Electability And The People Each Candidate Attracts

Prior to the 2006 election the Democrats had been a minority part for quite a while. They often managed to come close in presidential elections and when out of power in Congress often only needed a handful of seats, but the Republicans edged them out most years. To become the majority party did not require a massive realignment. All that was really necessary was for Democrats to pick up one new group of voters. In 2008 electability may also come down to which candidate can best add new voters to the traditional core Democratic voters.

There is more than one path to such electoral success as there is more than one group which might potentially be added. When people speak of electability they also have biases as to which direction they want the party to go. I’ve written many posts here and in previous blogs regarding the Democrats adopting a more socially liberal, anti-war, and economically pragmatic viewpoint to pick up affluent professionals who were dissatisfied with the Republicans. Of course this is biased by the fact that I’m a socially liberal, anti-war, economically pragmatic, affluent professional and would naturally prefer to see either political party reflect my views.

There’s clearly a much better chance that the Democrats as opposed to the Republicans would follow such a path, and being seen this way was one of the factors contributing to the Democratic victory in 2006. Many independents and moderate Republicans (such as the Starbucks Republicans) turned to the Democrats in response to the GOP’s move to the right on social issues and their support for the war.

This is also playing out in this year’s nomination battle, as it has in the past. The Clintons, representing the socially-conservative economically populist wing of the party won in 1992. Paul Tsongas represented the socially liberal economically pragmatic wing and was no match politically for the Clintons. This year Hillary Clinton continues to represent the socially conservative populist wing, but this year the dynamic is quite unusual. The socially liberal, economically pragmatic wing is represented by Barack Obama. Obama, although starting out as the insurgent candidate, had advantages which insurgent candidates generally do not. Most significantly, he brings the support of black voters and he has the charisma to bring in far more independent voters than most Democratic candidates are capable of. In normal years the establishment candidate quickly knocks off the insurgent, but Obama will probably accomplish what most insurgent candidates cannot do by uniting the black voters with the affluent educated socially liberal voters. The internet further changes the dynamic, allowing Obama to raise funds to compete in a manner which would not have been possible in the past.

Obama will probably win the Democratic nomination with this coalition. Clinton hopes that she can still win by getting the superdelegates to consider electability, but only on her terms. The Clinton supporters have the electability argument all wrong when they claim that their big state victories makes Hillary more electable. The “big state” argument is fallacious as general election campaigns are nothing like primary campaigns. Winning a primary does not mean the candidate has a better chance at winning the general election. Obama does better than Clinton in many head to head polls against McCain in the big states which Clinton won. Steve Benen wrote more on the problems with the “big state” argument.

The problem with all the arguments with regards to Clinton’s electability is that Clinton does well with core Democratic voters but has difficulty bringing in additional voters. Clinton can win in the big Democratic states but so can Obama. The difference is that Obama can win bring in new voters and win elsewhere. Norm Scheiber breaks down the different groups which each candidate might add to the Democratic base:

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking, as the Clinton campaign argues, that Hillary is a better general election candidate because the groups she’s winning in the primary more closely resemble the groups Democrats need in November. But, even if you accept that premise for the sake of argument*, the relevant question isn’t: Which demographic groups is each candidate winning the primary? The relevant question is: Which candidate is most likely to win the general-election version of their primary coalition (assuming they more or less hang on to the Democratic supporters of their primary opponent)?

In concrete terms, Hillary’s primary coalition consists of working-class people, seniors, and women. Obama’s consists of African-Americans, younger voters, and affluent/educated voters. Set aside African-Americans, who aren’t really a swing group. The question then becomes: 1.) How likely is Hillary to win non-Democratic working-class people, non-Democratic seniors, and non-Democratic women? 2.) How likely is Obama to win non-Democratic young people and non-Democratic affluent/ educated people? With the possible exception of women, I’d say the likelihood of 2.) is greater than the likelihood of 1.).

You can obviously disagree with me. But you should understand that, if you think Hillary is more electable, you’re basically saying that likelihood 1.) is greater than 2.). (Unless, of course, you think Obama will suffer big defections among working-class Democrats, Democratic women, and Democratic seniors if he’s the nominee. But that’s a different argument, and I’m skeptical of it for the reasons Matt lays out.)

*There are really two broad swing groups: one working-class, the other affluent. In principle, you could win the general by winning one or the other, or some combination of the two.

Clinton has the Democratic base but unless she can add to this we risk returning to the situation in which the Democrats were a minority party. Obama can expand the base by bringing in affluent, educated, socially liberal voters who can no longer support the Republicans due to their views on social issues and the war. Hillary Clinton will have difficulty bringing in such voters. With her poor record on civil liberties issues, social issues, and her support for the war, Clinton gives socially liberal affluent voters little reason to back her.

To get educated, affluent liberals to vote against our economic interests it is necessary to be seen as offering something significant in return on issues we care about, but Clinton is far too often on the wrong side. It is possible that with current distaste for the GOP that Clinton could still win, but there’s also a strong risk that the election will be seen, and portrayed by the media, as one between a dishonest liberal and an honest centrist. That’s a tough election to win.

The Hill Reports on Congressional Views of Healthcare Reform

This report from The Hill comes as no surprise considering that I agree with Bruce Bartlett’s predictions with regards to taxes as quoted here. Bartlett predicted that we will not see major tax increases. One consequence is that we are also unlikely to see a universal health plan pass Congress. The Hill reports:

Congressional Democrats are backing away from healthcare reform promises made by their two presidential candidates, saying that even if their party controls the White House and Congress, sweeping change will be difficult.

It is still seven months before Election Day, but already senior Democrats are maneuvering to lower public expectations on the key policy issue.

In the back of their minds is the damage done to President Bush’s second term by his failed attempts to change the nation’s Social Security policy.

For some senators, the promises made by Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) outside of Washington may not match the political reality on Capitol Hill.

“We all know there is not enough money to do all this stuff,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), a Finance Committee member and an Obama supporter, referring to the presidential candidates’ healthcare plans. “What they are doing is … laying out their ambitions.”

Understandably many on the left are disappointed by this prediction. This will please many of the independents, conservatives, and libertarians who support Obama for his positions on foreign policy, civil liberties, and social issues but are wary of big government programs. My suspicion all along has been that at most we will wind up with a simpler but more affordable plan such as what John Kerry proposed during the 2004 campaign. Successful attempts at changing health care in the past have been incremental and the dynamics which caused this are not likely to change overnight.

A mandatory plan such as proposed by Hillary Clinton is a non-starter, with most Congressional Democrats probably realizing that to propose this would cause them to suffer the same fate as the Congressional Democrats faced the last time Clinton tried to push through an over-reaching health care plan.

Experts Testify On Failure of Abstinence-Based Education

Reuters notes how the Bush administration continues to back abstinence based education despite evidence it does not work:

Programs teaching U.S. schoolchildren to abstain from sex have not cut teen pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases or delayed the age at which sex begins, health groups told Congress on Wednesday.

The Bush administration, however, voiced continuing support for such programs during a hearing before a House of Representatives panel even as many Democrats called for cutting off federal money for so-called abstinence-only instruction.

“Vast sums of federal monies continue to be directed toward these programs. And, in fact, there is evidence to suggest that some of these programs are even harmful and have negative consequences by not providing adequate information for those teens who do become sexually active,” Dr. Margaret Blythe of the American Academy of Pediatrics told the committee.

These programs, backed by many social conservatives who oppose the teaching of contraception methods to teenagers in schools, have received about $1.3 billion in federal funds since the late 1990s. Currently, 17 of the 50 U.S. states refuse to accept federal funds for such programs.

Experts from the American Public Health Association and U.S. Institute of Medicine testified that scientific studies have not found that abstinence-only teaching works to cut pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases or the age when sexual activity begins.

The American Psychological Association and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also issued statements to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform criticizing the abstinence-only programs.

Comprehensive sex education programs should emphasize abstinence as the best way for a teenager to avoid pregnancy or a sexually transmitted disease (STD), Blythe said.

“Those adolescents who choose to abstain from sexual intercourse should obviously be encouraged and supported in their decisions by their families, peers and communities. But abstinence should not be the only strategy that is discussed,” Blythe said.

I’ve previously noted reports on abstinence-based education in posts including here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Clinton Campaign Chair Stars in Fox Promo


Earlier I noted how Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe had praised Fox. Fox has now turned this into a network promo (video above).

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The Pennsylvania Numbers

While still waiting for the final numbers out of Pennsylvania, it looks like Clinton’s margin of victory will be pretty close to 9.2%. Only by Clinton-math does this round up to 10%. Despite all her campaign’s spin, her victory does not look very impressive as she failed to win by double digits. Also to be determined is the number of delegates Clinton will win compared to Obama. At present it looks like her pick up will be quite trivial, falling below the margin Obama has won over Clinton in several states.

There was also a Republican primary despite the fact that John McCain has clinched the nomination. For whatever it is worth, McCain won 72.7% of the vote, with Ron Paul winning 15.9% and Huckabee winning 11.4%.

North Carolina and Indiana are next. Obama has a shot at winning in both but The New York Times warns that the people of Indiana do not want change. Living in a neighboring state, I know people from Indiana who would agree with that assessment. Obama has already enjoyed a strong lead in North Carolina, but it doesn’t hurt to have picked up the support of about fifty Edwards backers.