Sunday, February 24, 2008

Obama's Performance in the Wisconsin Open Primary: A Feature and Not a Bug

by Tom Bozzo

Madison-based ChicagoBoy Dan's conclusion that Obama should face a tougher challenge in the general election than he has in the swing-state primaries is just about in the "well, duh" category — at least unless (or until) the U.S.S. McCain gets capsized by the captain's blatant prevaricating and/or his crankiness makes the Kewl Kids of the press fall out of creepy-old-man love. However, one thing that ain't quite so, according to the available data, is that there was an unusual surge in crossover voting in this year's Wisconsin primary.

Using advanced research tools, I discovered that, according to CNN's exit polling, voters on the Democratic side of the 2008 primary ballot were 62% Democrats, 28% independents, and 9% Republicans. In 2004, the CNN exit poll estimated that the Democratic primary electorate was 62% Democrats, 29% independents, and 9% Republicans. (CNN's poll suggests 23% of the Republican primary voters were independents and 5% were Democrats; they didn't poll the uncontested 2004 primary.) So, with turnout up around 33% over 2004, there were proportional surges in all three groups. And per CNN, Obama did in fact carry the Democrats — and the exit poll result should be considered confirmed by Obama's wide margins in Very Liberal Madison and Pretty Liberal Dane County. Had the Democratic surge been pro-Hillary, she'd have won the state.

Given the fraction of Republican identifiers, it should be clear enough that they were far from decisive thanks to the 17 percentage-point margin. The independents, I'd assume in the absence of evidence to the contrary, presumably would vote their actual preferences. Those may well be for the contest they'd like, rather than necessarily the candidate they'll vote for in November, but it can't hurt Obama to have drawn five times McCain's independent vote. Likewise, to the extent the Republican and independent votes were "strategic," it's far from clear how it benefits McCain for that portion of the electorate to have given him what every poll says will be the tougher opponent.

Last, the thing that's especially canny about Obama's campaign is that the Kumbaya post-partisan rhetoric is wrapped around a solidly solid center-left platform — which, in a "What's the Matter With 'What's the Matter With What's the Matter With Kansas'" way that I find agreeable — happens to be popular and thus doesn't require a move to the center. And let's not forget, Cass Sunstein may have less than an economic mind when it comes to polarization, but he's a pro-gay-marriage, anti-corporate-rights liberal.

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