Hillary’s last hurrah

As expected, Clinton won the primary in Pennsylvania last night. The only real question was, what would her margin of victory be?

With 98% in, Clinton’s lead is back down to a hair below 9.5%.

That isn’t such an impressive win. The demographics of Pennsylvania are enormously to Clinton’s benefit — better even than Ohio. For example, approximately 15% of the population is older than 65. It was a closed primary, shutting out the independents who have broken disproportionately for Obama. And rumour has it that racism may have been a significant factor in the state:

Barack Obama’s campaign opened a downtown office here on March 15, just in time for the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. It was not a glorious day for Team Obama. Some of the green signs the campaign had trucked in by the thousands were burned during the parade, and campaign volunteers — white volunteers — were greeted with racial slurs.

Indeed, I am reluctantly concluding that racism explains why Clinton consistently outperforms her polling results. In Pennsylvania, the latest polls showed a Clinton margin of 6%-8%; instead, she nearly achieved 10%. I suspect the explanation is that “undecideds” belatedly break for Clinton because of unconscious racism.

One note on the news media’s coverage of the primary:  I was appalled to see how seriously the networks are taking Clinton’s absurd arguments.

I don’t usually watch network news on primary nights:  I’m content to follow the returns on politico.com. I was dismayed to see CNN exploring three different ways of counting the popular vote, including Florida in the third model.

The facts are:  (a) that the nominee is determined by delegates, not by the candidate’s share of the popular vote; (b) that popular vote counts exclude some of the caucus states, which don’t all report a popular vote tally; (c) that the Democratic National Committee has already decided that Florida’s vote doesn’t count; and (d) that Clinton is simply not going to catch Obama on any metric, either delegates or share of the popular vote.

Next, CNN turned its attention to the “big state” question:  Obama “can’t win” Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, etc. But this is a foolish argument! In a primary, Democrat voters are choosing between two Democrat candidates. That they somewhat prefer Clinton to Obama does not prove that they will prefer McCain (a Republican) to Obama.

Admittedly, some of those voters say they won’t support Obama in the general. But that sort of poll is largely meaningless, taken in the heat of the moment during a hotly contested nomination battle.

I forget what annoyed me in the MSNBC coverage, but it was something similar. Of course, the networks don’t want the nomination to be sewn up:  they want it to be anybody’s contest for as long as possible. It’s a better story that way, and thus good for their ratings.

But the nomination is already decided. It has been over for a couple of months already. Clinton’s last court of appeal is the superdelegates:

Even as Clinton has started winning her share of superdelegate endorsements again, Obama’s are still coming faster — my rough count gives him about twice as many as her this month.

Even during the Rev. Wright furor, even during “bittergate”, the superdelegates have continued to trickle to Obama. Inexorably, Obama is catching Clinton in the one remaining metric where she retains a lead.

Meanwhile, Clinton’s shameless campaign continues to hurt Obama’s chances in the general.

But Pennsylvania was Clinton’s last hurrah. There were 188 delegates up for grabs last night. In two weeks, North Carolina’s 134 delegates will be determined — and they will go decisively to Obama. No other remaining state has more than 100 delegates.

Here’s hoping that Obama also wins in Indiana (84 delegates) on the same night, May 6. I think he will. And then the superdelegate trickle will become a flood, and even the cable TV networks will have to face facts:  Clinton has lost.


9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Bridgett
    Apr 23, 2008 @ 07:56:26

    Hope so.


  2. aaron
    Apr 23, 2008 @ 08:38:28

    For the PA results, the margin will shrink a bit more — the last 50 precincts are all in counties that went for Obama, including 40 in Philly. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/interactives/campaign08/primaries/pa/?jump=d. Also, 3 recent polls had Clinton with a 10% margin — http://www.usaelectionpolls.com/2008/pennsylvania.html (3 of the first 7 listed). And let’s not forget that Clinton had a much larger lead in many polls six weeks ago, and depending on the poll, much more recently (keep scrolling through the polls from the last link I provided).

    That being said, even taking your 6-8 percent figure, the gap between it and 9-10 percent is well within the margin of error for polling, and I would be very careful before ascribing it to racism. FWIW, analysis says people deciding in the last week before the election chose Clinton by a significant margin — 58-42 (http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/04/22/pa.primary/index.html). Add all the stupid stories (“Bittergate,” etc.) to what I’ve already said, and I don’t see how one can explain the minute difference in the size of the gap using any single factor.

    That being said, I do agree with you that the networks want to keep the horse race going for as long as possible in that it draws an audience.


  3. Random
    Apr 23, 2008 @ 10:40:09

    Aaron, going by that link, even if all the remaining votes go to Obama (which they won’t) that will only shrink Hillary’s lead by 0.1%. The headline on this is going to be “Hillary wins by 10%”, which Hillary’s people are certainly going to spin as a victory bearing in mind that (a) it’s at the top end of all realistic expectations, and (b) many opinion polls a week ago were showing a virtual dead heat with all the momentum in Obama’s direction. That was of course before Pennsylvania voters found out just what Obama really thinks about them.

    More importantly, last night closes the gap in the popular vote by over 200K, bring it down to around 600K, or around half that if Florida is counted (which Hillary’s people certainly will do). It’s by no means hopelessly unrealistic to construct a scenario whereby this figure is overhauled by the time Puerto Rico votes (I’m not saying it’s likely, but it’s not impossible either), thereby allowing Hillary to go into the convention with a tiny lead in the popular vote and saying to the supers “okay, so Obama managed to game the system, but I won the most actual votes cast.” I don’t know, but I would be very surprised if this is not her game plan from here on in. Unless she collapses, this thing is going at least as far as Puerto Rico – and don’t rely on the supers to give Obama a victory he seems incapable of taking for himself, they won’t.

    I suspect that a number of supers are looking at this and getting worried about Obama’s inability to simply close the thing down, and are worrying what this says about November (another reason they’re not going to simply anoint him). Not to mention the fact that the stress of the fight appears to be getting to Obama a lot more than it is to Hillary (in fact, I’d say it looks like she’s enjoying herself) – this is his first serious, hard fought campaign and frankly it shows. Give the undecided supers a respectable excuse to throw it to Hillary, and they just might do it.

    As a member of the VRWC I realise I’m supposed to despise Hillary Clinton and everything she stands for, but sometimes it’s impossible not to admire the sheer, malevolent will to power she displays. I wouldn’t want her as president, but I sure as heck would want her on my side in a bar fight.


  4. Stephen
    Apr 23, 2008 @ 11:34:13

    This site reports the results as follows, with 99.44% of the results reported:
    Clinton: 54.6%
    Obama: 45.4%
    difference: 9.2%

    • Aaron:
    The polls I’m referring to were the very last ones announced, as far as I know. Ben Smith summarizes, “Seven (!) Pennsylvania polls were released today: Clinton is leading in six (Rasmussen 49-44, SurveyUSA 50-44, Quinnipiac 51-44, Suffolk University 52-42, Zogby/Newsmax 51-44. Strategic Vision 48-41), and Obama is leading in one (Public Policy Polling 49-46). An average of nine percent are undecided.”

    Only one pollster (Suffolk U.) shows a ten-point margin for Clinton.

    It’s significant, I think, because we’ve seen this scenario elsewhere. I understand about margins of errors, but when the “error” consistently turns out to underestimate Clinton’s results, that causes one to wonder.

    And please note that I said “unconscious racism”. I’m not envisioning people who say, “I’m not voting for that black guy!” I’m thinking of people who are genuinely undecided until they stand in the voting booth. And then, when they finally have to choose … they choose the white candidate. And they aren’t even aware that race has placed a thumb on the scales. Psychologists have demonstrated that such unconscious biases run very deep.

    That was of course before Pennsylvania voters found out just what Obama really thinks about them.

    That’s a bit of a cheap shot, I think. You should read “Dreams From My Father”. Obama is clearly fascinated by people, and he genuinely respects ordinary folk.

    Admittedly Obama has no one except himself to blame for that particular controversy. But it’s a manufacturered controversy nonetheless, because it doesn’t actually capture what Obama thinks of “blue collar” Pennsylvanians.

    Re the popular vote: whatever gains Clinton made in Pennsylvania will be largely offset in two weeks by the vote in North Carolina. The next biggest state remaining is Indiana, which is as close as we’ve seen recently to a toss-up. I think Obama will win it, but we’ll see.

    In any event, even a narrow Clinton victory in Indiana won’t help her cause. She’s not going to catch Obama in the popular vote, even if Florida is counted. Which it won’t be — not until after the nominee has been determined.

    I suspect that a number of supers are looking at this and getting worried about Obama’s inability to simply close the thing down.

    Pennsylvania doesn’t provide any new data. We already know: Clinton does better with white women, senior citizens, and the working class. Obama does better with African Americans (male and female), affluent voters, young voters (Sullivan says Obama won every demographic cohort younger than 40), and independents.

    A 9.2% margin of victory for Clinton reflects the same demographic pattern we’ve seen elsewhere. It’s unfortunate that Obama can’t change the game, but Clinton has gone to desperate and despicable lengths to frighten her demographic off him.

    Are the superdelegates worried? Sure — they’re worried about Clinton’s “kitchen sink” strategy. They can do the math; they know that Obama has already got an insurmountable lead. They just lack the balls to take the Clintons on directly. And, more sympathetically, they’re worried about alienating Clinton supporters by preempting the nomination process.

    But if Obama wins big in North Carolina, and wins even narrowly in Indiana — the superdelegates will have the pretext they need to unplug Clinton’s Rovian campaign (i.e., by declaring for Obama).

    It’s impossible not to admire the sheer, malevolent will to power she displays.

    I never admire that trait. Ever, in anybody.


  5. aaron
    Apr 23, 2008 @ 12:56:53

    Thanks for the link to the official tabulations — I do think that number will get to about 9% once those last precincts are included — as I said before, they’re in Obama precincts, and Philly went 65-35 Obama, with heavy turnout.

    I understand that you’re not talking about conscious racism, but at the same time, you’re saying that when undecided voters went into the voting booth, the reason they voted for Clinton 60-40 is due to racism rather than some other factor, such as the fact that voters were inundated with advertising and Bittergate and bowling in the last week, or that there was a debate one week before the election. Please note that I’m not trying to say that racism could not have been an issue — the point I’m trying to make is that one shouldn’t argue that racism was THE factor, when there are many other possible factors that also could have played (and likely did play) a role. I admit my reaction here is probably stronger than it needs to be, but one of the things I intensely dislike about post-elections analysis is when it oversimplifies to the point where an outcome was determined by a single factor (or demographic) X, disregarding the numerous other factors and demographics.

    BTW, do you care to broaden the issue you’ve opened up? White voters already supported her 60-40 and that only 13% of the state is black. Are you saying that the 60-40 split among whites was already affected by racism, unconscious or otherwise? And what’s the difference between racism and identity politics? Surely when you’re arguing that whites gravitated toward the white candidate that it’s worth noting that blacks supported Obama at a 90+% clip. Do you think that it’s racism (=bad) when it cuts toward a white candidate but that it’s identity politics (=ok) when it cuts toward a black candidate?


  6. Stephen
    Apr 23, 2008 @ 14:49:14

    I think identity politics are always a little suspect. I don’t think it’s good for democracy when people vote for the candidate who is part of their tribe, regardless of his or her positions on urgent policy issues.

    But insofar as voters are motivated by positive impulses (e.g. pride in what women can accomplish), that’s relatively defensible. Insofar as voters are motivated by negative impulses (e.g. a conviction that the U.S. government created AIDS in a laboratory to exterminate black people) then I would prefer to see people educated out of their ignorance.

    My theory about unconscious racism is just that — a theory. Perhaps I could so far as to say, an inference.

    Voters heard about “bittergate” more than a week before the vote. If that was enough to put them off Obama, why were they still undecided when the pollster called?

    In other words, the phenomenon we’re trying to explain is why undecided voters, making their decision in the last 24 hours, broke disproportionately for Clinton — which has happened repeatedly. Do Clinton’s campaign tactics only take effect when the undecided voter is standing in the voting booth? Why would that be so?

    By way of comparison, take a look at Gallup’s national poll, which showed a very different trend. Five or six days before the vote, Obama’s numbers dropped sharply — Clinton was briefly in the lead. But after about three days, Obama rebounded above 50% again. That is, before the date of the Pennsylvania primary.

    So just when Obama had weathered the storm nationally, undecided voters in Pennsylvania broke sharply for Clinton. That’s the phenomenon which requires an explanation.

    Maybe there’s some other consideration that hasn’t been identified in the media or the blogosphere. I guess I’m proposing a candidate for that unidentified consideration: unconscious racism.

    I propose it because I’ve read about psychological tests that show unconscious biases in people who, consciously, are quite progressive. And I suggest that undecided voters are particularly vulnerable here.

    If you’re a decided voter, you presumably have some grounds for your decision. If you’re undecided, you’re either equally excited about or equally indifferent to both candidates. Assuming you already are in possession of the basic facts, what’s going to finally tilt your decision? Maybe it comes down to an unconscious, gut level response to one of the candidates.

    And since undecided voters seem to break disproportionately to Clinton, I’m inferring that unconscious racism is the missing variable.

    Does that sound like I’ve disregarded relevant data?


  7. Random
    Apr 23, 2008 @ 14:51:49

    “when the “error” consistently turns out to underestimate Clinton’s results, that causes one to wonder.”

    You’re almost certainly seeing the Bradley Effect in action here. Note it doesn’t require people to be racist in the voting booth, merely overly concerned about not appearing racist when stopped in the street and publicly asked to express a preference, thereby giving higher approval ratings to the minority candidate than would otherwise be the case.

    In any case, I should point out that the only direct case of evidence of racism you cited was of Obama supporters directed towards white voters.

    “That’s a bit of a cheap shot, I think. You should read “Dreams From My Father”. Obama is clearly fascinated by people, and he genuinely respects ordinary folk.”

    Perhaps, but I tend to place more value on what somebody says when he thinks he’s speaking privately than on what he says when speaking publicly when it comes to assessing what his real opinions are. In any case, it looks very likely that Pennsylvanian voters did indeed think he thought this way, the swing back to Clinton in the aftermath seems to dramatic to argue it had no effect.

    “In any event, even a narrow Clinton victory in Indiana won’t help her cause. She’s not going to catch Obama in the popular vote, even if Florida is counted.”

    I think the Clintons have already written off NC and will be happy with a tight result in IN. Looking ahead, their strategy almost certainly relies on big wins in West Virginia and Kentucky (lots of poor rural whites, not so many blacks or college educated white liberals) and Puerto Rico (Hispanics) and keeping losses manageable everywhere else so as to scrape out a win on the popular vote when Florida is counted in (and it doesn’t matter how loudly you or other Obama supporters cry foul over that, Clinton won’t let it go and the DNC at some point will have to make some sort of accommodation if only so as not to alienate a key state in the autumn). I’m not saying it’s likely – I’d give odds of about 1 in 5 on it myself – but it’s possible and given what’s at stake it’s worth it to Hillary to keep going.

    “A 9.2% margin of victory for Clinton reflects the same demographic pattern we’ve seen elsewhere.”

    Which is rather the point. Six weeks of relentless campaigning, millions of dollars spent, countless hours of TV time burnt up, and *nothing has changed*. The voting blocks are pretty much set in stone by now, it’s difficult to see them shifting much without something big happening. Which gives Clinton another, shockingly cynical, argument to make to the supers. I can just see her saying –

    “Look at Obama’s supporters and look at mine – the African Americans are not going to vote for a Republican no matter who the nominee is, and the college educated liberals who are voting for the black guy to show how politically correct they are are not going to vote for a Republican either. As for the kids? Heck – not even Obama Girl bothered to vote when it came down to the crunch [this is true – she missed her primary because she travelled out of state to go to a party]. Come November they’ll be too busy smoking dope and trying to get laid to even remember when the election is. My supporters on the other hand – the bitter, gun owning godbotherers will be off to McCain like a shot if you nominate Obama. Working class white guys? Off to McCain. Veterans? McCain’s one of them. Old white women? They’ll vote their generation. Only I can keep the coalition together.”

    Seriously, tell me if you think Hillary wouldn’t have the nerve to try that one. And tell me if you think nobody will be persuaded by it. She’s ruthless enough, and it’s plausible enough to frighten some people.

    “I never admire that trait. Ever, in anybody.”

    The sentiment was tongue in cheek, of course. I do admire qualities like hard work and a refusal to give up, but I would normally expect to see them applied somewhat more ethically.


  8. Stephen
    Apr 23, 2008 @ 15:21:21

    • Aaron:
    The relevant Gallup poll is here. Note that Obama bottomed out, nationally, on April 18. He had fully rebounded by April 20 — two days before Pennsylvania voted.

    • Random:
    I don’t think Obama supporters were burning Obama campaign signs. I think white racists (who presumably don’t support Obama) were hurling insults at white people. Who were targeted because they are white volunteers for Obama.

    But of course this is a different kettle of fish than the unconscious racism I’m proposing in my discussion with Aaron.

    *nothing has changed*
    But I would call your attention to the same poll I pointed Aaron to, above.

    Nationally, Obama only broke 50% support fairly recently. In fact, I think he touched on 50% just before the Rev. Wright controversy, then he trailed off for a period of time. Then he broke 50% again on April 6, trailed off a bit due to “bittergate”, and rebounded only a few days ago.

    So it isn’t true that *nothing has changed*. Obama is slowly winning people over. It seems that his support has grown in states which have already voted. That’s the only way to explain how he broke the 50% barrier, in Gallup’s national poll.

    But in Pennsylvania, as we have seen elsewhere, there’s a “cold feet” phenomenon in play on voting day.

    Maybe the same phenomenon will occur in the general election, which should make you happy. Obama is going to win the nomination, and from your perspective that’s a good result for McCain.


  9. Random
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 04:34:57

    ” think white racists (who presumably don’t support Obama) were hurling insults at white people. Who were targeted because they are white volunteers for Obama.”

    I got the impression from reading your post that it was black Obama supporters taunting white Obama supporters (specifically Irish American ones, hence the reference to burning St Patrick’s day parade signs), but I suppose the article isn’t that clear.

    “Maybe the same phenomenon will occur in the general election, which should make you happy. Obama is going to win the nomination, and from your perspective that’s a good result for McCain.”

    Happy? I’m not sure. I have mixed feelings about this – as you know, I want a McCain victory and the democrat nomination process ending with Obama dragging himself across the finishing line at the convention broken and bleeding with Hillary’s teeth firmly lodged in his throat and the party locked in a bitter civil war is probably the best way of guaranteeing that.

    However, I’ve also made it clear that I want to see a clean election campaign that’s fought on the issues and that I believe McCain vs. Obama is the best way of getting that. It does however require Obama to be firmly in control of his party and able to draft policies that appeal to the country as a whole, not still fighting a civil war and forced to continue tacking left to appeal to the activists. And yes, there there is a risk there in that he would be more likely to win, but whatever happens the Democrats are going to remain in a majority in both Houses of Congress and if president McCain is going to get anything done he will need to work with them, and he won’t be able to do that if they’re constantly fighting each other over who cost them an election they were supposed to win.

    Incidentally, there’s a story breaking that offers some mild encouragement for a clean campaign. Apparently the McCain camp is engaged in a furious row with the North Carolina Republican party over a commercial they’re running in a state race that features extensive clips from Wright’s speeches plus a picture of Obama with his arm around the (white, female) local Democrat candidate. McCain has demanded they withdraw the ad (unfortunately in the American system not even the presidential nominee has the power to simply order them to pull it) and made it very clear this is the sort of thing he despises and wants nothing to do with. He’s got a few months now to whip the party into line and ensure he gets the chance to fight the campaign he wants to fight. If he succeeds, and Obama responds in kind (if Hillary wins the nomination this thing is headed for the sewer no matter what McCain does) then we could still have a proper election.


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