Voting Behavior and The Losing Candidate

Megan McArdle and Arnold Kling consider voting behavior by Democrats should their candidate lose the nomination. Megan writes:

Arnold thinks that as soon as the dust has settled, the party will unite behind the nominee.

I would guess that this will be less true of a Hillary Clinton nomination than of a Barack Obama nomination. The identity politics just doesn’t resonate the same way for her base. For reasons that I can’t quite articulate, I think that even the sixty year old women who strongly personally identify with her will be less angry and disappointed with a Clinton loss than blacks will at an Obama loss. If Kennedy had had the nomination snatched from him at the last minute because the party elders thought a Catholic couldn’t win–or worse, because some Democratic voters were uncomfortable with a Catholic president–you’d have had a great deal of trouble motivating Irish-American turnout come November.

There are also the swingy Democrats who liked McCain in earlier Republican primaries. Those people are in the Obama camp right now. The war has changed the picture somewhat, of course, but Hillary will have a much harder time keeping Obama’s supporters from defecting to the other side than he will hers. Obama also appeals to some of McCain’s support among independents.

That said, I’m overall unconvinced by the large numbers of people who say that they’ll vote for McCain if their candidate doesn’t win. Most of them will fall back in line, and of the ones who don’t, most of those will stay home. What problem there is comes down to turnout. If Barack Obama is the nominee, I expect that blacks will react the way the Irish-Americans, and to a lesser extent the Catholic community, did about Kennedy–i.e. if they had to stand in line on a bed of hot coals to vote for him, they’d happily do it. You’d barely need an urban turnout machine. Hillary motivates some women this way, I think, but not as many, and too dispersed to do the party much good.

Meanwhile, if Clinton is the nominee, the Republican turnout problem is largely taken care of–even people who are sick of Bush and don’t much care for McCain will hustle to vote against her. No obstacle will be to great for those people to overcome; the polling place could be destroyed by a flash flood, and they’d just swim to the next town.

I think Megan is correct about black voters. It would be one thing if they had a candidate who ran a valiant campaign and came in second. Prior to this year it might even have been seen as a good sign if a black candidate could have come in second. However far too much has occurred this year for Clinton to possibly win the nomination anymore without it being perceived (most likely correctly) as having stolen the nomination.

There’s just something about a stolen election which quite naturally does not sit well. Back in 2000, when George Bush was running as a compassionate conservative, I still favored Al Gore but I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about him and didn’t care all that much about who won. I could have lived with a Bush victory (not knowing what that would really bring). I cared far more about the election after voting day when I saw the Republicans go to court to block a recount, and when I realized how unfair the situation was in Florida.

I can’t imagine blacks and other Obama supporters tolerating a stolen nomination and turning out to back Clinton. I also agree with Megan that most will sit at home as opposed to voting for McCain, although some independents will vote for McCain over Clinton.

The Democrats will probably have the greatest problem with blacks sitting out the election if Clinton is the nominee, but they will also lose the votes of others. The most obvious voters who would be lost would be the young who have not voted before and independents who are only voting in Democratic primaries because of Obama.

To a lesser extent a loss by Obama will also exacerbate another division in the party. The more educated, affluent, socially liberal Democrats (who I discussed in more detail a few days ago) will also have some reluctance to vote for Clinton. The degree to which this harms Clinton, should she win the nomination, would depend upon how strongly they identify as Democrats and to what degree they see the nomination as having been stolen. Those who regularly vote straight Democratic are likely to do so regardless of who wins the nomination, unless they see the nomination as having been stolen. However others, such as myself, who only vote Democratic when satisfied with their candidate, are more likely to stay at home.

In the heat of a primary battle, many people will say that they will not vote for the other candidate if they should get the nomination. I think this is far more convincing when coming from someone such as myself, who also refused to vote for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, than by someone who regularly votes Democratic. While some Clinton supporters might stay home if Obama wins the nomination, I also think that the Democratic Party regulars who tend to back her will stick with the party even if she loses.

Most importantly, I think that many of the superdelegates realize this. They know that Obama will bring in far many new voters than Hillary Clinton can, while either candidate will turn out their base. They also know that they need more than the usual Democratic base to ensure a victory. Democrats from red states and battle ground states particularly realize that having Obama as the nominee will greatly help Democrats running down ticket, while Clinton would harm them. It will take a major change in the dynamics of the race for the superdelegates to back Clinton over Obama.

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  1. 1
    Angellight says:

    Like school thugs on the playground or a neighborhood Street Gang, the Clintons think that by bullying and hurling insults, they will taunt Barack into another trap — debate!   Why should Barack engage in a barroom-brawl like debate to make himself look less Presidential?   Besides Douglass and Lincoln were gentlemen with ethics and morals — something sorely lacking in the Clintons!
    The questions that would be asked of Barack as President are not the same kind of personal attacks he would get at another debate, he is wise to decline!  And, by continuing to say NO, he is showing that he is not going to be Bullied into debating for another show based on sensationalism rather than real issues and problems facing the American people today, and we really do have a myriad of problems to solve, and which must be solved!  And, because Barack was Wise enough and is wise enough to point out how unfair and uneven the questions were directed at him at the last debate, they label him a “whiner” instead of someone who, and rightly so, is defending himself from a “hit job”. But, if he does this, this might expose the ones who are directing the barbs and hits and their Purpose, so they distort the truth (he’s whining) with a multitude of voices, all saying the same thing to give it power (brainwashing)!  Most of the corporate media: cable news, ABC, NBC :are owned and Republican controled. They tell us what they want us to Hear, not what we need to Know to truly inform us as a society, which would “expose{ their deeds, give us power and aid in their demise! The Clintons and the Republican Spin Machine are all aligned against Barack! Both are fabricators, distorters, engage in fear and smear… there is no truth from either of the Giants only domination for their own selfish gain and not for the good of “all … they have even colloborated together for greater strength, then one will overthrow the other if they get what they want! They, the Republicans, know the Clintons have ailenated African-Americans so they are now actively courting their support while trying to elevate Hillary and deflate Barack. They MSM are not asking Hillary any of the pertinent questions, not on Iran, not on Mark Penn, although he is still on conference calls to this day, not on a pending lawsuit in California or anything elese that might damage her candidacy in the eyes of the people. They don’t ask her why, if Rev. Wright would have not been her pastor, why during Bill’s Impeachment trial, they turned to Rev. Wright for prayer and strength? Because the Republicans have an “arsenal” of ammunition they Plan and have Planned for years to use against the Clintons if Hillary somehow becomes the Democratic nominee! Then they belittle Barack’s achievement in Pennsylvania — to close the enormous gap between him and Clintons was a monumental success and not given any credit by the Republican talking-points media. Instead they ask, “do we really know who Barack is?” — They slyly ask, “why can’t he close the deal?” This after showing him bowling over and over again and stating how he cannot relate to blue-collar workers with such a low bowling score or showing skits from Saturday Night Light which casts him a poor light, along with continuing whipping of Rev. Wrght and his comments on bitter. They do not report the news anymore, they do not inform us of the true conditions in Iraq or other pertinent news but rather pass on Gossip, fit for the Enquirer Magazine or Entertainment Tonight, so far we have fallen!
    And to Maureen Dowd — It is always “Darkest before the Dawn!”


  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    One objection I have to Clinton’s challenge is the suggestion that Obama won’t be faced by the type of slime questions asked in the ABC debate because there will not be a moderator. The problem with this logic is that Clinton has been bringing up the same type of slime for months. Why should Obama think that a debate questions raised by Clinton would be any better than debate questions raised by the media?

    A Lincoln/Douglas style debate would be a good idea–for the general election between Obama and McCain.

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