Obama, general election polls and the vote of registered Democrats

The most common reaction to polls showing Obama posting weak numbers in a poll and particularly among registered Democrats is the assertion that the problem will get resolved by itself once Obama secures the nomination. This is an assumption that Kos systematically and unproblematically posits, dismissing most poor poll results with the insistence that Obama cannot but shoot up among registered Democrats; for instance in this post in which he discusses a Kansas poll, Kos holds that, "If you take Obama's Democratic performance and match it to McCain's (81-16)..."

While it is certain that Obama will significantly improve his numbers as the party unifies around him and do so in all voting groups (particularly registered Democrats), saying that the entirety of his weakness in Massachusetts polls or among registered Democrats is due to the primary season and that it will just go away when Clinton drops out is too hasty a conclusion. Obama will probably get a large boost when Clinton drops out (we will monitor that in the next few weeks), but we will have to see whether the boost lasts and whether it gets the Illinois Senator to his full potential among groups Democrats ought to do well in.

For one, the same polls show Clinton is stronger among registered Democrats, though she typically fares worse among independents (we know there are a lot of Obama supporters who don't think warmly of Clinton right now). The two candidates are not symmetric in their weakness, suggesting that the issue is not the party's polarization but that Obama and Clinton each have constituencies among which they struggle; there is no reason to think party unity will resolve this situation. It explains why Clinton is relatively stronger in states like Ohio and Florida and why Obama is stronger in states in the Northwest and the Mountain West.

Second, as long as Obama has a consistent weakness in the Democratic primary with blue-collar white voters, there is nothing surprising in the fact that he is weak among registered Democrats in countless polls. In Kentucky, where Obama suffered a drubbing in the primary, a SUSA general election poll found McCain winning the vote of registered Democrats. Party unity or not, states at the center of the Appalachia region -- West Virginia and Kentucky -- seem lost for sure for Obama. He will have much more of an opening to woo blue-collar voters in other states like Ohio or in the Mountain West but These are, after all, the very voters that have been willing to bolt from the Democratic Party in past elections; even if Obama was not the Democratic nominee, McCain's appeal to conservative Democrats and to independents would have made them open to crossing-over to the GOP.

This is not to say that Obama cannot unify the party and gain as high numbers among registered Democrats as he ought to have, but I am simply trying to suggest that we cannot simply assume that he will do so once the primaries are over. Whether Obama succeeds in polling stronger number among registered Democrats will be key to his chances in the fall. Given how dismal Bush's approval ratings are and the coming multi-million campaign to link McCain to the incumbent president, I believe odds are that he will -- but it will require a concerted effort.

In fact, it might very well be that strong support among registered Democrats is all Obama needs. All evidence points to the Democratic Party being very energized and to the Republican base being low on energy. Very importantly, Democrats are building an advantage in registration and party identification that by itself makes them the favorite to November. The 50-state primary has led to the registration of hundreds of thousands of new Democratic voters, while Republicans cannot say the same thing. These shifts are exemplified by SUSA's polls, as the partisan breakdown of the polls is systematically much more favorable to Democrats than the 2004 exit polls. Though SUSA might be overstating the change, there is no doubt that the ground has shifted.

In other words, Obama has less of a need to appeal to independents and to Republicans than Democratic nominees in the past few cycles. As long as he can hold his own among independents, Obama can build a majority by gaining the strong support among registered Democrats, which would includes -- though is not limited to -- outreach to supporters of Hillary Clinton. While there are segments of the registered Democratic population that are probably lost to Obama (most notably in Appalachia and in states like West Virginia and Kentucky), constituencies like the union vote and non-Appalachia blue collar Democrats will be key to his chances.

In brief, what we are talking about when looking at whether Obama will solidify the registered Democratic base is whether he will win the presidency, which is one more obvious reason to remember that there is no reason to believe that Obama will get as high a level of support from his party as McCain will get from his, nor does he necessarily need to. But it will be very important to keep an eye on the proportion of registered Democrats that support Obama in polls in the coming months, for any upward movement could put him in a formidable position.

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  • Let's hope that if he's the nominee, that he'll put the common voter and their interests out front. So far he's failed at that. I don't think McCain has any trouble pulling off the "regular" guy routine. This perceived disdain for blue collar voters he's earned himself will not be affected by Clinton stepping back and the unity bounce isn't very likely to come. When it doesn't, some very nervous party officials will get buyer's remorse.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 03 June, 2008 15:32  

  • We start with polls as they were a couple of days ago. Obama was leading both nationwide and in electoral votes according to state-by-states. If he gets a 5% or 10% rise in support among democrats, from 65%, he will expand his lead nationally and in swing states.

    Sen Clinton supporting him and dissappointed Hillary supporters accepting him as the nominee should be good for 5-10% right off the top. And that will be enough to put MA, CA, and NY out of reach.

    It will then be a concerted effort to get some of the others. It will take advertising (which Obama will have), appearances, active union support (which he will have), and debate appearances which reinforce his democratic positions.

    Gore and Kerry both had 90% of democrats supporting them, not because they were white or conservative, but because both parties have become more coherent in their philosphies and because of the same concerted efforts I outlined above.

    Obama should pull close to that 90% because of the work (and you're right he will need to do work) and the philosphy. He will also pull a higher percentage of African Americans and a higher number of African Americans overall. He looks stronger than other Democrats with independents. And, as you say, he doesn't even need the 90% because the pool of democrats is bigger.

    There are no guarentees but Obama's route to strong success with democrats seems fairly clear.

    By Blogger st paul sage, At 03 June, 2008 16:27  

  • Yup. He will get a bounce tonight and after the convention.

    And forget those "anonymous" comments. Just another bottom feeding troll. Yawn.

    By Blogger Mark, At 03 June, 2008 16:33  

  • And Taniel, I am having a problem picking up an .rss feed from your website using Flock 1.1.4.

    The rss symbol shows 0 available feeds. Hmmm....

    By Blogger Mark, At 03 June, 2008 16:36  

  • Democrats will have to decide whether they want to win in November. Independents and Republicans will not be Obama's problem, his fellow democrats will be. The question is: are democrats tired of losing?? The GE is in their hands.

    By Anonymous ACE, At 03 June, 2008 18:23  

  • I thought I would add my two cents...

    Hillary will come out and heartily endorse Obama sometime soon. The last thing she wants to happen to her is the stigma that Al Gore had to deal with after the 2000 election--a sore loser. I suspect that Hillary (and Bill) will come out and campaign like crazy for Obama. If Obama loses in 2008 without her enthusiastic support, Hillary will be to blame. There will be a fall guy, and the target will be on her. I don't expect that to happen.

    I also do not believe she will run for President again. If Obama wins the Presidency, she'd have to wait 8 years. If he loses, she might have all the weight on her shoulders from this loss.

    Again, just my 2 cents of the matter. Love to hear what others may think about my warped mind...

    By Anonymous Jim W, At 03 June, 2008 19:16  

  • Jim W, delete the word "heartily" and the phrase "like crazy" from your first paragraph, and I agree with pretty much the entirety of what remains. But I think Hillary is definitely gunning for President sometime down the line. She wanted it badly enough to risk a deadly split in her party going for it, long after it was apparent to everyone that she wouldn't win. That type of desire doesn't change quickly, or easily.

    Mark, I don't think there was anything trollish about the first comment. Given that Clinton was able to score a few points in the primaries by banking off Obama's perceived patrician attitude, it is a perfectly reasonable point of view...though I personally don't think Democratic officials will get buyer's remorse as soon as all that. Do you always get so suspicious of comments just because they're tagged "anonymous"?

    By Anonymous Mr. Rational, At 03 June, 2008 19:43  

  • I think taniel will make a post of this soon but CNN says that Obama is only 6 delegates away from the nomination. He will definitly get a majority of all delegates tonight.

    By Anonymous jaxx raxor, At 03 June, 2008 20:01  

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