2.08.2008

The electability question revisited, with new general election polls

The electability debate has been raging for months now and has served as an important subtext of the Democratic primaries. In fact, electabilty arguments were invoked far less in the GOP primaries, surprisingly so given that the polls were much more consistent in who would be the strongest Republican in a general election. And now that McCain is the presumptive nominee, we will probably no longer see general election polls from very red states in which Democrats manage a tie or even lead (a poll even had Clinton competitive in Texas some time in the fall!).

In the Democratic race, however, it has been much more difficult to find a pattern of electability. I have addressed this question many times in the past few months, the first time at the beginning of September when an Ohio poll had Clinton running significantly better than Obama and a Colorado poll had her much weaker than her rival.

Over the next few months, I attempted to find some pattern, some consistency and the only conclusion I have been able to reach is that (1) Clinton polls better than Obama in red Southern states (which Clinton often looked competitive in) and in the Northeast (Obama often struggles against McCain in polls from New York and Massachusetts) and that (2) Obama is stronger in the Southwest and Northwest. That hypothesis is usually confirmed by surveys and, as we will see, this week's SUSA surveys give more evidence for that. I first stated this theory in November, after a poll of Alabama showed Clinton surprisingly strong and a poll of Oregon showed Obama outpacing her.

In the rest of the country (especially in the Midwest) it has been seemingly impossible to find a pattern of electability. That same day, I also wrote , "Hillary looked more electable in this week's MN poll, while Barack looked more solid in the Iowa poll from the day before."

Today's new polls show that it remains very difficult to judge the electability case of the two Democratic front-runners. First, there is Time's national poll that will likely be often cited in the coming days:

  • Time has Obama leading McCain by 7%, 48% to 41%, while Hillary is tied at 46%.
  • Commenting on these numbers, Time's pollster says, "Independents tilt toward McCain when he is matched up against Clinton But they tilt toward Obama when he is matched up against the Illinois Senator."
We also got this week a series of three state polls from SUSA. They all tested Romney, whose results I am including as an indication of McCain's relative strength:

  • A Kentucky poll has McCain leading Clinton 53% to 43% and crushing Obama 61% to 32%. Clinton manages a lead against Romney, 48% to 46%, while Romney trounces Obama 55% to 38%.

  • In Indiana, the two Democrats poll equally. Clinton trails McCain 51% to 42% and Obama is behind 50% to 40%. Both also lose against Romney, albeit by smaller margins: 49% to 44% and 47% to 44%.

  • Finally, in Washington state, it is Obama who does much better, as he destroys McCain 55% to 38% while Clinton is forced into a tie at 46%. Against Romney, Clinton leads 51% to 41%, but that's far weaker than Obama's 61% to 31%.
These results do not contradict my theory of which regions Obama and Clinton are strong in; Kentucky in particular has been a state in which Clinton has been consistently competitive. Despite this, the media inexplicably keeps running with the story of Clinton hurting down-the-ballot Democrats in those states.

The internals of the SUSA polls have a few other interesting clues relating to the electability question. First, on the gender gap:
  • In Kentucky, Clinton runs 20% better then Obama overall. And that margin entirely comes from the female vote. Among men, both candidates are running roughly equal (Obama trails 62-30 and Clinton trails 60-36); among women, Obama trails 60% to 34% (no gender gap whatsoever) while Clinton actually leads 49% to 46%, 29% better than Obama.
  • In Washington, on the other hand, it is the male vote that makes the difference between Clinton and Obama. Both candidates have a slight lead againt McCain among women, but look at the male vote: Clinton trails 47% to 43% while Obama leads 62% to 32%. That's a 34% swing.
A third characteristic that holds across those polls is that Clinton is much stronger among registered Democrats than Obama, who gets more cross-over votes from Republicans:

  • In Kentucky a full 44% of Democrats vote McCain if Obama is their nominee, versus only 28% if the nominee is Clinton.
  • In Indiana, McCain takes 18% of the Democratic vote against Clinton, and 30% against Obama. On the other hand, Clinton takes 9% of the GOP vote and Obama gets 19%. (Clinton does a bit better among indies).
  • In Washington, Clinton does better among registered Democrats but she only takes 6% of Republican votes, while Obama gets 25%.
Obama and Clinton both will have significant strength and weaknesses in a general election. Obama is stronger among men, but Clinton causes female voters to massively vote to Democrat. Obama attracts the center and can get votes from the right, but what use is that if he cannot hold is his base? Clinton does that holding very well, but she needs to appeal to independents to get to the White House.

The Latino vote will also be very interesting to look at. They have gotten Clinton out of trouble many times over the past few weeks, starting with Nevada and ending with New Mexico and California. On the GOP side, John McCain is the only one who potentially could appeal to Hispanics given that he never fully followed the lead of fellow candidates towards nativism and immigrant-bashing. Will a McCain-Obama showdown help the GOP attract more Latino votes than they were expecting to this cycle? Can Clinton offset McCain's strength among the Hispanic community? Or will the GOP's increasingly harsh and nativist language on immigration doom any chance McCain has of winning the Latino vote? Given that immigration will be a big issue in November, it is unlikely that McCain will be able to distance himself from those in the party who Latinos justifiably will reject.

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10 Comments:

  • The split tickets of Clinton/Obama,Obama/Clinton were floated last week. Since then the DNC has floated the same idea as an "agreement" to avoid a brokered convention. A poll quoted by CNN stated that at least 70% were happy with the other candidate. How does that combo ticket rack up against McCain and would it benefit or detract?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 08 February, 2008 21:32  

  • No combo ticket, please. Obama has not come this far for second place. The press keeps saying Clinton will be a drag on down ballot candiates in red states because that is what politicans in those states are telling them. McCain is immenently beatable if independents go to Obama. McCain was a prisoner of war and a jet fighter pilot, but since when does that make one a national defense expert. Bush learned to fly planes over Texas, lets not forget. The red red states are gone anyway, but Obama almost can't win without Ohio, which does worry me. I'll take my chances with Obama and hope the latinos come around. If Hillary wins it fair and square, well then good for her. The right wing of the republican party will force McCain to adopt all of their crazy stuff and box him into the ultra conservative positions that love so well.

    By Anonymous stone621, At 09 February, 2008 01:21  

  • "Obama has not come this far for second place" Wow. I hope that entitlement attitude doesn't get officially attributed to Barack. That type of thing could destroy him everywhere outside the black community. He came up pretty quickly. If he displays that kind of stupidity in the general, McCain will slaughter him. Fortunately he was smart enough not to say that in the last debate. That type of reverse discrimination doesn't sit well with people. That could compound with the Malcolm X rhetoric and virtually wipeout his broad support. Don't say you weren't warned.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 09 February, 2008 08:20  

  • Obama cant take the VP slot.

    His ENTIRE political career is that of a NEW modern pol. If he even thinks about have the name 'Clinton' associated with him, he is nothing more than typical slime.

    There will be NO DEAL. He cant, its as simple as that.

    Obama optimism just cant be poisoned by Clinton slime. Its as simple as that.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 09 February, 2008 08:35  

  • 8:35-That "holier than thou" stance only serves to highlight Obama's ethical weaknesses and ties to the "old school" democratic ways of Kennedy,Kerry,et al. Since only 7 out 10 Obamans spew that kind of divisive rhetoric,it's safe to assume your votes are not worth considering when factoring out a combo ticket. How do you feel about McCain as president? Do you support the hundred year war? Or would you sit out this one?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 09 February, 2008 09:05  

  • Look, why would Obama take second to Clinton when he has 4, 8 or 12 years to be his own man. Being second under the Clintons is a waste of his time. Bill will be looking over everyone's shoulder, including Hillary's. When I said Barack has come to far to take the VP spot, I don't know how anyone could take that as anything racial. I meant his extraordinary organizational ability and grasp of ideas and issues. He has put together a team that is taking on the biggest and strongest Democratic machine in a generation.

    By Anonymous stone621, At 09 February, 2008 15:32  

  • Uh,he is the biggest and strongest Democratic machine. Being VP is an excellent place to wait for a better shot. The remark was about an attitude of entitlement. That attitude,rightly or wrongly is widely regarded to be a racial issue. His grasp is an overview and not hands on enough for me. His healthcare plan is not well thought out and fails to overcome the pitfalls of previous attempts. Hillary accepted Edward's plan and Barack will have no choice but to accept it or fail again like Hillary did before. I could go on with other issues like his acceptance of predatory lending practices that prey upon the poor,but I'd have to go back and re-read that shoddy "Blueprint for Change" to list everything and he's just not worth it. I've seen enough to know he's unprepared. I sincerely hope he weathers the Rezko thing and dumps that house to start anew. He has great potential in the future. Look at what he's done. Betting all or nothing is a fool's gamble. I can't understand why he didn't dump that house BEFORE it became a target for swiftboaters. Didn't he think he was a contender? I guess not.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 09 February, 2008 17:29  

  • Anyone who thinks Barack will be the VP candidate is an idiot. Period. Anyone who thinks Barack will be the Democrat nominee is dreaming a nightmare. The GOP will destroy Barack.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 09 February, 2008 18:25  

  • I don't understand this "entitlement" issue. In politics you run to win and you either you win or you don't. Barack does not have any sense of entitlement that I can see.

    By Anonymous stone621, At 09 February, 2008 19:18  

  • "The GOP will destroy Barack."

    I think they will try, but they will go over the top over and over again. There will be Macaca moments by the boatload.

    An Obama / Clinton ticket would cause so much vitriol that most Independents will turn away from the GOP out of disgust.

    By Anonymous C.S.Strowbridge, At 09 February, 2008 21:14  

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