frank's book should really be entitled "What's the Matter with West Virginia?"
Hillary Clinton's issue is that she rolls the clock a little too far back - not to the Clinton years but to the Carter years. She wins back the low-education voters that Kerry had lost -- and hence, she wins back West Virginia. But, as of about a month ago, she was actualy losing college graduates to McCain. Hence, well-educated states like Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Virginia, Colorado, and Oregon give her challenges. McCain has even been within a couple of points of her in some polls of Connecticut. Each Democrat would face challenges in building a winning coalition, and it is not intrinsically obvious which one is greater.
p.s. As long as we're talking about the National Review and Michael Dukakis, I've been looking for an excuse to present the following:
In Arkansas, it's Clinton +14 and Obama -24 against McCain. That's one of the more dramatic differences you're likely to see in any given state. Rasmussen is now in line with other polls in Arkansas, which show Clinton with a safe-looking lead in the state; she had actually trailed by 7 in Rasmussen's previous poll. Believe it or not, this is also an improvement for Obama from Rasmussen's last poll of Arkansas, which had him down by 29.
In Washington, SurveyUSA has Obama +12 and Clinton +4. McCain has made some nosies about wanting to compete in the Pacific Northwest region. That might be a decent idea against Clinton, but it's a poor one against Obama, who runs very strongly in the Pac Northwest.
Finally, we've figured out how to accommodate yesterday's Georgia poll, which showed Obama trailing by 14 and did not poll the Clinton matchup. Clinton's result will be listed as "no poll" in our tables and the result will not affect her averages.
Following is a summary of some key exit polling metrics from among the five states in which John Edwards competed (using the term 'competed' liberally in the case of Florida).
A couple of things to call your attention to.
Firstly, John Edwards actually performed slightly better among voters making more than $50,000 per year than among those making less.
Secondly, while we only have this data available in three states, there was no real difference in the education levels of Edwards supporters.
Thirdly, in every state where we have data available, Barack Obama performed significantly better than Edwards among voters making less than $50,000 per year, and among voters who did not attend college. This held true in racially mixed states like Florida, as well as extremely white states like Iowa and New Hampshire.
Fourthly, in every state where we have data available, Hillary Clinton performed significantly better than Edwards among voters making less than $50,000 per year, and among voters who did not attend college.
To the extent that Edwards had a demographic base, it was not determined by class lines but rather by geography: Edwards performed better in rural areas than he did in the suburbs, and better in suburbs than he did in the cities. But really, John Edwards didn't quite have a base: there was no commonly-identified demographic group amongst which he had a plurality, yet alone a majority of the Democratic vote.
This is not to disparage John Edwards. He had the misfortune of running against two All-Star level candidates who would probably have had the stage to themselves in any other year. To the extent he had a strength, it was among rural voters, and that could be helpful to Barack Obama in Kentucky, which among other things is quite rural.
But it sort of throws cold water on the notion that there's something about Barack Obama -- and particularly something about Barack Obama's race -- that makes working-class whites loathe to support him. (True, Obama performs poorly among certain types of working-class whites, like those in Appalachia and in much of the South. But he's doing just fine in Oregon, which is also full of working-class whites.) Rather, it's more likely that there's something about Hillary Clinton that makes these voters want to support her.
There is no absolute measuring stick against which to gauge a candidate's performance with a particular demographic. If Hillary Clinton had run against John F. Kennedy, she would have gotten her ass kicked among New England Catholics. Does that mean that Hillary Clinton would have had a Catholic problem?
One upshot of this is that Obama appears to be on track to clinch a pledged delegate majority next Tuesday under all credible Michigan/Florida scenarios:
The worst of these scenarios for Obama is Scenario D -- Michigan and Florida are seated fully, with Obama getting Michigan's uncommitted delegates. Under this scenario, Obama needs 60 pledged delegates to clinch, whereas he projects to pick up about 47 in next Tuesday's primaries. So, that would leave him 13 short. But, he'd only need to pick up 13 of the 32 Edwards delegates between now and then to make up the difference -- remember, the number of Edwards delegates goes up if we count Florida. Four of those 32 Edwards delegates are effectively off the table, since they're tied up at the Iowa state conventions, but picking up 13 of the remaining 28 -- fewer than half -- would seem to be a given.
What about an overall pledged delegate majority? Let's make a couple of assumptions here. Firstly, let's say that my pledged delegate projections in the table above are correct, and that Obama adds 88 pledged delegates from this point onward (and Clinton gets 101). Secondly, let's assign 13 of the 19 Edwards delegates to Obama, 2 to Clinton, and leave his 4 Iowa delegates uncommitted. Thirdly, lets assign the 43 remaining add-on delegates (excluding Michigan) to the candidate who won their state; that would mean 25 delegates for Obama and 18 for Clinton.
Current Pledged Delegates 1602By this math, Obama presently has 1889.5 pledged delegates, and projects to have 2015.5 in mid-June, by the time the primaries are completed and after all add-on delegates are selected. That would leave him just 9.5 superdelegates short of a clinch. He might pick up that many by Friday.
Current Superdelegates 287.5
Current Total 1889.5
Projected Pledged Delegates 88
Projected Edwards Delegates 13
Projected Add-On Delegates 25
Projected June Total 2015.5
Needed to Win 2025
Magic Number 9.5
Superdelegates Outstanding* 192
Percent Needed to Clinch 5%
* Excluding Add-Ons
What about if Florida and Michigan are seated? Let's take Obama's worst Florida/Michigan scenario, Scenario D, and also assume that Florida and Michigan superdelegates get a full vote. This puts 13 additional Edwards delegates on the table; we'll assign 10 more of those to Obama and the other 3 to Clinton.
Current Pledged Delegates 1602Under this scenario, Obama presently has 2019.5 total delegates, and projects to get up to 2155.5 between his share of the Edwards delegates, the add-ons, and the remaining elected delegates. That would leave him 53.5 superdelegates short of the 2209 he'd need to clinch. If Florida and Michigan are included, there are 224 outstanding superdelegates, not counting add-ons, meaning that Obama needs about 25 percent of the remaining total.
Current Superdelegates 287.5
FL/MI Pledged Delegates 122
FL/MI Superdelegates 8
Current Total 2019.5
Projected Pledged Delegates 88
Projected Edwards Delegates 23
Projected Add-On Delegates 25
Projected June Total 2155.5
Needed to Win 2209
Magic Number 53.5
Superdelegates Outstanding* 224
Percent Needed to Clinch 24%
* Excluding Add-Ons
Let's reiterate the most important numbers. If the Edwards delegates, the add-ons, and the remaining pledged delegates fall reasonably in line with expectations:
Obama needs only about 10 more superdelegates to clinch if Florida and Michigan are not seated.
Obama needs only about 55 more superdelegates to endorse him -- about a quarter of the remaining total -- if Florida and Michigan are fully seated according to Clinton's wishes.
Only a DEFCON 1 type of meltdown will prevent Obama from getting the nomination at this point.
EDIT: Or, if you prefer, there is Gail Collins' scenario:
Given the Democratic Party’s innovative method of doling out delegates, all that’s necessary for her to snatch the nomination is:
1) A big, big win in Kentucky next Tuesday. Ideally, Obama should be limited to no more than 100 votes.
2) Oregon, scheduled for the same day, inexplicably breaks off and sinks into the Pacific Ocean.
3) Puerto Rico, clocking in on June 1, not only gives Clinton a huge majority, but also manages to become a state in advance of the vote.
4) Finally, on June 3 as the South Dakota polls open, Thomas Jefferson’s head on Mount Rushmore comes to life and starts shouting, “You go, girl.”
An ambitious scenario, true. But nothing less than we’ve come to expect from the most hard-working political family in American history.
a. John Edwards
b. Al Gore
c. Roger Clinton
d. A cheap way to buy out a media cycle
More seriously, I figure the pecking order looks something like this:
1. Hillary Clinton
2. Al Gore
3. Colin Powell
4. John Edwards
5. Prominent Senator or Governor who had endorsed Clinton
7. Chuck Hagel
8. (tie). Nancy Pelosi and Jimmy Carter*
9. Jim Webb
10. (tie) Brian Schweitzer and Steve Beshear
* Points deducted because of their tacit endorsements already.
Keep in mind that the last two times the Obama campaign teased a "big" endorsement, they turned out to be Lincoln Chafee and Joe Andrew, who would rank about 493rd and 88th on this list respectively.
EDIT: I have no idea whether it's John Edwards. But remember the two contradictory viewpoints that I expressed last night. On the one hand, the Obama campaign knows that the 48 hours following West Virginia were going to be the most vulnerable time in the remainder of the primary cycle for them. So it would be a good time to hijack a media cycle. But, on the other hand, it would be a little awkward to roll out an "in your face" sort of endorsement the day after Clinton won a primary by 40 points. If, I don't know, Dianne Feinstein flipped to Obama, that might trigger exactly the opposite of its intended effect amongst her supporters (see also: the NARAL endorsement). So what you're going for is awe rather than shock.
John Edwards is perhaps the only name that can deliver awe without shock. And that's because, if you look at his appearances on Morning Joe and Larry King Live, he's been softening the ground on a potential Obama endorsement for about a week now. And he deferred to Clinton until after the North Carolina primary and Obama won that primary. It's an endorsement that would gather lots of headlines, but that wouldn't give the appearance of being hasty or presumptuous.
EDIT: I have to do some reprogramming since the macros that generate the charts and graphs aren't set up to deal with a situation where just one candidate gets polled. So, there might be a delay in getting this poll integrated into the averages. But we'll keep running Clinton numbers until/unless she withdraws.
EDIT: I've been giving out some bad information in this thread. It occurs to me that Oregon has a Republican primary too, so that's why some of the numbers seemed so high. Certain passages have been corrected.
As of yesterday, the state had already received 360,219 ballots. We don't know precisely how many of those are Republican ballots and how many are Democratic ballots, but I'd guess that over half of them are Democratic ballots; perhaps somewhere in the 200,000 range. That's out of about 800,000 registered Democrats in the state, and total turnout that should fall somewhere in the range of 600,000. And these are only the ballots that have been received; ballots are coming in at a rate of about 80,000 per day. Oregonians can't afford to procrastinate, by the way, because a ballot must be received by election day -- the postmark doesn't matter (although there are special drop-boxes available on election day itself).
So let's say there's some big event that takes place over the weekend and swings momentum toward Clinton. It won't matter, but for the small percentage of Oregonians who use the drop-box option (in 2004, about 13 percent of the primary ballots were received on election day itself, or about 29 percent of the total returned). For all intents and purposes, the election in Oregon is about two-thirds over. That's why Barack Obama is campaigning in Michigan today; the election is literally in the (mail)bag.
EDIT #1: Here's something else kind of fun: the final appeal made by each candidate in the Oregon Voter's Pamphlet.
Clinton hits you over the head with resume and facts, whereas Obama's approach is less prosaic. If the two candidates were in college together, you could imagine Clinton getting really mad at Obama because she spent days working on her paper, and he whipped his together that morning and wound up with the better grade.
Below is a listing of the number of events that were scheduled in each state by one of the two leading Democratic candidates, as according to the Washington Post candidate tracker. A caution: there is no such thing as an official register of events, and one of the campaigns (Hillary Clinton's) tends to be much more aggressive than the other about publishing their schedule, including events run by the EX-POTUS or the DOTEXPOTUS. Nevertheless, this will have to suffice.
The number of events is divided by the number of delegates that were at stake in that contest. There were, for example, 2.52 events for every delegate in Nevada, but just 0.12 for every one in New Mexico.
It would probably be more useful to sort these in the order that the primaries took place:
Iowa and New Hampshire absolutely blow everything else way, with more than 7 candidate visits per delegate -- and that's not even counting all the mileage accumulated in those states by candidates who since dropped from the race. And the next two states on the docket, Nevada and South Carolina, were well ahead of anything that came afterward, although Indiana came somewhat close. The Super Tuesday states, on the other hand, collectively screwed themselves over.
If we were doing this more scientifically, we might need to account for some kind of diminishing returns. Barack Obama's 12th visit to Bettendorf, Iowa probably wasn't going to make as much difference as his first. Nevertheless, there is a huge benefit to going early, which is why Michigan and Florida gambled (and lost). On a per-delegate basis, there was about 11 times as much candidate attention paid to Nevada as to California.
After seeing Clinton's media coverage, however, I'm not so certain. Here's a fairly fairly typical example from CQ Politics:
Hillary Rodham Clinton won a convincing but perhaps anticlimactic victory Tuesday in West Virginia’s presidential primary, which she hopes will revive her campaign’s faint prospects for overtaking Barack Obama .Or, simply look at the first graf in the Associated Press wire story:
With 81 percent of precincts reporting at 11:20 p.m. eastern time, Clinton led Obama by 67 percent to 26 percent in West Virginia, a state where the underlying demographics had pointed to a huge Clinton victory. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards , who withdrew from the race in January but appeared on the ballot, had 7 percent.
The only suspense about the race was the size of Clinton’s margin of victory, which pre-primary polls had pegged as larger than 30 percentage points. West Virginia is overwhelmingly white and rural, and it is older and poorer than most of the rest of the states. Clinton has been polling strongly among voters in these demographic groups. Obama, who has been doing better among upper-income white voters and in urban centers that have ample African-American voters, all but conceded West Virginia to Clinton.
Clinton was poised to win all of West Virginia’s 55 counties. She racked up her largest vote percentages in the state’s 3rd District, which includes hardscrabble coal country and is represented by Democrat Nick J. Rahall II , who endorsed Obama.
Clinton can only hope that she gets a boost from the West Virginia result disproportionate to the small state’s meager influence in the delegate math. Just 28 pledged Democratic delegates were at stake in West Virginia, and Clinton’s victory — perhaps by 19-9 — will made only a slight dent in Obama’s lead among that group. Obama last week passed Clinton in the votes of unpledged “superdelegates” and has expanded his lead since then. Clinton has been trying to convince superdelegates that she’s a stronger general election candidate against John McCain , the presumed GOP nominee.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Hillary Rodham Clinton coasted to a large but largely symbolic victory in working-class West Virginia on Tuesday, handing Barack Obama one of the worst defeats of the campaign yet scarcely slowing his march toward the Democratic presidential nomination.It's not like you can really call the boldfaced passages "spin", as they have the advantage of being factual. But up until now, this is not how the mainstream media had by and large been framing the race. Yes, MSNBC and the blogs had been -- but not the Associated Press. So perhaps the Obama campaign was not too quick to play the "inevitability card" after all, if it helped their preferred media narrative to sink in.
On the other hand, I suspect things may not have played out this way if not for a couple of significant mistakes that the Clinton campaign made. The first was Hillary Clinton's "hard-working" commentary to USA Today, and the second was Bill Clinton's proclamation that Clinton could win the primary by 60 points. What the former did was to take the sacred concept of the Democrats as the party of the working class and to make it profane, while the latter raised expectations so much as to be almost insulting. It was almost like Bill was saying: wait until the rest of the country gets a load of these rubes. By opening West Virginia's kimono in this way, the Clintons made it more difficult for the media to continue to suspend their disbelief about the viability of their campaign.
p.s. Not all of Clinton's press is bad. She got the kind of write-up she needed to in the Boston Globe, for instance.
9:44 PM.. On second thought, I think the optics might look a little strange if Obama rolled out a big name superdelegate tomorrow. I don't think he wants to create the perception that he's trying to push her out of the race. On the other hand, Obama's media narrative is not all that bad tonight considering Clinton's margin of victory, he picked up a good talking point with Travis Childers' win in Mississippi, and his polling has looked good in Oregon. So, there's really not a whole lot to be lost simply by waiting for a week. But I do think we'll see a continued stream of not-so-big-name superdelegates toward Obama, in order to steal a few headlines.
Also, Clinton now has 77.5% of the two-way vote in WV-3. It looks like she will get that fifth delegate.
9:17 PM.. Clinton now has 76.8% of the two-way vote in WV-3.
8:56 PM.. As of about 15 minutes ago, I had it:
Clinton 31540 (66.8% of two-way vote), Obama 15661 in CD-1
Clinton 23491 (65.2%), Obama 12541 in CD-2
Clinton 16668 (73.8%), Obama 5914 in CD-3
So, it looks like it will come down to the wire as to whether Clinton picks up the 5th delegate from CD-3.
8:17 PM. In its polite, if somewhat perfunctory tone as well as in its substance, this really really sounds like a speech made by a woman with her eyes on the Vice Presidency.
7:52 PM. Among Democrats and independents who voted in this primary, 53 percent say they'd vote for Obama in November, as compared with 27 percent for McCain, and 17 percent who would sit out. That doesn't sound very good for Obama. But a SurveyUSA poll in February had him winning West Virginia Democrats just 48-39. Granted, that poll also had him losing West Virgina by 18 points. But because more than half of the West Virginia electorate identifies as Democrat, a candidate could tolerate a defection rate as high as 25 percent and still compete in the state.
7:05 PM. Exit polls imply a spread of 65-32-3 for Clinton. But, as any of you who read this blog regularly should know, the exit polls have tended to overestimate Barack Obama's support. That wasn't the case in Indiana or North Carolina, and it's possible that Edison-Mitofsky changed their methodology -- we'll know soon enough.
The two things to watch are turnout and the disposition of WV-3. The exit polls have Clinton winning Southwestern West Virginia, which should overlap heavily with WV-3, by a margin of 70-26. That's 73 percent of the two-way (Obama + Clinton) vote, so she'll need to outperform those exits by just a couple of points to hit 75 percent and take a fifth delegate from the district. WV-1 appears that it should definitely go 4-2 for Clinton. There's an outside chance that Obama can salvage a 3-3 split in WV-2 -- he performed comparatively well in Charleston -- but he will probably lose too many votes in the more rural parts of that district.
It occurs to me that my model may have underestimated turnout -- but not for the reason that it had been before. The issue is that we estimate turnout as a percentage of the Kerry vote. But in West Virginia, there are a lot of Democrats who did not vote for John Kerry (nor for Al Gore). Specifically, 30 percent of West Virginian Democrats voted for George W. Bush in 2004, which I'm pretty sure is the highest figure in the country. If Clinton has turned out those lapsed Democrats -- and she's the sort of candidate who can -- the turnout may beat our expectations.
If everyone who believed this was an Obama supporter, and 60 percent of Obama's supporters believed this, that would imply that Obama got about 28 percent of the votes.
Anyway, there are few silver linings for Obama in the exit polling data, and there are a lot of talking points that will frustrate his campaign for a couple of days. As I've said before, the best thing the campaign could do would be to change the subject by rolling out some particularly interesting superdelegate endorsements tomorrow.
UPDATE: Okay, we can do some better back-of-envelope stuff. Clinton won the commander-in-chief question 68/29. The AP data I linked to above says that about 1 in 10 Obama supporters said that Clinton would make the better commander-in-chief, whereas "very few" Clinton supporters said that of Obama.
If we assume that 2 percent of Obama's commander-in-chief points came from Clinton voters, that leaves 27 percent that came from Obama voters. If 27 percent represents 90 percent of Obama's support, that means he got about 30 percent of the state's vote.
There is a lot of flawed logic on both sides heading into the West Virginia primary. The fact is that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama appeal to very different, and in fact somewhat opposite constituencies. As a result, there have been a number of Congressional Districts throughout the primaries in which one Democrat got absolutely clobbered by the other one.
Following are the worst-performing districts among the primary states in my database for each of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. These are the candidate's head-to-head vote shares against one another, ignoring any votes for John Edwards and other candidates.
Worst Obama DistrictsThere are 312 Congressional Districts in my database. These are all the primary states that have released their vote totals by Congressional District. Of those 312 CDs, there are 23 in which Barack Obama received less than 30 percent of the two-way vote (meaning he lost to Clinton by at least 40 points). And there are 21 in which Hillary Clinton received less than 30 percent of the two-way vote. Lopsided results in individual Congressional Districts are nothing new; this has been taking place since the very beginning of the primary campaign.
State CD Obama
Tennessee 4 20.9%
Arkansas 1 21.4%
Florida 19 21.4%
Alabama 4 23.8%
Arkansas 3 24.0%
California 34 24.8%
California 38 25.0%
Oklahoma 2 25.4%
California 32 25.6%
Pennsylvania 12 27.3%
Worst Clinton Districts
State CD Clinton
Illinois 2 12.5%
Illinois 1 13.0%
Illinois 7 15.3%
Virginia 3 19.5%
North Carolina 12 21.0%
Mississippi 2 22.5%
Pennsylvania 2 22.6%
South Carolina 6 22.8%
Alabama 7 23.1%
Georgia 13 23.2%
To some extent these advantages and disadvantages will carry into the general election, and to some extent they will not. The problem for Barack Obama is that West Virginia has only three Congressional Districts. All of them are quite similar to one another. And they are also quite similar to some of the worst-performing districts you see on the list above. PA-12, which ranks 10th on his list, shares a border with West Virginia. So do OH-6, where he received 27.6 percent of the two-way vote, PA-18, where he received 34.3 percent, and VA-9, where he received 35.2 percent.
Barack Obama is going to get absolutely clobbered by Hillary Clinton tonight. But unless Clinton's margin is really extraordinary -- or Obama keeps it closer than expected -- this won't really tell us anything new. No, Barack Obama won't carry West Virginia against John McCain. And yes, Hillary Clinton very well might. But this has been an open secret since at least February, when SurveyUSA polling showed Barack Obama trailing John McCain by 18 in West Virginia, and Hillary Clinton leading him by 5. Obama can draw a pretty good electoral map without West Virginia, just as Clinton can draw a good one without Colorado.
I had noticed that my model had tended to overpredict Obama's performance in West Virginia type of districts. So I did some digging for additional relationships in the data, and came across a couple of new variables as a result. Let me describe those briefly here.
"Gay" is the percentage of households in that district that are occupied by same-sex partners. The Census Bureau does not track data on sexual orientation, but it does ask for the relationship status of all adults in the household, so this is the next best thing. Barack Obama performs better in districts with a higher number of same-sex partner households. This might seem counterintuitive, because Clinton, and not Obama, has tended to perform better with gay voters themselves. But it's not the gay voters that are the important factor, so much as the neighborhoods in which they live. Richard Florida has found that this variable serves as a proxy for a whole number of other things, such as tolerance, and the presence of high-tech and "creative class" industries. It also appears to be a proxy for Obama's support.
"HHI" is average household income. The conventional wisdom is that Obama tends to perform better in districts with higher incomes. While this is partially true, there is a complicated relationship between income and education levels. Barack Obama tends to perform very well in highly educated districts with low-to-moderate incomes -- think for example your typical college town, or urban hipster enclave, or the entire state of Vermont. But his performance is only average in wealthier districts with average education levels. This is captured quite well in another Richard Florida invention, the "Bohemian Index", which is essentially the ratio between education levels and income. So we've introduced HHI to the model, but also the Bohemian Index to account for this interaction.
"Veteran" is the share of military veterans in the population. Barack Obama actually overperforms among veterans. This is hard to perceive unless you look at the data at a fairly granualar level, because veterans tend to be older, and Obama otherwise performs poorly with older voters. But veterans are a hidden strength of his, perhaps because of his opposition to the War in Iraq or his presence on the Veterans' Affairs committee. Whether this strength will carry over to the general election against John McCain, I don't know.
I've also re-introduced the "Americans" variable -- the percentage of adults who identify their ancestry on the Census simply as "American", and accounted for added an interaction term between "Americans" and black voters. The effect of the Americans variable tends to be the most profound in districts where there are fewer black voters.
Finally, I am accounting for the number of appearances that each candidate has made in the state in the 30 days prior to the election, using New York Times data as it appears to be a little bit more reliable than the data source I was using before. There is definitely some danger to a candidate who blows off a state. For example, Barack Obama made 20 appearances in South Carolina to Hillary Clinton's 9, whereas Clinton made 11 appearances in California to Obama's 4. We know which way each of those states tended to break at the end.
Onward to the Congressional Districts:
CD-1: North/Wheeling. The oldest and whitest of West Virginia's three districts, WV-1 shares quite a bit in common with PA-12, where Obama received just 27 percent of the two-way vote. We're projecting a similar showing for him here. The only saving grace for Obama is that it's arguably the least Appalachian district, as it has the lowest percentage of "Americans" and the highest percentage of WASPs. In all three West Virginia districts, the question will be whether Clinton can get the 75 percent of the two-way vote she'd need to earn a 5-1 delegate split. The model doesn't quite have it happening in this one, but it will be very close. Projection: Clinton 66.9, Obama 29.1; Clinton 4-2 Delegate Split.
Forgot to mention: I am reserving 4 percent of the popular vote for John Edwards, which was his standing in the most recent Suffolk
poll. We did not have to worry about Edwards in Pennsylvania, North Carolina or Indiana, as he was not on the ballot there. But he is in West Virginia, and in fact he is featured quite prominently:
What's a little bit unusual about the West Virginia ballot is that it lists each candidate's hometown. Something tells me that the guy from Chapel Hill, North Carolina is going to pick off a few late-deciders from the candidates from Chicago and Chappaqua. Edwards got 4.5 percent of the vote in Tennessee -- he actually beat Obama in a handful of rural counties there -- and he can probably expect to do similarly here.
CD-2: Central / Charleston. West Virginia doesn't have any cities of significant size, but WV-2 is the closest that it comes to urban, as it has by far the highest incomes in the state (though still well below the national average). If Obama had made more of an effort in West Virginia, he might have had a chance to salvage a 3-3 delegate split here. Since he didn't make that effort, his consolation prize is that he probably doesn't have to be worried about losing a fifth delegate to Clinton. Projection: Clinton 64.8, Obama 31.2; Clinton 4-2 Delegate Split.
CD-3: South / Beckley. There are whole pockets of WV-3 that are as poor (and poorly-educated) as can be found in the United States. The only thing separating Obama from total oblivion is the large-by-West-Virginia-standards 4 percent African-American vote. Obama will need to turn that vote out in order to avoid a 5-1 delegate split for Clinton, but this is extremely vulnerable territory for him. Projection: Clinton 70.8, Obama 25.2; Clinton 4-2 Delegate Split.
We are projecting a margin of 39 points and approximately 105,000 popular votes for Hillary Clinton. The statewide and PLEO delegates will almost certainly be split 5-2 and 2-1 respectively. Obama will either salvage 7, 8 or 9 delegates from West Virginia depending whether WV-1 and WV-3 flip a fifth delegate to Clinton.
I have also slightly revised my turnout model. As Dick Bennett has kindly pointed out, my model had tended to underestimate turnout in the last couple of primaries. The trick is that Democratic primary turnout has tended to increase as the identity of John McCain as the Republican nominee has become known. The way I've worked around this is to apply John McCain's standing in the Real Clear Politics Republican nomination average on the morning of each Democratic primary. As McCain's position has improved -- meaning that his nomination became more and more certain -- more people have voted in the Democratic primaries.
EDIT: The paragraph that follows originally had stated that West Virginia has a closed primary. It does not; it has a semi-open ("modified") primary, as did North Carolina, in which independents may vote but Republicans may not. Fortunately, my model itself had West Virginia correctly specified as an open primary, so the projections have not been affected. But I have changed the text that follows.
On the other hand, another factor is that there has been relatively little campaign activity in the state, particularly from Barack Obama. And from what the model can gather, Obama activity is a more important determinant of turnout than Clinton activity. While it would not surprise me if there were fairly high turnout as sort of a big F.U. to Barack Obama -- remember what I wrote before about what happens to a candidate when he is perceived as blowing off a state -- we ought to expect less enthusiasm than in North Carolina and Indiana. Moreover, West Virginia has an extremely small share of independent voters, so while West Virginia has a semi-open primary in theory, it may be closer to a closed primary in practice.
Overall, we are projecting turnout equal to slightly more than 80 percent of John Kerry's vote in 2004, or about 270,000 total votes with John Edwards included. That is an extremely healthy figure by the standards of a typical cycle's primaries, but lower than we've seen in recent contests.
I do want to write a little bit more about the notion that West Virginians are racist. The longer version will have to wait until later today or tomorrow. But the short version is: yes, there are racist voters in West Virginia, but there are racist voters in every state. The primary determinant of the extent to which racism tends to be more manifest is education levels, and so the effects may be more noticeable in West Virgnia, a state with poor academic achievement. But there is no reason to believe that West Virgnians are particularly racist, relative to their education levels.
p.s. For the record, I never did hear back from Mr. Bennett, as the Concord Monitor has noticed.
Clinton has begun to run to Obama's right as the primary calendar has shifted to more Republican-leaning states. That's classic Clintonism and, for my money, pretty good politicking.
But how do you think the gas tax holiday would have gone over in California?
The correct answer is: "like a lead balloon". A SurveyUSA poll shows that, if the California primary were held today, Obama would have won it by 6 points. Meanwhile, a Monmouth/Gannett poll released two weeks ago suggests that if the New Jersey primary were held today, Obama would have won that one by 7 points.
The bottom line is that the overall trend in the Obama-Clinton race has been essentially unchanged for months now. Obama was harmed for two periods of about ten days at a time when the Jeremiah Wright story loomed largest over him. And he may be getting a mini-bounce now after North Carolina and Indiana. But basically, it's been Obama +5, give or take some noise, for a long while.
What that means is that if Clinton is gaining ground in certain areas, she is necessarily losing ground in others. Perhaps Clinton would have won a Missouri primary today; I suspect that she probably would. But she might have been vulnerable in states like California, New Jersey, and perhaps New Hampshire.
In North Carolina, PPP's monthly tracker has John McCain leading Barack Obama by 7 points, and Hillary Clinton by 8. There appears to be a lot of noise in the North Carolina data, with some polls showing Obama doing as well as having tied McCain while others show him 8 or 9 points back, but this really just looks like some fairly natural variance around a mean of about 5-6 points. Obama may have a means to win North Carolina if he can increase African-American turnout.
Two quick notes: I should have some sort of reflection on West Virginia going up tonight. And given Bob Barr's entry into the race today, it's very much worth your time to read Dave Weigel's preview of the libertarian nomination fight. Barr is the most likely nominee, though by no means a certain one.
I very much side with the former explanation. For one thing, as hard as she as fought for the nomination -- and as dirty as some would say she has played -- there is a pretty clear line in the sand between doing everything in your power to win in 2008 and actually trying to ensure the defeat of your rival to set yourself up for 2012. The former is Clintonian; the latter is Nixonian and conspiratorial. But the more fundamental reason is this: I don't think there's any reason to expect that Hillary Clinton would be especially viable in 2012. In fact, I can think of five reasons why she would not be:
1. She'll get blamed if Obama loses (everyone will). It is hard to imagine a more frustrating set of circumstances for the Democrats. Firstly, the sitting Vice President wins the popular vote, but loses a disputed electoral vote at a time of peace and prosperity. Then, the Democrats are unable to defeat a President whose disapproval scores are in the high 40s and low 50s at the time of the election. And finally, the Democrats are unable to win an election against a mediocre Republican nominee in spite of a 10-point advantage in party identification and the presence of both a war and a recession, each of which are blamed on their opponents.
If Barack Obama loses the election, there will be a lot of blame to go around. And some if it, however fairly, will fall at the feet of the Clintons. This would be particularly the case if Clinton actually were trying to undermine the nominee and there was the sense that Clinton had not supported him (to reiterate, I think it's somewhere between premature and ridiculous to assert that this is their angle).
You think black voters, for instance, are going to go running back into the arms of the Clintons? One thing that's been forgotten is that black voters did not reflexively gravitate toward Barack Obama from the outset. Instead, Clinton began the cycle with something like a 60/40 edge among them. But Clinton lost their votes every bit as much as Obama won them. And there is one and only one surefire way for them to reconcile that rift: for the Clintons to enthusiastically support Barack Obama, and for him to become the 44th President of the United States. I would guess that, if Obama loses the election and the combatants for the 2012 nomination are Hillary Clinton and Mark Warner, Warner would have 70 percent of the black community's support by Labor Day.
2. Read My Lips: No New Rationale. The handful of candidates that have come back from a previous defeat to win the Presidency -- and essentially all of them were Republicans, not Democrats -- invariably had something fundamentally different about the electoral landscape working for them the second time around. Richard Nixon benefited from the backlash to the counterculture (and the absence of a Democratic nominee as compelling as John F. Kennedy). Ronald Reagan no longer had the chore of campaigning against his own party's incumbent President. George H.W. Bush had spent eight years in the Vice President's chair under an exceptionally popular president (as had Al Gore in his losing effort).
It is hard to think of an analogous condition emerging for Hillary Clinton between now and the next election. After all, while this is Hillary Clinton's first attempt at the Presidency, she has both the burden and the blessing of her husband's legacy. Clinton has proudly run on that legacy, and she has made an awfully big deal of her experience for a candidate who is relatively lacking in it. The implicit case being made is the one for a third Clinton term rather than a first Hillary term. If (when) she is finally defeated by Barack Obama, there will be the sense that the Clintonian arc has finally run its course.
When Clinton's gas tax gambit failed to achieve its intended results in North Carolina and Indiana, that may have been as clear a signal as we were going to get that the Clinton brand of politics is a step too slow for the Internet age. That does not mean that Barack Obama's new way will necessarily become the dominant technology. He could well turn out to be the Betamax to Mark Warner's VHS. But Clinton will, at the very least, have to reinvent and rebrand herself, lest she become today's Blockbuster Video.
I can think of two ways that Clinton might attempt this. The first would be to figuratively, and perhaps even literally, divorce herself from her husband. Rodham for president in oh-twelve. One cannot begin to contemplate the probability of this, although the psychodrama of it all would compel the national spotlight. The second way would be for her to emerge as a real champion of the Democratic cause in the Senate. This would require focus and hard work -- two things that Clinton is certainly capable of (although Carl Bernstein thinks that she is indifferent at best about this prospect).
But it would also require the support of senior leadership within the party. For whatever happens to Barack Obama, the 111th Congress is likely to be a fairly happy place for a Democrat to be. They will, in all likelihood, have expanded their majority, perhaps even to a filibuster-proof margin in the Senate. They will benefit from an unpopular war and a sluggish economy. They would likely be able to accomplish more under a President McCain than under a President Bush, for the simple fact that McCain still has some political capital left to lose. There is no reason to believe that the Senate Democrats would roll over and play dead for Hillary Clinton, particularly when:
3. She has burned too many bridges within the party leadership. If Clinton's goal is to become the new Ted Kennedy, that is harder to accomplish when Ted Kennedy is still alive and kicking, and happens to hate your guts. Calling Bill Richardson 'Judas', or saying that that John Kerry is 'dead to us': these are not the sort of actions that a political franchise takes when it is concerned about its long-term future. Clinton's comments to USA Today, which triggered the Kennedy outburst, may ultimately be remembered as the moment that her campaign, having committed the crime, jumped into the White Ford Bronco and tried to make the best of it. If superdelegates are still around in 2012, she is not likely to have the head start with them that she did in this cycle.
4. She's a creature of the partisan environment. If you're a Democrat who buys that Barack Obama is electorally vulnerable, there are two subtexts you can read into that. The first is approximately this:
"This is the most favorable landscape that the Democrats have had in years! We can't afford to screw this up!"
The second, expressed to some extent in this John Judis article, is really just the opposite:
"This is the most favorable landscape that the Democrats have had in years! We can't afford to miss the opportunity to nominate some who [politically, racially] represents the party as we've always wanted it to be!".
But whichever framing you prefer, this argument is really more salient to Hillary Clinton's candidacy. The reason is that while Obama has a fighting chance against McCain among independent voters, Clinton routinely loses that category, and often by large margins (although her numbers have improved recently). And she wins few friends among Republicans. Mathematically, the only way that such a candidate can win an election is if her party has a substantial edge in partisan identification -- which, as it happens, the Democrats presently do. But if you believe in the median voter theorem (and I largely do), that edge may not be very long lasting. Instead, the Republicans will tact to the left, giving up some ground on policy, but winning back some support. There will be some legislative victories for the Democrats, but if the Republicans repair their image in the process, there will no longer be the raison d'être for a candidate whose whole appeal is in her refusal to compromise.
5. The Reader's Digest Problem. I have a friend -- a Clinton supporter, actually -- who joked to me that Barack Obama shouldn't worry about his current polling, because by the time November rolls around, half of John McCain's supporters will be dead. Gallows humor aside, Hillary Clinton has a little bit of this problem as well. And I do not think it is merely a matter of her supporters tending to be older than Barack Obama's. Obama's argument is at its core a generational argument, and Clinton is that the waning edge of that generation gap. I would imagine that a fair amount of her support comes from people who became wealthy during the Clinton era, or got married and started a family during the Clinton era, or migrated to this country during the Clinton era. As those experiences fade from memory, so will some of her support.
If Barack Obama becomes the nominee and loses, there will be good arguments for giving him another try in 2016 or 2020. He will certainly be young enough, he will magically have solved his experience problem, and he will benefit from a younger generation tends to be both more racially tolerant and more racially diverse. For Clinton, however, there is no day better than today.
Q. I am curious why you use census estimates of turnout (which are self-reports) instead of exit poll estimates of turnout (which vary substantially across states). Might not matter much.
We played around with both, and we made a decision to use the Census Bureau numbers as those results have somewhat larger sample sizes in all but a couple of states. The self-reporting might be a bit of an issue, but then again, we've seen plenty of problems in the past couple of cycles with the way that exit polls determine their samples as well.
Q. The main problems I see with your analysis that should be considered is (1) white/Anglo counter-mobilization; and (2) diminishing returns. While the Republicans are unpopular now, the election will not occur in a vacuum, and there likely will be some countermobilization among whites and Anglos (everyone is energized now, and you are assuming the black + latino voters increase but not that white/Anglo turnout is higher). I could see this mattering in a state like Texas, which has a history of white countermobilization to increasing black registration.
I've actually seen some academic work that the presence of a black candidate on the ticket tends to increase black turnout -- but also tends to increase white turnout. So you may be on to something there. At the same time, the white conservative vote was pretty darn mobilized in 2004, and I'm not sure I see the same thing happening this year at a time when the incumbent, Republican president is extremely unpopular, and when John McCain is not particularly well liked by elements of that conservative base.
I still think the most instructive piece of evidence are the turnout figures from the Democratic primaries. Turnout among these groups has not just increased in absolute terms -- everyone's turnout has increased in absolute terms. It has also increased in relative terms; slightly so for black voters, and very substantially so for Latinos and young voters.
Q. Are there any newer estimates of population by race & ethnicity (w/ a voter screen) than 2004 CPS that would be helpful to estimate 08 turnout rates?
Yes, the Census Bureau puts out estimates of the racial composition of each state every year, but the differences only amount to a percentage point here and there. I think you guys may be overestimating the level of precision that I'm aiming for with this analysis. Unlike some of the other stuff I do here, this is not necessarily meant to be predictive. I'm not necessarily saying there will be big increases in turnout among these groups. Instead, it's meant to be illustrative of how the map would change if Obama did get higher turnout from these groups. The whole thing is kind of in the conditional tense.
Q. What accounts for black turnout decreasing in NY, MS, FL, CA, & OK between '04 and '08? Is it just population change?
It might just be random noise. However, in three of these states (NY, OK, FL), Obama made only a half-hearted effort to compete. In California, there was a huge surge in Latino turnout that swamped everything else. In Mississippi -- I'm not sure. Obama actually spent very little time on the ground there -- just a day of campaigning, I think -- and there was a pretty large Republican crossover vote.
Q. Do these estimates account for cases in which the young voter might also be African-American or Latino? In other words is there some double counting going on?
The double counting thing is definitely something I was aware of, but I'm not sure that there's an elegant solution. Certainly with the Latino vote, for instance, there is a fairly big generational divide. If Obama turns out younger Latinos, that vote might go for him 70:30 or 75:25, whereas for older Latinos, the vote will probably be closer to 50:50. Nevertheless, some sort of adjustment is probably warranted. But I stated above, this analysis is intended more to be descriptive than predictive.
Q: Poblano - your analysis is getting to be way way too biased and losing its usefulness - you have to realize that it is very difficult for a democrat to get more than 50% of the vote, it has not happened since 1976.
Sure, but look how the electorate has changed since then. In 1976, just 2 percent of the electorate was Latino. That number was 8 percent in 2004 and will probably be at least 10 percent in 2008. Just 27 percent were college graduates in 1976, versus 42 percent in 2004. There are some trends that tend to favor the Republicans too, like the population getting older.
Q. If this could be real, it has huge implications for Obama's strategy. Should he tack right or tack left for the general?
As I've written before, Obama has two fundamental ways he can win. First, he can attempt to unifty and turn out the Democratic base. If he does that, he'll win based on the Democrats' party identification advantage, unless he gets absolutely killed with independents. Secondly, he could write off certain of those Reagan/Clinton Democrats, and instead make more of an appeal to the sort of the libertarian-leaning investor class, which makes up a pretty high fraction of the independent voting pool. The former strategy -- consolidating Democrats -- is certainly less of an uphill climb. The more confident the Obama campaign is that it *can* achieve increases in turnout among traditionally Democratic-leaning groups, the more that looks like the right way to go.
In Kentucky, a Research 2000 poll for WBKO shows John McCain leading Barack Obama by a 25-point margin, and McCain leading Hillary Clinton by 12 points. The poll also shows Clinton with a 27-point lead in the Democratic primary.
We also have a couple of polls from Rasmussen. In Michigan, John McCain holds a 1 point lead over Barack Obama, while he and Hillary Clinton are tied. This is fairly consistent with previous Rasmussen polling of the state, although it's actually the first Michigan poll I can find where Hillary Clinton outpolled Barack Obama by any margin.
A commenter has also teased Rasmussen results in Virginia and North Carolina. In North Carolina, John McCain holds a 3-point lead over both Democrats. In Virginia, he leads Obama by 3 points and Clinton by 6.
Overall, this is a fairly neutral set of polling for both Democrats. Obama is harmed slightly by the Michigan result, but helped slightly by polls showing him competitive in both Virginia and North Carolina. Clinton, who had gone through a phase where she was polling very poorly in the South, now looks more viable in North Carolina and Virginia, but is harmed by the result in Kentucky, where she had closed to within 2 points of McCain in SurveyUSA's latest poll.
EDIT: Last night's run introduced a bug wherein some of the sample sizes were mapping to the wrong polls. This has now been fixed. Clinton has actually surpassed Obama in Win Percentage for the first time, although Obama leads in average electoral votes as well as the popular vote.
As the Democratic primaries come to their slow, if increasingly certain conclusion, the media narrative has tended to focus on the alleged inadequacies of each candidate: Hillary Clinton's lack of support among black voters, or Barack Obama's supposed inability to resonate with certain types of white voters. What has been lost, however, is a story that could turn out to have far more relevance for the general election campaign in the fall: the emergence of a "big tent" Democratic electorate that has increasingly begun to reflect the full diversity of America.
What follows is a table comparing the composition of the Democratic primary electorate in 21 states in which exit polling data is available in both 2004 and 2008. We focus on three particular groups: black voters, Latino voters, and young voters. As a fraction of the Democratic electorate, African-American turnout has increased from 19.8 percent to 21.5 percent -- a 7.8 percent increase. Latino turnout has increased from 5.3 percent to 7.5 percent -- a 41.9 percent increase. And turnout among voters aged 18-29 has increased from 9.0 percent to 13.7 percent -- a 52.4 percent increase.
Today, we will examine the effects that increased turnout among these groups might have on Barack Obama's general election prospects against John McCain.
It is something of a myth that African-American voters do not turn out to vote. In 2004, 87.4 percent of registered African-Americans cast a ballot in the Presidential election, according to statistics compiled by the US Census Bureau. This compares with 89.4 percent turnout among registered, non-Hispanic whites. However, voter registration rates lag somewhat behind in the African-American community. As of 2004, 68.7 percent of African-American citizens aged 18+ were registered to vote, as compared with 75.1 percent of non-Hispanic whites. Thus, Barack Obama's 50-state voter registration drive, when coupled with the historical nature of his candidacy, could produce big dividends within this group.
What would be the electoral impact of an increase in African-American participation of 10 percent, 20 percent, or more? Fortunately, we have the perfect tool to examine such scenarios in the form of the FiveThirtyEight.com polling averages and simulation engine. Suppose that we start with a baseline assumption wherein total turnout in each state is equal to what it was in 2004, and that this turnout is divided between John McCain and Barack Obama according to their present standing in the FiveThirtyEight.com polling averages. This is probably fairly close to what most pollsters are assuming, as they lean heavily on statistics from the previous elections in establishing their turnout models.
We can infer the number of African-American voters in each state based on Census Bureau Data. For example, in North Carolina in 2004, there were approximately 3.5 million votes cast in the general election, and the Census Bureau estimates that 21.5 percent of these were from African-Americans. This equals about 750,000 votes. So, a 10 percent increase in African-American turnout would represent 75,000 additional African-American votes, a 20 percent increase 150,000 votes, and so forth. We distribute 94 percent of these new votes to Barack Obama and 6 percent to John McCain, in accord with Obama's present advantage over McCain among black voters in recent polling. We then re-run our simulations with the new votes added in. Obama's results at various levels of turnout improvement are below.
For each 10 percent increase in African-American turnout, Obama gains approximately 13 electoral votes, and 1 percent in his popular vote margin against John McCain. Even a 10 percent increase is enough to take him from a slight underdog against McCain to a slight favorite, while at higher levels of turnout improvement, Obama becomes the strong favorite. Meanwhile, Obama's electoral map changes as follows:
Generally speaking, there are two regions where Obama stands to benefit from higher African-American turnout. The first is in the Rust Belt states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and perhaps Indiana. Although there are not enormous numbers of African-Americans in these states, there are certainly some, and given how closely these states have tended to poll, even fractional improvements in Obama's numbers could produce large dividends. The other area where Obama can gain is along the southern Atlantic coast. North Carolina and Virginia would potentially be extremely competitive with higher black turnout, and to a lesser extent so would South Carolina, Florida, and perhaps Georgia. Louisiana might also become viable, although states like Mississippi and Alabama are unlikely to be.
We can run through the same analysis for youth turnout. Specifically, we will be focusing on voters aged 18-24. Turnout in this group has tended to lag badly behind that of older voters. In 2004, for instance, 46.7 percent of citizens aged 18-24 turned out to vote, as compared with 63.8 percent of the electorate as a whole. But these voters have become very engaged by the 2008 campaign, and it is not difficult to imagine a turnout increase of 25 or even 50 percent.
Most polling has shown Obama with a 3:2 or 2:1 advantage over John McCain among voters in the 18-29 age range. We will assume that Obama's advantage is slightly larger toward the younger end of this range (18-24) and assign him 70 percent of the new votes, with the balance going to John McCain. The resulting scenarios are below:
Unlike the African-American vote, which tends to be concentrated in certain regions, there is not that much difference in the number of young voters from state to state. However, some areas do warrant a mention. There is a strong tradition of youth turnout in the Upper Midwest, which could help Obama to ensure victories in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Alaska is an extremely young state and could become a swing state with higher youth turnout. Texas and Georgia are also quite young and could become competitive with a strong youth turnout coupled with an improvement in Hispanic and black turnout, respectively.
Because Hillary Clinton has tended to do better with Latinos in the primaries, there is a perception that this group is not a strength of Barack Obama's. In fact, however, Obama held leads over John McCain by margins of 57-33 and 51-41 among Hispanic voters in recent sets of Gallup polling. Increasing the share of the electorate that is Latino would definitely be to Obama's benefit -- albeit not quite to the same extent of the other two groups. We will assume that Obama gets 60 percent of any new Latino votes, and John McCain the other 40 percent. As just 44.1 percent of adult Latino citizens turned out to vote in 2004, improvement within this group could be comparatively easy to achieve.
Obama's popular vote share increases only fractionally as a result of new Latino votes. However, these votes tend to be concentrated in electorally significant states. In particular, an increase in Latino turnout could all but assure an Obama victory in New Mexico, while also improving his chances in Colorado and Nevada.
Because they have polled so closely, this group of three states is among the most important in the country. Assume that Obama starts with the states that John Kerry won in 2004, plus Iowa where he is currently favored, but minus New Hampshire where he is currently the underdog. This gets him to 254 electoral votes, whereas he needs 270 to win. Winning those three states would get him to 273 electoral votes, just getting him over that threshold. In other words, if Obama wins these states, he would probably not need to carry Ohio or Florida to win the election.
Putting it Together
Finally, we can run a couple of scenarios that combine the effects of turnout improvements among these different groups. The first scenario is what I call the "40/20 Plan": increasing youth (18-24) turnout by 40 percent, and African-American turnout by 20 percent, but not focusing specifically on Latinos. The second is the "40/30/20 Plan": aiming for a 40 percent increase in youth turnout, a 30 percent increase in Latino turnout, and a 20 percent increase in African-American turnout. The last is what I'm simply calling the "Best Case Scenario". This would be a 50 percent increase in youth turnout, a 50 percent increase in Latino turnout, and a 40 percent increase in African-American turnout. Although this latter scenario is unlikely to develop, it should help to provide some context for where a strong ground game could make the most difference for Obama.
As you can see, these effects are quite powerful when combined. The 40/20 Plan would gain Obama about 48 electoral votes, and improve his win percentage to 68.3 percent. Adding Latinos to this plan would improve his win percentage further to 71.7 percent. And under his best case turnout scenario, Obama becomes a prohibitive favorite to win the election, as states like Texas and Georgia could turn blue.
The ability to bring new voters to the polls remains Barack Obama's most significant electoral advantage, both relative to Hillary Clinton and John McCain. Indeed, current polling may already be underestimating Obama's strength against McCain if it does not account for improved turnout among Democratic-leaning groups like young voters and African-Americans, who have participated in record numbers in this year's primaries. If Obama can parlay that advantage with a strong ground game, he very much could redraw the electoral map.