Monday, February 18, 2008

Be Careful What You Wish For

On the eve of the Wisconsin and Hawaii vote I just wanted to write about something that Barack Obama has said repeatedly during the campaign that I have to take issue with. He has said that he's not sure that Hillary can attract his voters, but he's sure that he can get hers. On the face of it, the statement seems to have some merit, but on closer inspection, I don't think that it holds up.

In order to take apart that argument, you just need to look at the bases of each of the candidates. Obama's base is made of African-Americans, college educated whites, and young people. Clinton's base is non-college educated whites, elderly white women and Hispanics. The question is which base is more likely to vote democratic even if their candidate loses? I would argue that Obama's base is much more likely to go along with a Hillary candidacy. While Blacks and college students may be somewhat deflated if Obama doesn't get the nomination, I still believe that they will tow the line and vote for the party ticket. I don't believe that the opposite is true for Clinton's core supporters.

Clinton core group of supporters would be faced with a very hard decision if she is not the candidate. I think her supporters would splinter into three groups. One group would vote for McCain, one group would vote for Obama and one group would stay home. The percentages would probably be fairly evenly split. The Obama supporters would more likely be split between staying home and voting for her (with the much larger percentage voting for her), while the Clinton supporters would provide a boost for John McCain. Elderly white women are her most loyal support group. She has never lost them in any primary to date. I think that they, in particular, would be drawn to John McCain as an alternative to Obama.

Obama has run as the "unity" candidate, but the truth is that he may be more divisive to the democratic base than Hillary would be.

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