Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
May 14, 2008
POLITICS: Obamomentum, West Virginia Edition

It's not every day you see the presumptive nominee lose a presidential primary in a swing state by 41 points (by contrast, despite a persistent protest vote faction, McCain hasn't actually lost a primary since Kansas and Louisiana on February 9), but that's exactly what happened to Barack Obama last night in West Virginia, and suggests pretty strongly why his campaign seems to be writing off the state for November.

Anyway, let's update the chart I've been running (last installment here) showing the popular vote trend since Obama's armor started to crack at the beginning of March. Here's the current chart:

West Virginia5/1391,652239,062-147,410
North Carolina5/6883,508656,284+227,224
Rhode Island3/475,316108,949-33,633

Attentive readers will note that some of the earlier states' vote totals have changed slightly; I'm using the RCP figures, which presumably got some late corrections on TX, PA, IN and NC. RCP also has the overall numbers, which mostly narrowly favor Obama, though it depends on what states you count; in any event, recall that Obama didn't even crack 30% in national polls against Hillary until after he won Iowa, and didn't catch her until early February, after trailing by double digits for most of 2007; much of the Obama vote in the first two months was basically the honeymoon of a challenger who had yet to be seriously vetted. So while looking at the last two and a half months doesn't cover the whole race, it likely tells us a lot more than looking at things that happened a political lifetime ago. If you knew nothing else of this race, you'd certainly look at those trendlines and think, especially after last night, that Hillary was really pulling away by now.

Where from here? Another interesting thing is that my rough-estimate projection last week vastly underestimated Hillary's West Virginia margin of victory, which was twice what my mostly unscientific model had projected. Partly that's because I was working off one poll with a lot of undecideds, but partly it's because turnout was larger than the baseline I was using, the number of votes for House Democrats in the off-year 2006 election, which I took as a reasonable proxy for the number of people available to vote in a Democratic primary. I'll attach at the bottom of this post a chart showing how that figure has served as a predictor of turnout, but the take-home from that exercise is that West Virginia Democrats came out in very large numbers despite their betters in the media telling them the race was over, already, man - not quite as large numbers as we saw in Indiana, North Carolina, Mississippi and Texas, but larger proportional turnout by this metric than in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, or Virginia. The voters apparently think there's still something to vote on.

If we update last week's projections, then, with more recent polling and an assumption of 125% rather than 100% turnout relative to the 2006 figures, what do we get? I'm using now the RCP averages for Oregon and Kentucky, but I don't have new polls for Puerto Rico, South Dakota or Montana, and I'm still using the conservative 60% estimate for Puerto Rico:

StateDateObama Poll%Clinton Poll%Obama Est.Clinton Est.Margin
Puerto Rico6/137%50%444,000600,000-156,000
South Dakota6/346%34%132,51997,949+34,570
Total47%53% 1,397,832 1,584,329-186,497

In other words, if form holds - even using the conservative projection of the vote total in Puerto Rico - Obama could end up well over half a million votes under water for the last three months of the primaries. We can only speculate as to why Obama has been struggling like this - whether it's a sign of Hillary's strength, the nature of the later primary states, a temporary weakness or permanent damage to Obama - and whether it will carry over in the general election campaign. But I can say this: if Obama was a fatally damaged general election candidate by this point, this is pretty much how you would expect him to be doing in the late primaries.

Here's the turnout chart, which is interesting in its own right:

State2006 House D VoteDateVotes*Turnout

The primary vote total is just Obama's and Clinton's votes, so it may underreport turnout in a few of the early races when some people were still casting votes for Edwards (in Michigan, where Obama didn't bother getting on the ballot, I just added Hillary plus the "uncommitted" vote). The states marked "NA" are caucus states that have not released vote totals; the states with turnout below 20% are mostly caucuses as well, most of which Obama won. We can only speculate whether primaries in those states would have produced (1) more votes for Obama or (2) a different outcome. At any rate, you can see that turnout by this metric had largely hovered around 100% until the more recent primaries that saw a surge of interest - another reason why the March-April-May results should be more worrisome to Obama backers, as despite his claims at bringing in new voters, he actually tends to do worse the larger the turnout.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:01 PM | Politics 2008 • | Poll Analysis | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)

Obama really scares you, huh?
The Crank doth protest too much, methinks.

Posted by: Ryan at May 14, 2008 3:34 PM

I think Operation Chaos is a wonderful thing. It also show the depths the libs will slip to when they they point at the W. Va result and scream "racist".

Posted by: maddirishman at May 14, 2008 3:47 PM

Republicans count on the racist vote, admit it. Been true for decades.

Posted by: dante at May 14, 2008 4:14 PM

Ah yes, Republicans get the white vote 60/40; Dems get the black vote 90/10. Conclusion: Republicans are racists.

Posted by: Steve Johnson at May 14, 2008 6:12 PM

If Obama is fatally damaged and McCain has had esentially no opposition for three months, how is it that in the poll of polls, Obama leads by about 5 points?

All the special elections the GOP has been losing in districts in which Democrats haven't won for decades, plus the rebranding of McCain as the cranky conservative that he is, don't seem to be signs for optimism.

Posted by: Magrooder at May 14, 2008 8:30 PM

The poll of polls is in November.

Posted by: Jerry at May 14, 2008 8:50 PM

Crank - you sound like Terry McAuliffe. Next you'll be calling for the Michigan and Florida delegates to be seated. Is the GOP that terrified of a McCain/Obama matchup?

Posted by: Patrick at May 14, 2008 10:00 PM

"Is the GOP that terrified of a McCain/Obama matchup?"

Yep - don't throw us into that briar patch.

Posted by: Maryland Conservatarian at May 15, 2008 6:47 PM

Your admit "we can speculate" that Clinton's post-Feb. lead is due "to the nature of the later primary states" but then conclude: "if Obama was a fatally damaged general election candidate by this point, this is pretty much how you would expect him to be doing in the late primaries." If the post-Feb. primary calendar is skewed in Clinton's favor (and it clearly, objectively is, just as the calendar in Feb. was favorable for Obama) then that provides a big explanation for why she's gotten more votes from it.

And we're just talking about a 3% lead for Clinton here. Even if the calendar during this stretch was equal ground for both, losing by 3% only equates to being "a fatally damaged general election candidate" in Clintonian. And making this argument is actually an insult to Clinton's candidacy. "He's lost to Clinton by 3% over 1/4 of the primary calendar?!??! He's DOOMED against McCain!!!!!!!!

Losing by 3% to a Clinton over a 1/4 period of the calendar that is decidedly unfavorable actually isn't struggling at all. The amazing breakdowns and analyses of Obama's and Clinton's constituencies by Poblano over at clearly demonstrate this. That is how Poblano nailed PA, IN, NC and WV. Obama has held on to his constituencies (which constitute a 5% or so advantage over Clinton) throughout this period. What's been rough for him is simply the terrain. PA, OH, WV, RI, TX, IN - these are states that Clinton was always supposed to win. If she was even as strong as Obama, she'd have won them by more.

Lastly, when Huckabee beat McCain by 36% in Kansas, McCain was already the presumptive nominee. That is why Romney had dropped out. All Clinton did in winning WV by 41% was duplicate previous victories in hundreds of counties very similar to WV.

Posted by: Eric at May 18, 2008 7:09 PM
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