The Big State Argument

It is hard to decide whether I do not want Hillary Clinton to be president more because she is wrong on so many issues (her support of the Iraq and drug wars plus her conservative positions on civil liberty and social issues) or because the amount of dishonest and irrational arguments from her camp is getting so tedious to listen to. Keith Olbermann already chastised her for a number of such arguments emanating from her campaign. Looking around the blogosphere, it looks like many have heard her bogus electability arguments far too many times.

One of Clinton’s many irrational arguments comes down to claiming that because she has won many big states she is more electable in the general election. Putting aside the fact that she ignores states where Obama has won, this ignores the fact that the big states where she has won, such as New York and California, are just as likely to go Democratic with Obama heading the ticket. There is very poor correlation between place in primaries and winning the general election.

What is far more important than which specific states each wins is who each candidate can appeal to. In general Clinton’s support is limited to Democrats. Clinton receives the support of Republicans in primaries on Rush Limbaugh’s endorsement only because they want to cross over and vote for the Democratic candidate who will be easier to beat. In contrast, Obama has long had the support of many independents and some Republicans. As a result, he is likely to win the blue states which Clinton has won as well as being far more competitive in the battle ground states and even in some red states.

Steve Benen looked at the competing claims from each campaign with regards to electability and concluded:

In some ways, this leads to an interesting dynamic — the Clinton campaign is boasting of its ability to win contests in big “blue” states, while the Obama campaign can tout its success in winning in big “purple” states.

Does this “debunk” Clinton’s big-state argument? Sort of. I’ve never found the argument entirely compelling, but I consider states like Virginia and Missouri pretty big, and if Obama has a better chance of winning these states in November than Clinton, it’s an important angle to consider.

The next question, at least for me, is whether Clinton’s big-state victories are limited exclusively to her. In other words, she won major prizes like California and New York — but does that mean Obama wouldn’t win California and New York? That would matter a great deal, but I haven’t seen any evidence to that effect.

Kos looks at the states in various different ways, comparing them with current polls. Polls taken at this time are certainly not predictive of the general election result, but it doesn’t help Clinton’s arguments that such an analysis goes against her. After analyzing the data a few different ways Kos concludes, “No matter how you parse it, the data is clear that Obama is the more competitive November candidate for the Democratic Party.” There are certainly ways to argue with some of Kos’s assumptions, but they are at least more plausible than the arguments coming from the Clinton campaign.

Update: Pennsylvania Polls Debunk Clinton Electability Argument

Be Sociable, Share!


  1. 1
    yucca says:


    neither you nor the links you offered mention the ‘real’ prizes: NJ, Penn, Ohio, Florida.

    now there are two kinds of evidence for who will do better in any given state: the primary performance in the state; and the general election polls for that state. HRC has done better in the primaries in three of those four states, and she is likely to do better also in the fourth, Penn.

    And HRC does better in the polls for the general election in all of those four states

    so both sources of evidence suggest that HRC is the better candidate than Obama in the four states that are likely to be the most important in november

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:


    You are still using the fallacious argument that there is a correlation between how one places in a party primary and chances of winning the state. Being able to win in a party primary only measures support within the party, with most primary voters being willing to vote for either candidate in the general election. These states are considered in the conclusions of the posts I linked to.

    Party primaries do not correlate with chances of winning in the general election as the population of voters is quite different. Obama’s strength with independents and some Republicans still makes him a stronger general election candidate, even in the states where Clinton has won the Democratic primaries.

    Clinton is just too polarizing to be a viable general election candidate. As she essentially supports the same governing philosophy as Bush independents who would otherwise vote for Obama will be more likely to back Obama in the general election or stay home. Clinton already started out with high negatives, and she has only worsened her position in the general election by running such a dirty primary campaign.

  3. 3
    Christopher says:

    In a span of 10 short minutes last night, Keith Olbermann went from hero to public enemy no. 1, as the Hillbots rose up in fury over his brilliant Special Comment segment that took Hillary Clinton to task for not speaking out earlier about the appalling racism of her operative, Geraldine Ferraro.

    In fact, what I’m hearing this morning is, some of Hillary’s lynch mob are talking boycotts and even demanding MSNBC fired Keith for daring to speak the truth about their Queen.

    It’s getting insane, folks. But in 20 years of following politics, never have I seen behavior like what I’m seeing from the Hillbots.

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    Actually I thought Olbermann was pretty mild on Clinton. He was hard on Ferraro’s specific comments, but he went fairly easy on all the things which Clinton has done this campaign.

    With the Clinton supporters I think we are primarily seeing a group of women who now place having a female president over everything else. They don’t care that she is ethically unfit to be president, that she has minimal qualifications other than proximity to her husbands power, and that she has been wrong on so many issues. This won’t explain all of them, but it gives them a fanatic core of supporters which make them a factor. A male with Clinton’s lack of qualifications accompanied by history of such poor judgment and dishonesty would not have such a band of followers.

  5. 5
    yucca says:


    your comments are a bit too general to respond to, but I’ll try.

    Obviously the point isn’t that winning a primary makes you, ipso facto, favourite to win the state. The point is that winning a primary in a state is a prima facie reason for thinking that you will do better in that state than the candidate you beat in that primary.

    on indipendents and republicans: most primaries are open. so if clinton has beaten obama in an open primary, then quite obviously your objection doesn’t work

    finally, the primary result was one of two arguments for clinton electability. the other being the polls in the four states mentioned

  6. 6
    Ron Chusid says:


    ‘The point is that winning a primary in a state is a prima facie reason for thinking that you will do better in that state than the candidate you beat in that primary.”

    This is incorrect. There is no correlation between winning a primary and doing better in a general election. As receives more support from independents, he would be the stronger general election candidate even in states where Clinton won the Democratic primary.

    “on indipendents and republicans: most primaries are open. so if clinton has beaten obama in an open primary, then quite obviously your objection doesn’t work”

    Also incorrect. Clinton has done best among Democratic voters, often in closed primaries. Even if the primary is open there is still a different population who turn out to vote in a Democratic Party than in the general election.

    “finally, the primary result was one of two arguments for clinton electability. the other being the polls in the four states mentioned”

    The analysis of the polls referred to also gives the advantage to Obama with regards to electability in the general election.

    The bottom line is that Clinton would be a very weak general election candidate so the campaign is trying to offset this by putting out a bunch of bogus talking points.

  7. 7
    Spawn says:

    Also Ron,

    Don’t forget that in states like NY, NJ, CA, RI Ohio, Penn, Florida, NH, NV, AR, TN, OK, (Massachusetts local politicos) NM, AZ,…In most of these states she won..she had the support of the Governor, and/Senator, Congressmen and the state and local machines. In the general election presumably the DEM machines would be working for Obama..while he can focus on purple and red states…like VA, IA, MO, CO, etc..where he is polling well and competitive in the polls with McCain,..
    As Kos showed Hillary loses to McCain in a lot of states where Obama beats him.

    You can almost directly attribute her margin of victory to the added resources supplied by Governors…Strickland in Ohio even admitted as such in a Cleveland Plain Dealer article…
    Same goes for Corzine, Spitzer,Rendell,etc..

6 Trackbacks

Leave a comment