Demographics and Low-hanging fruit or why a loss is a loss and a win is a win
by hadrian, Sun Jan 27, 2008 at 07:58:16 AM EST
A lot of the story out of the SC primary has focused on demographic analysis and whether or not Senator Obama got enough of the "White vote" to stay competitive beyond SC. First of all, as I noted in an earlier post you can't necessarily compare numbers across states, a point that was borne out once again as the demographics of the race changed dramatically from one state to another, and so did the results. Because Obama won women in Iowa didn't mean he went on to win them in NH. Just because his share of the white vote went down in SC doesn't mean white voters from earlier states have changed their mind, it means less whites voted for him in SC. It's a fallacy to present a change in votes between Iowa to New Hampshire to Nevada to South Carolina to be representative of any national or temporal trend. These aren't shifts in the overall electorate overtime, they are how the electorate in a particular state voted. Despite how media analysts present it, this ain't the same kettle of fish each time.
The other story coming out of South Carolina, along with every other primary, that casts some doubt on the demographic analyses is that turn out on the Democratic side is up remarkably (my entry into the understatement of the year awards)...with every group. A lot of this is thanks to President Bush's incompetence and a lot is due to an exciting race. Either way, my point is that demographic analysis of the party based on past races doesn't really work. Furthermore the demographic breakdowns based on things as broad as race, gender, and education level don't get into nearly enough detail about the micro-targeting that these campaigns are doing (which can get as specific as what church a voter goes to, where they shop, where they get their news, what shows they watch, and more). Part of the reason the polls were so wrong in New Hampshire is that women supporting Senator Clinton turned out in unexpected numbers. What matters in these races is not the demographics of who's registered as a Democrat or even who has voted in these primaries in the past. The only demographics that matter are the demographics of the people that show up on the day. And with turn out up as high as it is across the board, these demographic analyses based on past numbers and broad groups don't have as much validity.
There's another reason we could be seeing these demographic shifts in the vote from state to state, it could be that the race in each state is different (I still believe Tip's adage, crazy right?). Notably the strategy of each campaign in each state is different. In a campaign where you have limited resources, your first goal is to turn out the lowest hanging fruit. For Senator Clinton she saw her support in the African American community, which at the end of last year she competed for fairly evenly with Senator Obama, erode dramatically along with her substantial lead. A combination of his win in Iowa, viability in the other states, and her campaigns tactics. From her campaign's perspective they decided to refocus on capturing other non-black voters where they were still competitive. For Senator Obama, in an electorate where upward of 50% of the vote was expected to be African American and that was breaking for him upwards of 80% (based on polling before the election), it makes sense he would have invested more heavily in turning out and appealing that favorable vote, and that being competitive in other demographics is just a bonus. It's that bonus that made his margin so huge last night, he tied Senator Clinton on white men, won women overall, and appealed to young voters across the board. Rather than it being a dramatic drop in Senator Obama or Senator Clinton's support among this group or that group from one state to the the next I think these changes represent particular strategies in each state contest. On that front I see a lot of reason to be happy about the results out of the early states as an Obama supporter.
The measure of success in these contests is not based on demographics but how effectively the campaign is appealing to those people it needs to appeal to in each state, and on that front the Obama campaign looks pretty good heading into February 5th. His message has cut across a lot of divides, it wasn't African Americans that won him Iowa by a large margin, or kept him in a close second in New Hampshire or Nevada. His campaign has shown an ability to analyze each state to figure out who they need to turn out, and to do so fairly effectively. After four races he's had two big wins and two close losses (one of which he actually came away with more delegates). That is not an attempt to spin those losses as nothing, a loss is a loss. My point though is that in the bigger picture; the delegate count, which is determined by proportional vote...the SIZE OF THE VICTORY MATTERS. I think New Hampshire and Nevada were important and hard-earned victories for Senator Clinton, but at the same time if the trend continues, if the Obama campaign can keep this targeting up and Obama wins big and loses little in the right places, a nomination is a nomination.