Wednesday, March 5, 2008

There is No Such Thing as Momentum in Democratic Primary Politics

It's "momentum" versus the "math" or so the media would lead viewers to believe. Barack Obama's momentum was snapped after twelve consecutive victories yesterday and Hillary Clinton has the momentum today. Hillary Clinton is "putting her coalition together" (white women over 45, those making under $50,000 a year, and Catholics). Voters are having "buyers remorse" about Barack Obama.

None of these things are true (as Chris Matthews pointed out on MSNBC's coverage of the primary last night). Here's what is true. Hillary Clinton had a very good night last night. She outperformed in Ohio, she won Texas, she picked up some delegates, and she likely froze in place the mass roll-out of Super Delegates for Barack Obama. But her victories last night had nothing to do with buyers remorse or momentum.

We look at exit polls and we say "the coalition is coming back to Hillary Clinton" but that's a complete fallacy. These voters have never left Hillary Clinton. White women over 45 in Ohio are not the same as white women over 45 in Wisconsin or white women over 45 in Virginia or Maryland or Washington state. Just because this demographic voted one way in one state doesn't mean the same demographic group will vote the same way in a different state. Citizens of Ohio and Texas have different concerns than voters in Virginia and Maryland. They aren't fungible, they aren't the same.

As Chris Matthews pointed out last night, you can't have buyer's remorse if you haven't bought anything, and these are all new voters, new states. It's not as if the voters in Virginia and Maryland and Washington state which gave Obama 20, 25-point wins have jumped ship. Voters in different states will vote different ways because they aren't the same.

For the same reason, momentum is simply illusory. The candidates are tied to the DNC nominating calender and what we see as momentum is really just individual states voting the way the those states are going to vote. Whether Ohio was on Super Tuesday or on March 4th, it was likely going to be a good state for Senator Clinton. Whether Louisiana was on Super Tuesday or February 9th, it was going to be a good state for Senator Obama. Yes, Barack won 11 contests in a row, but that was because he had a good run of states which favored him either because of demographics (high African American populations and/or large pockets of highly educated, wealthy voters) the nature of the process (caucuses), or the individual circumstances of certain states (states like Washington and Virginia have not been hurt economically like Ohio). It had nothing to do with momentum. So, now, similarly, Senator Clinton has no real momentum.

And the easiest proof of that is the next two contests. On Saturday, there is a caucus in Wyoming. On Tuesday, there is a primary in Mississippi. Barack Obama should win both by double digits, and potentially by 20+ points. So does that give him the momentum back? Of course not. That's because the results in Wyoming and Mississippi are not at all dependent on how Ohio or Texas or Rhode Island voted.

Both Senator Clinton and Senator Obama have legitimate claims to certain "talking points." She's won the big states like California, New York, Massachusetts, and Ohio (though I do get incredibly frustrated every time she mentions Michigan and Florida in that list). But unlike Clinton's claims to the contrary, Obama has won big states too, like Illinois, Missouri, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. He's won Colorado and Washington state, she's won Texas. The bottom line is, he's won more states, more delegates, and more votes. And her taking away the nomination at the convention is my biggest fear, not because I think she'd be a bad President, but because doing so would mean tearing the party apart, and would mean that African Americans and young voters, whom Obama has energized like never before, would abandon the party, and would guarantee defeat in the fall.

So we don't know what will happen next. Obama will likely gain back any delegates he lost yesterday in Mississippi and Wyoming. And Pennsylvania will have a six-week run up to the primary which will make Iowa look like child's play. And he still leads in delegates. And Michigan and Florida will likely have to re-vote at some point.

What we do know though is that all this talk about "momentum" and "buyers remorse" is nonsense. And don't let the media or the campaigns try to tell you any differently.

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Anonymous said...

I wish someone in the mainstream media would acknowledge the statistic than 8% of Hillary's voters in Texas and Ohio (according to exit polls) were republicans.

Is it only a coincidence that this is significantly higher than it had ever been in her campaign, or did Limbaugh's endorsement win her Texas and improve her margin to double digits in Ohio?

Hopefully the superdelegates are aware of this more than the media seems to be.


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