Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Primaries? No Guarantees!

Are the two Dem candidates being stupid...or do they just think we are? Each has been predicting a high correlation with and extrapolation from primary and caucus victories.

Clinton says she can win:
  • Highly populous states
  • Concentrations of white women
  • Blue-collar workers
Therefore, she'd have it, she wins the essential groups that any candidate must have to take the general election in November. Plus, she has that fetish of Ohio.

Obama says he can win:
  • Black voters
  • Southern states
  • Young voters
  • Independents
Therefore, he concludes that you must conclude that these groups will continue to be energized and skew the November vote. Plus Dems definitely will want the GOP to lose, so they'll cover polling places like ants on a dropped cookie.

It's the same argument and the same jive.

Truth be told — and we should not expect Clinton, McCain or Obama to be candid — where you win in the primary season is one general indicator, at best. Holding up the traditional clich├ęs like you absolutely must win Ohio does not mean that a primary win in Ohio will translate at all into a November big win.

Variables will include:
  • Independents. Will they bother in November and will more more go nationwide to Bush lite McCain or the Dem? Moreover as Jeff Greenfield hypothesizes at Slate, many self-identifying to exit pollsters are instead registered in one of the major parties and will vote that way.
  • Skewed voting blocs. Dem-favoring primary voters won't stay home and cede the election if their favorite doesn't get the top spot. The Dem nominee doesn't have to beat the other Dem as well as McCain. So all that I'm better here or with this group stuff is hooey.
  • Big states/little states. A candidate who sucks up a state in the primary is beating only the party's candidate there. As we have seen for decades, it's unsafe to infer that the other party's nominee won't own that state when it really counts.
This posturing by both Obama and Clinton appears to be for the benefit of the super-delegates and assumes a convention battle. None candidate, nor any of us, should imagine that because either of them did well in a specific location or with a particular demographic that they must be the nominee.

It's a little more sensible to watch the polls that ask if the election were today, how would you vote in Obama v. McCain and Clinton v. McCain. Those aren't very accurate, but at least they ask the right question.

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