Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Monday, June 02, 2008

Why Clinton Supporters Should Support Obama in November

In the wake of the Rules Committee decision there has been a flurry of threats from some Clinton supporters about a floor fight or abandoning the Democratic party to vote for McCain. I hope this is just a burst of frustration and not a reflection of long term divisions.

At some point, the case will be made for why people who voted for Clinton in primaries and caucuses should transfer their support to Barack Obama. Here are some of my first clumsy attempts at making that case.

If you look at the issues, Obama and Clinton are MUCH closer to each other than are Clinton and McCain. Most of the following comparisons are based largely on information from

Overall Positions: According that website's metrics, both Obama and Clinton are 80% liberal on social issues and 20% conservative on economic issues. In contrast, McCain is 20% liberal on social issues and 75% conservative on economic issues (almost the mirror image of the two Democrats).

Looking at some specific issues that might be presumed to be a particular concern to Clinton voters Obama, again, is much more in line with what they want than is McCain.

On abortion: Both Clinton and Obama are rated with a 100% pro-choice voting records by NARAL. McCain's voting record is rated as 0% by NARAL.

On civil rights for Homosexuals: Both Clinton and Obama are rated with 89% pro-equal rights voting records by HRC. McCain on the other hand, has a voting record rated at 33% pro-equal rights - sadly that's a fairly tolerant voting record by the standards of McCain's party.

On civil rights for racial minorities: Obama has a 100% pro-civil rights voting record according to the NAACP. Clinton has a 96% pro-civil rights voting record. McCain has a 7% pro-civil rights voting record.

On general civil liberties issues: Clinton has a 60% pro-civil rights voting record rating by the ACLU. Obama has an 89% pro-civil rights voting record rating by the ACLU. McCain has a 0% pro-civil rights rating by the ACLU. So, even if you voted for Clinton instead of Obama because you want a more moderate position on civil liberties, Obama's more orthodox approach to the issues the ACLU cares about is still half as distant from Hillary's position as McCain's position is. Of course, if you were indifferent between Clinton and McCain on civil liberties, chances are, you usually vote Republican anyway.

On Free Trade: According to the ultra-orthodox libertarian group The CATO Institute. Obama has voted against trade barriers 36% of the time and against subsidies 0% of the time (0/2). Clinton has voted against trade barriers 31% of the time and against subsidies 13% of the time (4/41). John McCain has voted against trade barriers 88% of the time and against subsides 80% of the time.

There are many other issues (health care, support for families, etc etc) but I couldn't find an easily communicable metric of comparison for the three candidates. However, if you look at the stated policies and individual votes of these three, you'll see the same pattern. Obama and Clinton are very similar and McCain is the odd one out.

Finally, with regard to the War in Iraq. Both Obama and Clinton (currently) favor some form of phased withdrawal to begin sooner rather than later. McCain is famously in favor of staying in Iraq indefinitely. The one area where Clinton and McCain are alike in their opposition to Obama is where Obama favors direct diplomatic contacts with our enemies (like Iran, like Hamas etc) and both Clinton and McCain oppose that.


Dr. Strangelove said...

These are all very good reasons, RbR--and I certainly will vote with pleasure for Obama in November.

But I think these reasons will appeal mostly to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. Those are folks who are very likely to vote for the Democratic nominee no matter what. I am more concerned with the conservative wing of the Democratic Party and with a certain class of Independent voters: folks who were attracted to Hillary's combination of a more liberal domestic policy (notably, health care) with a tougher, more conservative foreign policy stance. These are the voters who may be tempted to choose McCain, for toughness and experience.

I think Obama needs to find a way to seem stronger, tougher on foreign policy matters, to help reassure voters who are still scared by 9/11 and all that. I would like to see him push for strong security at ports and borders, as well as a renewed fight against terrorism where this time--unlike under Bush--we actually go after the terrorists!

Raised By Republicans said...

Well, if conservatives were voting for Hillary I can't imagine why. She's on record as favoring an agressive and uncompromising approach to policy debates with conservatives that she hopes will lead to the best possible deal for her side. In contrast, Obama favors consensus building. We've discussed that on this blog already.

As for conservative preferences. I think Obama's appeal depends on the kind of conservatives you are talking about. If you are talking about low income, less educated conservatives who's world views are dominated by racism and nationalism, then I think you are right. However, I really doubt if those voters would have been all that reliable for Hillary in November either.

On the other hand, if you are talking the more educated self declared conservatives in the suburbs, then Obama has demonstrated as good or greater appeal than Hillary with them depending on the state.

I'll post something else about why I think conservatives should vote for Obama instead of McCain or Barr.

Raised By Republicans said...

By the way, regarding the presumption that Obama's emphasis on diplomacy is automatically a vote loser - check out this Gallup poll on the issue:

The Law Talking Guy said...

Dr.S., you must distinguish between conservative Democrats, working-class white Democrats, and independents. The "conservative Democrat" of the sort in rural WV, KY, and the south is sort of a holdover from the past. They are not Republicans because they are populists, but they are not liberals on social issues. They used to be called boll weevil Democrats. They are rural voters.

Working class white Democrats, of the sort that voted for Clinton in Ohio and PA, are - to use Marxist terminology for a moment if that helps - not peasants, but the proletariat. In more common American parlance, these are voters whose association with the Democratic party is almost entirely due to union affiliation and to some extent social class, not social policy, liberal ideology, or any of the like. Many of these people are swing voters ("Reagan Democrats") because they find conservative social ideals appealing. They also are not necessarily embracing of other parts of the Democratic party - the urban poor, blacks, and middle class social liberals. These voters chose Clinton because in part because she was associated with none of these other groups.

These two sorts of conservative Dems are not at all the same people as "independents." Independents tend to be educated, urban and suburban voters. Their
"independence" tends to be ideological, in that they eschew what they perceive of as the ideologies of the major parties. Whatever their policy preferences, they don't think of themselves as conservatives or liberals. Among independents, a swing group in the election, Obama dramatically outpolls Clinton and even outpolls McCain - indeed, of all Republicans only McCain has a chance with these voters. These voters have been Obama's strongest argument for electability in theprimary season.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Btw, Dr.S., there is an old adage that Democrats and Republicans run left and right (respectively) in the primaries, then to the center for the general election. There is no surprise in this, nor is there a surprise that the Democratic nominee will - after a bruising primary season - need to espouse more centrist positions. I think you will find that Obama's positions actually would need to moderate less than Clinton's in this regard. Health care is one example.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Many people vote on style more than on substance. That is why the contrast between Obama and Hillary seems so stark to a lot of people, even though--as you clearly have shown!--the policy differences between them are almost trivial.

Obama's inspirational, consensus-building style attracts certain classes of independent swing voters. Hillary's tough, uncompromising style attracts other classes of independent swing voters.

Of these independents, different classes dominate in different regions. In the Pacific Northwest, independents flock to Obama. In the Rust Belt, it is a different story. In the primaries, Hillary won white Independent voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania by about 5 points.

I'll stop here and see if we can agree on this much before going onward.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Looks like LTG added two comments while I was adding mine.

I have personally met people who voted for Clinton in 1992, but after 8 years they got fed up and voted for Bush in 2000. Now, after another 8 years, they are even more fed up and want to vote Democratic again. These are not ideologically driven independents; they vote election by election. They are fed up with Bush right now, but they just think Obama is too inexperienced and wishy-washy for these dangerous times. Their preferences actually run: Hillary > McCain > Obama. I am not making this up, people! These folks sure as hell exist, and they are the ones making the difference in polling data in Ohio and Pennsylvania right now.

Obama can win them over if he moves toward the center, as LTG suggests he will. I am saying that his style on foreign policy is an important consideration here--something he can adjust without too much effort that would help him with those few extra percentage points!

Raised By Republicans said...

"Their preferences actually run: Hillary > McCain > Obama. I am not making this up, people! These folks sure as hell exist, and they are the ones making the difference in polling data in Ohio and Pennsylvania right now."

I don't think you are "making it up." But what is the difference in Ohio that you refer to?

According to the latest calculated average of polls on, both Obama and Clinton beat McCain in Ohio. Obama is at +.7% and Clinton is at +2%. First of all, let's assume the difference is statistically significant for the sake of the argument (in reality, it probably isn't significant and Obama and Clinton do about the same against McCain in Ohio).

If these numbers hold steady, the type of voter you are so worried about represents about 1.3% of the voters in Ohio but not enough to change the result. If these numbers vary much at all in any direction, then this difference will likely not be a significant contribution to the overall result in November.

Raised By Republicans said...

Dr. S. mentions something about second choices that is important. Obama will have to convince the Clinton supporters that he is their second best option. I think he has demonstrated an ability to do just that. Indeed, one of the main reasons he is about to be the nominee is because he was able to reach out to supporters of former rivals.

On Holloween 2007, Hillary Clinton was favored by 41% of Democrats to be the nominee. Obama was favored by 22% of Democrats. On February 5th (Super Tuesday), Hillary was favored by 47% and Obama by 40%. On June 2nd, Hillary Clinton was favored by 42% of Democrats to be the nominee. Obama was favored by 46%.

One should be forgiven for noticing that Hillary's level of support among Democrats has been fixed in the low to mid 40s. Despite having huge initial advantages (name recognition, funding, super delegate endorsements), Hillary could not convince people who weren't already supporting her to get on board. Obama on the other hand appears to have been the second choice of the supporters of just about every other Democrat in the original field of candidates. If Hillary had been able to convince just a third of the Edwards, Kucinich, Richardson, Biden and Dodd supporters to make her their second choice, she'd be the nominee right now. But Obama did something really amazing. He sewed up about 75% of the supporters of the other candidates.

If he can do the same with the Clinton people and given the HUGE Democratic turnouts in the primaries, he'll more than make up for the 1.7% of folks in Ohio for whom McCain is their second choice.

Dr. Strangelove said...

A few points.

1. The RCP average for Ohio today actually shows 8.3% for Clinton in and 1.3% for Obama--a 7% difference. (I think you mistakenly read the national average instead of the Ohio average.)

2. Moreover your methodology (subtraction) produces an underestimate of the population who rank Hillary > McCain > Obama. That calculation assumes everyone with Obama as their first choice also has Hillary as their second choice. To the extent this is not true (and I seem to recall you arguing at some point that this was not a small figure) then the actual population who rank Hillary > McCain > Obama is that much higher.

3. Even so, as we all remember painfully from 2004, small percentages of the vote matter Kerry lost Ohio by 2.1% and Penn. by 2.5%, either of which would have given him the White House.

4. Obama's ability to win over former supporters of Kucinich and Gravel is good so far as it goes but... How shall I put this... Those are special folks whose choices probably do not tell us much about the larger electorate. I also question your analysis of the figures to produce that 75% figure, since you are averaging across a lot of time, different formats, and different regions. I accept that Obama scooped up the ABH vote, but that's all I am sure of there.

Raised By Republicans said...

You are right, I was reading the wrong polls for my basic analysis. And I'll defer to the logic about assumptions on the second choices.

However, how would you explain Hillary's rock steady levels of support over the course of the entire campaign in comparison with Obama's steep increase? Assuming you aren't going to argue that it's a statistical fluke, you must have some explanation in mind.

The polls I was looking at for the over time comparison were from Rasmussen. They are all national polls.

The Law Talking Guy said...

The more interesting question is whether the people whose preference ordering is Clinton>McCain>Obama outnumber those whose preference ordering is Obama>McCain>Clinton. I don't think there's any data on that, but I can tell you anecdotally that I know several people in the latter category and none in the former. Just saying.

Most of the talk about Clinton voters not wanting to vote for Obama comes from exit polls. That's rather like asking a man on the day of his divorce whether he likes his wife. Or asking me if I can stand Joe Torre. I'm easing into it. Wait a few weeks - people start reorienting themselves. I don't take that as a serious evidence of preference ordering. The reason you saw a stronger # of Clinton voters rather than Obama voters sounding spurned is precisely because Obama is winning, and magnanimity comes easier to winners.

By the way, the comment "Hillary's uncompromising style attracts other classes of independent swing voters" is not a comment that I've seen any data to support yet. In most states, independent voters went lopsidedly for Obama. Even in PA, independent voters went 54/46 for Obama (according to the CNN exit poll) the reverse of the state as a whole. Ohio also, according to CNN, independents went 50/48 for Obama. The only way independent voters appear in Clinton's column is if you count only *white* indepenents - excluding all other races (not just African-Americans).

The Law Talking Guy said...

Seriously, let's get some more data on independent voters.

It's worth looking at swing states like Missouri too, where Obama won
by just 10,000 votes, but won independents 67%-30% (white independents 59%-37%). Or California, where Obama won among independents 58%-34%, and among white independents by a larger 60%-31%. Or Texas, where Obama on 51-45 among White independents, greater than his 49-48 showing among all independents. Or New York, where Obama won white independents 55-40 and all independents 56-40, although Clinton won the state 57-40 in her favor. Or Or Indiana, a late-voting state, where Obama won independents 54%-46%. Or Oregon, where he won the state 59-41 but won independents 68-32. Or Wisconsin, where Obama won independents 64-32%.

Even in freaking Arkansas, that Clinton won 70%-26%, she only got
54% of the independent vote, with Obama getting 32% and Edwards 4% (note, Obama did about 30% better among Independents than all voters).

Almost everywhere, Obama did better with independents, often much better. If the Democratic primary had been restricted to independents, Obama would have been the nominee probably back in February. We can't just fixate on four states Clinton won recently (OH, PA, WV, and KY) to the exclusion of all else.

Yes, Obama will need to shore up this part of the base. But the argument Dr.S. is making is that the BASE is more likely to have an screwed up preference ordering than the INDEPENDENTS. I don't buy that for one second.

Dr. Strangelove said...

You have to be careful with the CNN exit poll data. When asked if "considered themselves" independent, Obama won those by the margin mentioned. But when actually broken down by party and race, there were no black or latino independents to speak of ("-" on the chart) and Hillary won the White Independents by about 5 points.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Sorry, forgot to say that was Ohio only I was speaking of.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I'm confused. We repeated the same data. It is true that in CNN's exit polls, the total # of black or Latino independents was below CNN's threshhold for reporting. But for the "all independents" numbers include the black and Latino respondents (obviously).

Dr. Strangelove said...

I do not believe it is the same data.

But in any case I think you missed the big picture I was painting here No matter how you slice it, there is sizable chunk of voters--probably near 10% or so, especially in the rust belt--who voted in the Democratic primary (for Hillary) but currently prefer McCain to Obama. These are the low-hanging fruit!! These are voters whom Obama could win over! I am NOT arguing Hillary could do better--that is not what I am trying to say here. What I am saying is that there is a critical chunk of voters who are evidently willing to vote Democratic but seem uncertain about Obama. I have said again and again--as have many pundits (I am hardly alone in this)--that Obama's Achilles' heel is his perceived weakness (lack of toughness) especially in foreign policy matters. If Obama can change that perception, he can win those critical swing voters whom he has not yet won over--and then trounce McCain.

This is good news for Obama. It bothers me that you reflexively reject anything I say as anti-Obama.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Er, I specifically discussed the difference between white independents and all independents, also with respect to PA and OH. Check again.

We're agreed, though, that if Clinton were the nominee, she's have a much harder time attracting the higher-hanging fruit of independent Obama supporters who prefer McCain to Clinton. It's imnportant to recognzie this because it's important to separate out the claim that Obama has work to do in the rust belt from the claim that, Clinton is more electable. Most people seem to be acting as it if it is the same claim.

At any rate, a Clinton candidacy is a moot point. With at least 16 add-ons guaranteed to be appointed in order to support Obama and 16-18pledged delegates tonight, Obama has effectively clinched the nomination (he is about 31 dels behind). Time for all of us to move on.