Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
May 7, 2008
POLITICS: Obamomentum, Revisited

Most anyone watching the primaries had expected all along that Obama would win North Carolina - where the Democratic primary electorate is dominated by African-Americans and college towns - and Hillary would win the more conservative white Democrats in Indiana last night, but Hillary's relatively narrow margin of victory in Indiana and the simple fact that Obama notched a victory in a state of significant size after a string of losses both add up to an undeniably good night for Obama. Let's update the chart I ran previously of the popular vote since the beginning of March:

North Carolina5/6890,895657,920+232,975
Rhode Island3/475,316108,949-33,633

As you can see, over this period - covering the time after the genuine cracks in Obama's previously untouched public brand image had appeared - Obama is still behind in the popular vote, and with only Oregon on May 20 as a likely source for significant number of votes for Obama, that's not going to change.

That's even before you deal with the exit polls - I'll leave the dissection of those to others, but it seems pretty clear that Obama is getting crushed among white and Latino voters, and you can't win much of anything in these United States without those two groups. It's also before you deal with the popular vote for January and February, which is harder to measure because you get into the question of how to estimate the caucus popular votes (in some states, these were not recorded) or whether to count Florida and Michigan:

Here's the remaining schedule, with a chart showing the most recent poll I could find - I used Rasmussen for West Virginia, Kentucky and Oregon, a mid-April Dakota Wesleyan poll for South Dakota, a mid-April Puerto Rico poll, and, lacking a head-to-head poll, I used Rasmussen's general election numbers for Montana, which show Obama polling much better, but with basically similar numbers to the South Dakota poll (but note that unlike earlier Obama mountain-state victories these are primaries, not caucuses). I then projected the number of voters - for the states, I used the number of ballots cast for Democrats in the House in 2006*, since this seems to have been a fairly reliable proxy for the number of ballots cast in the primaries in Pennsylvania, Indiana and North Carolina; Puerto Rico is more challenging, but to be conservative I just assumed a turnout of 1.2 million voters, which is roughly 60% of the 2004 gubernatorial general election turnout (in which above 80% of registered voters voted); as Ben Domenech has noted, given Puerto Rico's traditionally high voter turnout and the realization that this may be a unique opportunity to affect the mainland presidential election, if Hillary's still battling at this point the turnout could be much closer to the general election figures:

StateDateObama Poll%Clinton Poll%Obama Est.Clinton Est.Margin
West Virginia5/1327%56%71,232147,740-76,508
Puerto Rico6/137%50%444,000600,000-156,000
South Dakota6/346%34%106,01578,359+27,656

Obviously, these are very rough estimates, especially since some of these polls have upwards of 20% of the electorate undecided, but you get the general idea. Much will depend on the turnout, especially in Puerto Rico, but I think it's a safe bet that when all is said and done, Obama will be down somewhere in the neighborhood of 400,000 votes for the period covering the last three months of the primary campaign. Heck of a way to launch a general election campaign.

* - For the mathematically curious:

WV 263,822
KY 601,723
OR 765,853
PR 1,990,372, from which I took the 1,200,000 number
MT 158,916
SD 230,468

I'm using FEC sources for this except for the Puerto Rico numbers linked above, and RCP for the popular vote chart.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:22 AM | Politics 2008 • | Poll Analysis | Comments (28) | TrackBack (0)

Yes, and the St. Louis Cardinals went 25-31 in August and September before winning the championship in 2006. What's your point?

Bottom line: Obama is the nominee in a year that a historic amount of people believe the country is on the wrong track and the current GOP president has a 30% approval rating. I know where I'd put my money.

Posted by: Ryan at May 7, 2008 10:53 AM


I question the numbers you have for projections going forward mainly because as Obama becomes the inevitable nominee he will get votes of folks who want to back the winner.


You're right that the incumbent president has low poll numbers. However, you neglected to mention that congress (home of the remaining candidates) has an even lower approval ratings. A good part of Bush's drop in popularity came from irritating the conservative base through failing to VETO spending bills, and other liberal/moderate stuff. Those voters, while unhappy with Bush, are not going to vote for Obama or Clinton. At most you can hope some will sit out this election. If they vote they will take McCain as being considerably less liberal than an extremist like Obama. I'm not predicting a McCain win. It is too early and a lot will happen between now and November. I am saying it is foolish to assume an Obama victory based on Bush's popularity or lack thereof.

Posted by: largebill at May 7, 2008 11:26 AM

Ryan - Well, you know how to hit my sore spot...let's just say that (1) if you took a sampling of teams that played that badly the last two months of the season, you'd not find great bets for World Championships and (2) politics ain't baseball - damage sustained during the primaries can linger. You don't get a clean slate with public opinion.

Bill - I agree, it's foolish to handicap the race right now. McCain has some serious hurdles to clear, but assuming it's Obama, he now has some very big problems. And I hear you on the bandwagon effect but it's May and we haven't seen it yet.

Posted by: The Crank at May 7, 2008 11:37 AM

Here's the thing, and it's hardly a secret: I initially considered doing my part in "Operation Chaos" & voting for Hillary in the primary of my state, but since Obama was up by 25 in the polls taken the weekend prior, I knew it'd be a waste of my time. And there lies the rub: no way in @#$% does Obama win my home state (Georgia). Or South Carolina. Or North Carolina. Or *any* of the other southern states where he trounced Hillary. That's the funny thing about American politics, 90% of blacks (sorry to be politically incorrect, but Charlize Theron is an African-American, not Lennox Lewis, who isn't even American.....thus, I'm white, Barry Bonds is black. No offense intended, just logic) may vote for Dems, but it really doesn't help them at all in Presidential elections since the overwhelming number of blacks live in the south, which is now very Republican. Yeah, they help in NYC, Chicago and the like, but Obama can win NC by a 95-5 margin over Hillary and still be as likely to win that state as John Edwards in '04: none.

Personally, I look at the '04 map and see the GOP/Mccain losing Ohio (thanks to that state's republican party. Look at the '06 elections there, it's going to be a bloodbath), Missouri and Virginia & possibly Iowa but picking up NH. Which means, hello President Obama, barring a collapse on his part, which is unlikely since he's going to have the biggest boost from the MSM in history, as they're as in love with him as Andrew Sullivan.

Get ready for your taxes to go up & prepare to pay for Matthew Yglesias' trips to the doctor (hey, we can't expect smart people to take care of themselves, can we?) and Jane Hamsher's pap smears.

We're about to inch closer to Europe, folks.


Posted by: RW at May 7, 2008 12:00 PM

Give credit where its due without the spin or tortured contextualizing....he crushed her last night and he crushed the supposedly liberal MSM's expectations for him in both states. You may dislike his policies, but dude is a formidable candidate. Just as McCain is.

Posted by: seth soothsayer at May 7, 2008 12:17 PM

Clearly, baseball and politics are different beasts. My point is that I believe you're vastly overrating "momentum." Take, for instance, this Democratic primary. It's simple demographics -- Hillary has her camp, Obama has his (slightly larger) one. Neither one's camp budged much despite **huge scandals!!** about pastors and sniper fire.

Plus, c'mon, it's ridiculous to exclude Obama's 11 consecutive state wins in February just to prove a point we already know - it was a very close race and HRC is a formidable opponent. I just don't think it foretells much about the upcoming McCain-Obama matchup.

Congress' approval ratings aren't particularly relevant since: a) we vote on individual congressman and not "Congress" as a body and b) it's a presidential election, not a midterm one.

And, no, conservatives are not chiefly responsible for Bush's 28% approval ratings -- the 87% of Democrats and two-thirds of Independents who disapprove of his job perfomance make up the lion's share of it, actually.

But, yes, it is too early for predictions. And I'm sure there'll be a few moments in the next few months when it looks like McCain might pull it out. But, again, I know where the smart money is going right now (Intrade: 54 Obama, 37 McCain).

Posted by: Ryan at May 7, 2008 12:36 PM

RW- here is my hope for the election, by looking at the electoral votes:

Reps gain MN (with Pawlenty as VEEP) and Michigan (due to disenfranchised voters). +27.

Dems gain MO, OH, VA. +44.

Net gain for Dems is +17. Resulting in a 269-269 tie.

Posted by: Diggity Dino at May 7, 2008 2:36 PM

Momentum in baseball is tomorrow's next pitcher. Momentum in politics is the economy in early November. Couple that with potential bad news in Iraq, and nobody really knows what will happen. I think things have changed so much that fewer people would say no to Clinton simply because she is female. I do think more would say no to Obama because he is black. However, that number is changing too.

Notice, that McCain is getting votes by pandering to the right. Obama and Clinton are pandering to the middle. First, all politicians are panderers (except Spitzer, who only pays panderers), second, you win the middle, you win.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at May 7, 2008 2:42 PM


Liberals disapproving of Bush did not push his numbers to their current level. The majority of liberals were unfavorably disposed towards him regardless. In other words, he didn't lose their support - he never had it. Bush lost conservative support by going liberal on some issues. And it did him no good with the left.

When I referred to congressional approval ratings it was to show that the public isn't happy with government in general. I think some of that can be traced to a growing mentality to ask "how did we let this happen" whenever something bad happens. We've come to expect that government should solve everyones problems. Too lazy to get a job and health insurance? Must be government fault. Storm damage doesn't instantly and magically get repaired? You got it governments fault. And on and on. We are getting further and further from the understanding that when you want the government to pay for something you are really saying you want to make your neighbors pay for it. The more people expect government to make everyone's life perfect the more people will be dissatisfied since it isn't possible.

Posted by: largebill at May 7, 2008 3:23 PM

I love the, what Was King George's phrase? Oh yeah, fuzzy math. Let's see if we count only the games that the Mets win, then they will finish with the first ever 1.000 winning percentage and, surely, make the playoffs.

Posted by: Magrooder at May 7, 2008 4:43 PM

I should note that there's a good argument that Hillary may well be ahead in the popular vote if you count all the jurisdictions that have voted, but that leads us down the rabbit hole of Michigan, Florida, the caucuses, etc. And realistically, those votes were not cast under the same conditions - if you read John Judis today he does a great job of explaining how Obama's appeal and the voters he can count on have shifted rather dramatically since January and February.

Posted by: The Crank at May 7, 2008 4:47 PM

I guess I'm in the minority of readers on this site as a Republican who believes intensely that we underestimate Obama to our peril. He's got some traditional Democratic weaknesses but there is much reason to believe those weakness won't "play" the same way in 2008. And if registration and turnout and youth vote trends continue, I fear that the Republican playbook that worked so well from 1980 on is going to have to be torn up. Right now I see a close general election contest, but with Obama favored. And that cupcake has got it in him to landslide McCain if things break right. Besides, McCain's a Dem in Republican clothing anyway.

Posted by: robert at May 7, 2008 5:39 PM

I know some people here think I'm (1) underestimating Obama or (2) cowering in fear of Obama, but the reality is, the guy has some very important strengths and some very significant weaknesses. I agree that he has the potential to blow us out, and I also think he could end up getting completely Mondaled.

I don't worry too much about registering the youth vote. The Democrats say that every time. They made some steps forward in 2004, but there's always a lot of young people who care, but don't really care quite enough to vote.

Posted by: The Crank at May 7, 2008 5:45 PM

Seems like there is a lot of dissecting presidential elections using baseball analytics here. In baseball, where a player gets 500+ at bats a season for up to 20+ years, with thousands upon thousands of players as samples, there is quite a precedent for trend analysis. But with presidential elections, which 50+ events have occured over the last 200+ years, the landscape changes every year. Its easy to throw up any numbers you want to support your candidate of choice here. Momentum in a primary election as a means to predict presidential campaign winners seems extremely trivial.

Posted by: Kevin at May 7, 2008 6:17 PM

I think it's always a safe assumption that whenever anyone tells you that all the rules have changed, they are full of it. Obama has enough going for him (especially financially) that he may well be able to patch up the donut hole in his support - senior citizens and working class white and hispanic voters. If so, he could be fine. But if his campaign really believes that things have changed enough that they don't need those voters (and several of it's spokespeople and surrogates have said just that) they are on the fast train to Dukakis-land.

Posted by: Jerry at May 7, 2008 9:20 PM

Jerry, its not that Obama doesnt need voters from groups like working class whites or the elderly, its a question of how many does he need in light of his dominance of other categories. He doesnt need to win the category of working class whites to win the general, he needs "enough" of them. And "enough" for Obama may be far less than "enough" for Dukakis or Kerry given (1) Obama's dominance of other groupings, and (2)McCain's real difficulty energizing his own base to turn out.

Posted by: robert at May 7, 2008 9:27 PM

I think McCain's campaign will be successful at getting people to vote against Obama, rather than for him, as the campaign unfolds. And I'm not sure where Obama's extra votes come from. Historically, all candidates who rely on college-age voters to turn out in large numbers lose. Perhaps Obama's an exception, but I'm not really a believer in the the rules changing all that much. And obviously, Obama can expect historic support from blacks, but Al Gore nearly maxed out the potential of that segment in 2000, and still lost. And thanks to Lieberman, he also enjoyed enormous Jewish support, which Obama will not, unless he comes up with a running mate uniquely appealling to Jewish voters.

Posted by: Jerry at May 7, 2008 10:18 PM

Of course, McCain's issue with his base remains paramount. Certainly, Republicans will tell you that the GOP doesn't lose presidential elections if its base is unified (the Democrats haven't drawn a popular-vote majority in 32 years).

Posted by: The Crank at May 7, 2008 10:33 PM

"Democrats haven't drawn a popular-vote majority in 32 years"
While technically true, this is an awfully disingenuous statement. Bush got 50.7% of the vote in 2004 while beating Kerry by 2.4% of the vote. Clinton got 49.2% in 1996 while beating Dole by 8.4%. There's nothing magical about 50%, especially when third party candidates are involved.

Posted by: Ryan at May 8, 2008 9:24 AM

You just made my point - Democrats had to rely on third party candidates, esp. in 1992. Going back to the post-FDR era, the Democrats cracked 50% in 1964 against Goldwater after JFK died, and in 1976 after Watergate. Republicans did it in 1952, 1955, 1972, 1980, 1984, 1988, and 2004. Obama has a high ceiling - I could see him breaking 50%, which Hillary probably could not have. But the fundamental point remains that if McCain holds together the natural GOP base, that gets him pretty close to 50%.

Posted by: The Crank at May 8, 2008 10:07 AM

Even more disingenuous when you consider the 48.4 to 47.9 Gore to Bush in 2000. How many notes was Nader taking from Bush? Zero or thereabouts. Same thing, in reverse in a way in '96, with Perot taking 8.5% which, while certainly more Dole voters went that way there were clearly Clinton voters in there as well.

Posted by: jim at May 8, 2008 11:46 AM

Crank, I am interested in your opinion on Bob Barr's potential effect on the race, assuming he gets the Libertarian nomination. Need McCain fear him much? I know Gravel is running for it too, but assume arguendo that Barr is the man.

Posted by: seth soothsayer at May 8, 2008 12:32 PM

The Crank: "I don't worry too much about registering the youth vote."

Good! Here's the problem - you have to worry about MUCH more than that.

Is (was) it the "youth vote" that has enrgized the volume of primary turnout? Somehow I think not. Nor would I think it was HRC or your party's candidate.

That's exactly the thing that concerns you to the point of obsession, right? Since, like, last February when you started this smearish/smarmish/b*llsh*t/ campaign of posts against a candidate that actually had something different to say - as opposed to anyone since Reagan... including GHB and son, and Clinton and wife... and yet all you can do is smear the guy with "same old same old".

Got it, Crank. You are aligned so much with deep pockets you simply cannot acknowledge anything positive about a candidate that isn't, well, anything like you.

So hey, how are those Mets doing? I'm assuming all those FA pitching signings the last couple of years had to have meant they won something... or at least played in the WS a few times... or at least won their division... right?

Posted by: Dave at May 8, 2008 10:54 PM

"You just made my point - Democrats had to rely on third party candidates, esp. in 1992. "

C'mon, Crank, come back to Earth. I'll be generous and give Dole three-fourths of Ross Perot's vote (8%) in 1996. That gives Clinton 51% and makes your bullsh*t point about Dems not being able to cross the 50% threshold meaningless. I mean, yes, no one disputes that the GOP has proven itself to be better at winning presidential elections over the last 40 years; no need to stretch your point like that.

Posted by: Ryan at May 8, 2008 11:26 PM

I'm "aligned so much with deep pockets" because I'm opposed to a guy with more campaign cash than anybody we've ever seen? As I have said before, the one thing that genuinely scares me about Obama is his money. He's an incredible fundraiser.

Pretty much no matter what I write about, someone complains that I'm not writing about something else.

Posted by: The Crank at May 8, 2008 11:28 PM

And that is a fair point, if Obama is to be beaten it will be judo style. He makes absurd errors, 57 states the latest. Perhaps he wanted more ketchup? If not I have misjudged the man. We take Cuba , Canada, Mexico, PR statehood, DC statehood, Guam? That gets us 56, yet he said 57 w/o Hawaii and Alaska. Who will we conquer next Lord Vader (jim rhetoric inserted) Bama? Maybe we take back the canal we built and the country surrounding? If so good show, Illinois has not lead in this fashion since the days of Brooklyn's Capone.

Posted by: abe at May 9, 2008 11:12 PM

Another example of GOP humor brought to you by abe. For more installments listen to the addled Dennis Miller Show.

Posted by: jim at May 10, 2008 2:52 PM


a year that a historic amount of people believe the country is on the wrong track

I also would say that I believe America is on the "wrong track".

For instance-- Social(ist) (In)Security should be eliminated... immediately.

I would also completely "de-fund"- Medi(s)care, Medicaid, HUD, HEW, "ethanol", Food Stamps, Dept of Education, all farm subsidies, and every other 'corporate welfare' program that currently exists.

I would also "veto" any "transportation" bill that uses "gas tax" revenues to fund any "public transportation" project- like the proposed "light rail" here in Columbus, OH (idiots loke you have already paid over $500k in Fed funding just for for the 'studies' and 'consultants'... Now, Mayor Mike wants $103 mil in bond money to build it, and another extra $15 mil/yr in taxes/fees to pay for it. )

BTW, do you think I would ever vote for Obambi?

Posted by: fletch at May 10, 2008 8:21 PM
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