Thursday, June 5, 2008

Change is Gonna Come: How Did Obama's/Clinton's Fortunes Fare During Primary Season?

After the post-Super Tuesday run Obama made through February, the Illinois senator hit the wall in some respects. March and April ushered in a string a defeats that effectively prevented him from eliminating Hillary Clinton and claiming the Democratic nomination sooner. And though the two Democrats split victories coming down the stretch in May and early June, Obama failed to put Clinton away until the final night of the contest. This isn't meant as a means of tearing Obama down. He did just win the nomination after all. However, Obama's struggles in finishing off the formidable Clinton in the primaries translated to the electoral college as well. As FHQ showed last month in attempting to demonstrate the changes in state poll numbers in the wake of the two Wright dramas and "bitter-gate," Obama's numbers had only slid significantly in a handful of states. [In this case, a fraction of a point could prove significant, shifting several of the swing states from the Democratic column to the Republican column and vice versa.] Still, to that point Clinton had only really just pulled ahead of Obama in the electoral college relative to McCain.
In the weeks since it has been Clinton who has been more consistently ahead of McCain and Obama, who has lagged slightly behind the Arizona senator. Both are directly opposite to the positions both Democrats were in during Obama's February streak. At the end of primary season then, it is Clinton with all the momentum. Well, sort of. Of course, she isn't the nominee, though. While Obama averaged a 1.4 point loss in each state's average of head-to-head polls against McCain throughout primary season, Clinton gained only 0.6 points on average. Much of the New York senator's gains were due to the vitally important shifts of Florida, Pennsylvania and Washington from McCain's column to hers. In the map below you can see those positive shifts toward Clinton (in shades of orange--the darker the color, the greater the change). On the whole, the states that were already in Clinton's favor shifted in her direction (a slight downward shift in California being the exception) while those that were already solidly for McCain (in shades of purple) moved toward him. Clinton gained in the three big battlegrounds of the last couple of presidential elections (Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania), but lost ground in states like Texas. She gained on McCain in 24 states while the Arizona senator made up ground in 19 others. [The seven states in white are the states where no additional polls were conducted and exhibit no change as a result.]
The Obama map is slightly different. The progression of his state level, head-to-head polling against McCain had a decidedly negative tint (in shades of green). The Illinois senator was at his height early on and in coming back down to earth, lost ground in the electoral college pairing with McCain. So, while I offered the Clinton line earlier, that she might be the better general election candidate (and only barely so in the maps that appear on this site) part of the changes here can only be viewed through the candidates' relative position to McCain at the outset. Obama was at his peak and Clinton was not. That being said, Obama is the nominee and it is instructive to look at the states where he has gained in the polls against McCain. While he lost ground to McCain in 24 states, the 20 states (in shades of yellow) he gained in could be part of the grouping of states the Obama campaign targets for the fall. He has shored up support in states like Minnesota, Oregon and Washington. Pennsylvania, despite the primary loss to Clinton, has since shifted to Obama's side of the ledger. Ohio and Indiana are also trending toward the Illinois senator. Both states are toss ups leaning toward McCain 0n the latest map. So, while Michigan, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Virginia have switched to McCain, pulling ahead in the Buckeye and Hoosier states would offset those losses as would the gains in Florida and North Carolina. McCain, meanwhile, can tout gains in other battlegrounds like Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico (all state bordering his home state of Arizona).
What then, can we take home from these maps? Clinton has been trending upward in the electoral college relative to Obama, but she isn't going to be the Democratic nominee. Despite coming back from the dead of February, the Clinton campaign is headed for suspension this weekend and Obama is pressing forward as the presumptive Democratic nominee. In doing so, the Illinois senator has a swath of swing states in which he is trending in the right direction, but others where McCain is in a good position to overtake him. At the outset of the general election campaign, this appears to be a close race and even including the lost ground since February, Obama is still in good shape. Then again, McCain is in good standing as well, considering all the typical indicators of presidential election success are pointing away from him.

Recent Posts:
The Electoral College Maps (6/3/08)

The Big Montana

The Long and Winding Road


Robert said...

David Broder had an excellent comment on this very topic yesterday

A case could be made that Obama did not really contest any of the late primaries except North Carolina and Oregon, both of which he won. In doing that he allowed Clinton to bask in the spotlight, took heat off himself and focused on winning the superdelegate "primary", which he also won handily. That way he wins, avoids nasty confrontations with the Clintons, and comes across as an attractive underdog. The down-side of this strategy (if that is what it was) is it gave false hope to Clinton and her fans who are now taking it very hard.

I caught just a part of Dick Morris on O'Reilly the other night. He posed the election as one pitting Obama as a candidate who can't win against McCain who can't lose with Democrats as the party who couldn't lose and Republicans as the party who couldn't win. O'Reilly failed to get his mind around the concept, but Morris went on to say that either McCain or the Democrats would break, and the election would not be that close.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link Rob. I've gotten out of the habit of reading Broder.

Here's that link.

There is the potential, as Morris said, for there to be a big win for either McCain or Obama. And that's exactly why I said that the race "appears" close now. There's a long way to go.