Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Obama Does Not Get Majority of Democratic Voters in Primaries

"In open primaries, some of Barack’s best friends are Republicans.

By John McLaughlin

There’s an important story in the Democratic primaries that the mainstream media either are missing or don’t want to report: In open Democratic primaries, the most supportive political segments for Barack Obama have been Republicans and conservatives.

Admittedly, these groups do not make up a large part of the Democratic-primary electorate. But the trend has been noticeable since Iowa, where entrance polls at the Democratic caucuses reported that the strongest segment for Obama was not registered Democrats, who voted 31 percent for Sen. Clinton and 32 percent for Obama, but rather the 3 percent who were registered Republicans. They voted 44 percent for Obama and only 10 percent for Clinton. Independents similarly gave Obama more support than Clinton, by 41 percent to 17 percent .

Because of Iowa’s special status and convoluted rules, one might think these results would not be typical. But on February 5, Super Tuesday, which had a mix of open and closed primaries, a similar phenomenon occurred. Among the 79 percent of voters who were affiliated Democrats, Clinton won 52 percent to 45 percent . Independents, who accounted for 18 percent of the vote, preferred Obama 53 percent to 37 percent . But there was another 3 percent who claimed to be Republicans, and they voted for Obama 53 percent to 36 percent .

Could this be a realignment? Conservative Republicans leaving their party to become Obama acolytes? Or was it perhaps strategic voting for the weaker candidate in a general election?

Virginia’s open primary on February 12 was the next test. There Republicans made up 7 percent of Democratic primary voters, and they overwhelmingly favored Obama, 72 percent to 23 percent . The 22 percent of voters who were independents weren’t far behind, at 69 percent for Obama and 30 percent for Clinton. Virginia Democrats were a bit less enthusiastic, at 62 percent to 38 percent . But the strongest Obama vote came from the 12 percent who called themselves conservatives, a group drawing members from all three party categories. They voted 73 percent to 24 percent for Obama.

A week later, in Wisconsin, Republicans accounted for 9 percent of Democratic primary voters. They went for Obama 72 percent to 28 percent. Another 28 percent were independents; they favored Obama 64 percent to 33 percent. Registered Democrats went 53 percent Obama and 46 percent Clinton. As in Virginia, the 14 percent who called themselves conservatives voted 59 percent to 40 percent for Obama. (Most of the numbers in this article are from CNN and Fox News exit polls and can be found on their websites.)

Is there a secret “YAF for Obama” movement? Are McCarthyites going gaga for Barack?

Finally, last week saw an open primary in Texas, and Rush Limbaugh called for some strategic crossover voting. Polls had shown that in a hypothetical November showdown, Clinton trailed John McCain by about 5 points, while Obama led him by a similar margin. So Rush told his massive conservative dittohead audience: Vote for Hillary! We need Hillary!

Did Rush swing the Texas election? Probably not. Exit polls showed that 10 percent of Democratic primary voters were Republicans, and they voted for Obama by 53 percent to 46 percent over Clinton. That’s a higher crossover rate and a closer margin than in most other states, so there may have been something of a Limbaugh effect, but the overall pattern remains: Republicans voting in Democratic primaries clearly favor Obama. As in other states, the 24 percent who claimed to be independents voted for Obama 52 percent to 46 percent . Only the 67 percent of self-proclaimed Democrats voted for Clinton, by 53 percent to 47 percent.

What’s going on here? Why are Republicans and conservatives so strongly supporting the most liberal senator in the country?

The answer is a simple case of “never overlook the obvious”: Obama attracts these unlikely supporters because he’s running against a woman who has an 80 percent unfavorable rating with Republicans. Why wait to vote against Hillary Clinton in November when you can do it now? Why waste a vote on Rev. Huckabee when God wants you to vote against Sen. Clinton?

Luckily for Senator Clinton, there’s no crossover voting in the Keystone State. It’s up to Obama to win his own party’s voters, with no help from Republicans and anti-Clinton independents. If he can do that in Pennsylvania, the nomination is almost certainly his. If he can’t, his popularity among non-Democrats will be cited both for him (as evidence of his broad appeal) and against him (as evidence that Clinton is the truer Democrat). What both these analyses overlook is that most of those Republican and independent Obama supporters weren’t really voting for Obama; they were voting against Clinton."

— John McLaughlin is CEO of McLaughlin & Associates.