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By Jay Cost

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Clinton v. Obama: Moving Forward

I have been doing some digging into the numbers out of Iowa and New Hampshire - and the data I have found indicates that the Democratic nomination battle could be extremely tight.

It is common for scholars, academics, and number-crunchers to review vote results by demographic category - and to construct a story about how the winner actually won. I engaged in a bit of this on Wednesday, arguing that Clinton won New Hampshire by pulling together a traditional Democratic voting coalition. This is how most frontrunning Democrats have won the nomination - and, so I labeled it the "FDR Coalition" or the "Mondale Coalition." This is the coalition you learned about in your civics classes. Union workers, Catholics, African-Americans, lower-income voters, etc. Clinton pulled a good-sized chunk of these voters together, combined it with her overwhelming success among female voters, and got a solid win in New Hampshire.

A very impressive one, I hasten to add. New Hampshire is a quirky state. It has a habit of voting for insurgent candidates who appeal to more upscale, educated, professional class Democrats. I'm thinking in particular here of Gary Hart, who won New Hampshire in 1984. For Clinton to win in New Hampshire with the "Mondale Coalition" is something that Mondale himself did not do!

A quick review of the upcoming states can give us a sense of just how powerful this coalition can be.

The following table reviews the union members by percent of working population in the Super Tuesday states, plus Iowa and New Hampshire thrown in for comparative purposes. It excludes New York and Illinois, presuming that they will go heavily for their home state candidates. It also lists "pledged" delegates, i.e. those delegates who are allocated based upon performances in the primaries/caucuses. Finally, it includes an asterisk to identify caucus/conventions, and a plus sign to identify closed primaries not open to Independents.

Union.jpg

As you can see, unions will matter on February 5th. Remember that union members tend to be Democrats. They also tend to be reliable voters. So, the actual percentages of union voters in each contest will be higher than those listed here. Note that they are more prominent in delegate-rich states like California, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. If Clinton can win unions as strongly as she did in New Hampshire, she will be in good shape.

A similar story can be told about the Catholic population, which also broke decisively for Clinton in New Hampshire. The following chart delineates Super Tuesday states by the percentage of the population that is Catholic.

Catholic.jpg

Note the same features. Delegate-heavy states tend also to have many Catholics. And, once again, Catholics tend to be disproportionately Democratic - so their numbers in the primaries will probably be greater than those represented here. The candidate who wins a plurality of the Catholic vote will be well positioned indeed.

And what about lower income voters? The follow table reviews Super Tuesday states by the average median income for '05 to '06.

Median Income.jpg

As you can see, New Hampshire is wealthier than most Super Tuesday states. So, a candidate who wins voters whose incomes are less than $50,000 per year will probably do better overall than Clinton did in the Granite State.

This indicates to me that if Clinton can replicate the voting coalition she enjoyed in New Hampshire - she will all-but-clinch the nomination on Super Tuesday. I would expect her not just to win most states, but to win them by a wider margin. One of the big reasons is that, while Independents were a feather in Obama's cap in New Hampshire and Iowa - they are barred from voting in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Kansas, New York, and Oklahoma.

The key word in the last paragraph is "if." We cannot simply assume that Clinton will replicate this coalition. After all, she failed to do it in Iowa. This is actually one of the most interesting dynamics of this primary contest so far.

If we compare the New Hampshire exit polling data with the Iowa entrance polling data, we find a curious divergence. Consider the following table, which reviews the difference between Clinton and Obama among key demographic groups. So, for instance, Clinton won 46% of the female vote in New Hampshire to Obama's 34% - thus yielding the 12% statistic in the corresponding cell. Numbers that favor Obama are in boldface; numbers that favor Clinton are in itallics.

Clinton v Obama.jpg

This, to me, is truly stunning. Clinton won New Hampshire by winning groups that she lost in Iowa. This implies that it is over-simple to categorize Obama as an insurgent candidate who appeals to a wealthy-but-narrow slice of the Democratic electorate (ala Bill Bradley). Obama can win union voters, lower income voters, and women. He did it in Iowa. His victory there demonstrates that he has the capacity to put together a voting coalition composed of traditional Democrats.

Another important question: how will Obama do with African-Americans voters? They are of critical importance in the Super Tuesday states, as the following chart delineates (data courtesy of the 2006 Almanac of American Politics).

African American.jpg

African-American voters have been the most loyal members of the Democratic voting coalition for the last forty years. If Obama can win a strong portion of this vote - he could seriously damage Clinton's prospects.

Can he? We do not know yet. The African-American populations in Iowa and New Hampshire are, as the above chart shows, quite small - too small to infer how the nationwide population will break. Recent polling data suggests he may well be able to bring African-Americans into his coalition. Insider Advantage's recent poll of South Carolina found Obama beating Clinton among African-American voters 48.2% to 36.8%. Survey USA found Obama with an even larger lead. Both of these polls were conducted before the New Hampshire primary - so, it remains to be seen whether these leads are sustainable. [Unfortunately, Rasmussen's post-New Hampshire poll of South Carolina does not offer cross-tabs by race for cheapskates like myself!]

This indicates that South Carolina will be a crucial test of each candidate's viability ahead of February 5th. If Clinton can win the African-American vote - she will be well on her way to the nomination. On the other hand, look out for Obama if he wins that vote. There are some states on Super Tuesday where it could make an important difference.

South Carolina could also be a good test among lower-income white voters. It is a relatively poor state - and so it will be interesting to see how lower-income whites break.

Similarly, Nevada will be an important indicator. Clinton won the union vote in New Hampshire. Obama split it with her in Iowa. Nevada is a relatively unionized state - 14.8% of Nevada workers are unionized. This means that the Nevada returns could give us a clue as to how both candidates will do with union workers on Super Tuesday. The fact that Obama won the endorsement of Nevada's culinary workers' union, as well as the state's service employees union, is a testament to the fact that Obama does have the potential to carry large chunks of the traditional Democratic coalition.

The bottom line: Iowa and New Hampshire diverged in the fullest sense of the word. Not only did Iowa vote Obama and New Hampshire vote Clinton - identical demographic groups broke in opposite directions! This implies that the nomination contest is very much up in the air. The big question is who can put together more of the traditional Democratic voting coalition. Obama did in Iowa. Clinton did in New Hampshire.

There is, of course, an X-factor - momentum. The nomination is a dynamic process. What is interesting from these results is that voters may be slightly indifferent when it comes to these two candidates. That could explain why similar groups voted in different ways - and so the candidate on a "roll" might be the one to win over these groups. Thus, the outcome of February 5th might depend heavily upon the results of Nevada and South Carolina.

If you are interested in digging deeper into the primary battle (and, if you have gotten to the end of this essay, I'll wager you are!) - I encourage you to check out my two-part "Primer on Momentum" if you have not already. It can be found here and here. Unfortunately, it will not give you any hard answers. We just do not know enough about momentum to know when and where it will work. But it should give you a sense of how momentum can operate.

-Jay Cost