3/28/2008

Calling the Democrats' Bluff

Gallup has recently released a poll that sheds light on the extent to which the ongoing fight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama has damaged the Democratic party. According to the poll, 28% of Clinton supporters would back McCain over Obama in the general election while 19% of Obama supporters would back McCain over Clinton. These findings suggest that both Clinton and Obama have rendered each other unacceptable to a significant amount of each other's supporters. The idea that 1 in 5 Obama supporters or 1 in 4 Clinton supporters would back McCain over their own party nominee should give all Democrats pause.

However, while Gallup's findings may make for good fodder for the punditry, I believe it would be prudent to take a step back and view this poll with a bit more skepticism. Democrats may be angry and polarized, but they are not so rash as to completely undermine the issues important to them. Instead of a true warning sign, this poll gives angry Democrats the opportunity to vent their frustrations a bit and do so in a way that should not inflict long-term or permanent damage to the Democratic Party.

There are simply too many ideological differences between the Democrats and John McCain to make partisan Democrats pull the lever for him at the ballot box in November. Consider the following:

1. The Democratic Party clearly wants to find a way out of Iraq, either through immediate withdrawal, the implementation of timelines, or via a redeployment to the surrounding countries. John McCain will probably not give them that. And he may even be more likely to get involved in a military confrontation with Iran.

2. Control of the Supreme Court is something Republicans are keenly aware of, especially given the age of Justice Paul Stevens, who is perhaps the most liberal of the nine justices. (He turns 88 next month.) One gets the sense that this is not as much of an issue for Democrats though. But should Justice Stevens retire and be replaced by a conservative appointee, that would have a tremendous effect on issues that conservatives have been trying to overturn for decades--especially abortion rights. Democrats are generally pro-choice when it comes to this issue. John McCain, who is under pressure from social conservatives, would probably appoint a Supreme Court justice in the mold of John Roberts, Sam Alito, or Clarence Thomas. In other words, voters to whom abortion rights matter will not vote against their self interests by supporting someone who will likely restrict them.

3. Democrats are trying to brand McCain as an extension of George Bush. The new line of attack seems to be "John McCain is running for George Bush's third term." Democrats overwhelmingly disapprove of the Bush presidency, so why would they vote for someone whom they argue would only continue it? So many polls suggest that voters want the next president to take the nation in a new direction. Are Democrats really prepared to throw all this out the window and support McCain just because their own candidate didn't win the Democratic presidential nomination?

The idea that Obama's supporters, who are likely more liberal as a whole than Clinton's supporters, would even entertain supporting McCain is not credible. The only way I could see 1 in 5 Obama supporters defecting to McCain is if that 1 in 5 consists of independents and moderate Republicans who are drawn to Obama's message of unity and bipartisanship. Wealthy, well-educated liberals are not going anywhere. Liberals don't vote for conservatives, just as conservatives don't vote for liberals. Black voters are not going anywhere. Republicans traditionally lose the Black vote by about 8 to 1. Young voters are not going anywhere. A 24-year old will simply have trouble relating to a candidate who is three times older than her.

The same could be said for Clinton's supporters. The 1 in 4 voters that would prefer McCain to Obama probably consists of older White blue-collar Reagan Democrats who would vote against their own economic self interests and support the Republican nominee because they are more uncomfortable with Obama's candidacy than other more liberal voters. The Jeremiah Wright controversy probably greatly offended them and rendered Obama unacceptable in their minds. Or perhaps this 1 in 4 consists of voters who have too many reservations about Obama's perceived inexperience.

The rest of Clinton's coalition, however, is not going anywhere. Women are not going anywhere, especially with the Supreme Court hanging in the balance. Latinos are not going anywhere either, especially since John McCain will be much tougher on illegal immigration than either Clinton or Obama.

In short, Obama's and Clinton's supporters are justifiably angry. However, it would be incredibly shortsighted of them to punish the party and work against their own self interests by supporting someone who is so antithetical to the causes and values that are so important to them. Therefore, we should not read too much into the Gallup poll. Rather than jumping aboard McCain's ship, a more likely outcome would be for these disaffected Democrats to simply stay home on Election Day. That would be bad for the Democrats, but not nearly as bad as hemorrhaging support to the Republican nominee.

When the Democratic race is finally decided, the nominee will have a bit of work to do in order to win over the support of those who voted for the nominee's former rival. It would seem that it would be easier for Obama to win over Clinton's supporters than for Clinton to win over Obama's supporters because if Obama does not become the nominee, especially despite winning more states, more pledged delegates, and more popular votes, the enthusiasm among his supporters will immediately disappear and there will be a sense that the election was "stolen" from their preferred candidate. But even if that happens, most voters usually "come home" on Election Day, even if they have to hold their noses at the polls. Remember, even John Kerry was able to get 48% of the vote. So right now, the Gallup numbers look more like hot air than a real political emergency.

9 comment(s):

Steve Johnson said...

I definitely agree with you here. The only votes that are going anywhere are the Independents and the so called "Reagan Democrats." You're right that this is hot air. I can attest to this. There have been times when I've been so fed up with the Clinton has campaigned (saying that McCain had more foreign policy experience than Obama for example) that I've even said that I would vote for McCain over her. It was just a way to vent though. In the general election, once the contrasts are drawn on issues like the war, healthcare, the economy, etc. I do not see these Democrats voting for a Republican.

Torrance Stephens bka All-Mi-T said...

they do make it seem like poker

Schenck said...

"These findings suggest that..." angry Clinton supporters are slightly more ignorant and irrational than Obama supporters. (Hey, I've commonly said I would vote for McCain over Clinton, but lets be real here.)

One thing that this poll does not take into account is what number of Obama supporters simply won't vote at all if he is not the nominee? I think that number would be more believable and scary.

Reginald Harrison Williams said...

I have a feeling that McCain may edge out this election.

Obama and Clinton have exhausted Dems with their primary battle.

Could overexposure alienate those borderline voters who are still hashing out which of the two evils--Dem or GOP--that they will go with?

I wish Gore and Newt Gingrich could run on an indy ticket.

I'd vote for that in a heartbeat! :)

Nikki said...

Hey Anthony, of course I think this is all too much fun. I agree with Schenck, Obama voters are more likely to stay home rather than defect to McCain. Though I have mentioned before Hillary supporters may be more willing to vote McCain. She and Bill both have been quite positive towards McCain in the campaign. It is funny the democratic spin on McCain being Bush the talking heads have been spewing that one as if they all recieved the same memo, and far right republicans thinking McCain is liberal. you can't write this stuff...:)N

Brett said...

I think the polls are premature, but for a different reason. We haven't seen every possible attack make its appearance yet - we had no idea that the Swift Boat criticism would make its appearance in 2004 during the Democratic Primary.

But don't underestimate the number of "Reagan Democrats". There are a lot of democrats out there who might sway towards a social conservative candidate who isn't openly offensive on economic issues and who has a nice personality.

namaste said...

anthony, you certainly gave me pause. these are excellent points. i do have one question for you. what's justifiable about the anger of clinton and obama supporters?

Anthony Palmer said...

Namaste,

The reason why Obama supporters are angry at Clinton is because they believe she is only wounding Obama even though the math is decidedly against her. The Clinton supporters are angry at Obama because they feel "he didn't wait his turn." So in a sense, both groups of supporters are being a bit arrogant. Clinton has every right to stay in the race and even attack Obama (how else can she overtake him? That's what politicians are supposed to do!). And Obama has every right to run for president on his own timetable.

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Brett/Steve,

The Reagan Democrats are probably the single most voting bloc in this election. Their pocketbooks are telling them to vote Democrat, but they are probably more ideologically similar to Republicans when it comes to the war and social issues. All this talk about race and gender is probably very off-putting to them.

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Schenck,

Yes. I don't think Dems will flock to McCain en masse (though Reagan Democrats are a possible exception), but I do think this fight between Clinton and Obama could serve to severely tamp down the enthusiasm they have about their candidate. I don't think McCain himself will run a low road campaign, but the 527s certainly will. But at the rate Clinton and Obama are going, the 527s won't have many opportunities to try!

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RHW,

Gore-Gingrich? That would be a unity ticket for sure, but I think they are too ideologically dissimilar. I could see Gore-Obama if the Obama-Clinton race remains disputed all the way to the convention. McCain could team up with Gingrich. That would be a good ticket in terms of ideology, but I doubt it would galvanize middle-of-the-road voters.

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Nikki,

Yes. McCain's a liberal and a third Bush term at the same time. This just goes to show you how both sides really ramp up the rhetoric regardless of how stupid it ultimately sounds.

Thomas said...

I don't like it when I hear Barack Obama referred to as "black." To me he is a black person and a white person at the same time. As a person who has a Filipino mother and a white father, I find it very difficult to think of myself as one race or another. Race is more than how you look to another person. If anything, race should be more about how you look to yourself. When a person thinks of their life experiences, they can think about the relatives they grew up with and the foods they ate and the places they visited and the values cherished in their culture. These things make up race as well.

Growing up in a mixed-race household can be confusing for different reasons. I never had the problem (though I have heard about it) of not being "white enough" or "Filipino enough" to others. My relatives on both sides have always been very loving and accepting. But as a kid, I didn't really know how to explain "what I was" to other kids. They expect a simple answer and my answer wasn't that. ("You see, my dad met my mom when he was in the Peace Corps in the 60s...") As a kid, I did want a simple answer too. I would ask my mom, "What race am I? I don't want to be 'other.' I just don't." She had no simple answer for me either.

Eventually as I got older, I realized some things. I was especially specialized - half-white, half-Filipino; Catholic mom, Jewish dad. I didn't have a natural cohort of people who were just like me. A different strategy emerged - I would walk around comfortably among many different kinds of people. This came easy because, due to my diverse background, I spent time among many different kinds of people. My inherent differences made me different to other people but it also made them different to me. My unending curiosity made other people so interesting to me. And I know one thing that breaks the ice with strangers is to show an interest in them.

I relate to Barack Obama in that he seemed to have the confusion as a kid that I had. His parents came from vastly different backgrounds like my parents did. Mr. Obama said his grandmother opened up to him to say that prejudice still lingered in her thoughts. It must be jarring when a person from a previously unknown country (his dad from Kenya, my mom from the Philippines) is introduced into the family. I do know that whatever reservations existed when my mom entered my dad's family were gone as soon as they got to know my mom. (And definitely by the time they tasted her cooking.) I will not say I am a Barack Obama supporter yet but I do like how he seems to fit in everywhere. Probably because he comes from everywhere.

Barack and I have benefited from having many different kinds of relatives. We both have traveled to our respective ancestral homelanda. We ate different kinds of foods and learned about various religions. All these things define our race. I am Filipino and white. He is black and white.

Copyright 2007-2008 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.