The Political Brief
A Look at Democratic Loyalty
A note on spelling: for some reason, I cannot correct the errors from work. Bear with me, for by Odin's bristling beard, they will be fixed!
And they are!!
This really has nothing to do with Bill Richardson decamping to Obama from Clinton. He made a political choice that best positions himself with the probable nominee for future appointment. Richardson doesn't want to be Governor of New Mexico until he's dead and gone; he wants a challenge, something new. His support of Obama is his way of putting his hat in the ring for one of two positions: the obvious, VP; the not-so-obvious, Secretary of State. The progression to the head of the State Department is natural for someone who's worked from Congress to Cabinet to the UN to running a state. His ability to handle such an important leadership position isn't in doubt. What success he gets, however, will be cold comfort to the people who got him there, namely the Clintons.
What I'm here to talk about in my triumphal return is voter loyalty to the Democratic candidates. The Gallup organization is the most recent to run this interesting poll: if your Democratic candidate doesn't get the nomination, what will you do? The choices are usually 1) vote for the (D) nominee, 2) vote for someone else or 3) abstain from voting. Previous polls have come to the conclusion that Obama's support among the disenfranchised (predominantly black) and youth demographics would melt away if asked to vote for Hillary Clinton. He is an all-or-nothing candidate for many, truly the figurehead of a movement. People will vote for him or no one. Hillary's supporters would vote, but for McCain.
In the recent Gallup poll, some of the findings backed this up, but more interestingly, we get a new set of numbers to play with.
Were it Obama as the candidate, 28% of Clinton supporters would vote for McCain. Flip that with Clinton leading the ticket, and 19% of Obama supporters would vote for McCain, a small change from previous polls where he his supporters were shown either staying firm with the Democrats or not participating.
The Gallup organization's interpretation of these results is sound - division runs deep in the nomination fight, and some of this may be posturing; regardless, the numbers are significant and bear attention. Can we draw this out further?
The Clinton backers who would switch sides number nearly three in ten, a major percentage by any calculation. Why are they so quick to say right now that they would buck the party line to vote for McCain over Obama? Some could be racist, as campaign workers claimed, through anecdotal evidence gathered in Texas and Nevada. Obama is half black, and that probably scares, upsets or unnerves certain in the Democratic (and Republican) party. But I doubt that is the key reason. More probably factor in experience in politics, in originating and moving legislation at a national level, and the connection with the Democratic establishment.
There could be more fear present that Obama's backers are too Left-of-Center, too close to Socialism, and his fiscal policies and social plans would prove more harm than good. I doubt there is that much thought going into this; more likely there is an indescribable sense of unease that if Obama got in office over Hillary, the country would not have moved a step forward but to a tangent they might not want to explore. He spearheads a movement, and Movements can be dangerous, right?
Another key reason not brought up is the "railroaded" argument, in that Hillary has been by Democratic regulars eager to see their poster boy/golden child in the top seat, easy to puppet around. Hillary has paid her dues, has worked hard in the positions she's had and suffered through a humiliating series of marital woes. As a woman, she is an example of strength and perseverance in Man's world. To see her be cast to the side for this young buck is probably too much for many, both man and woman, to stomach. Especially when it's someone who doesn't have the same caliber of experience that she has.
I think the backlash against Obama, at this stage, is more for this reason than race or policy fear. Some Democrats really like and respect her, and don't like to see her treated as she has been. Up until the Iowa caucuses, Clinton was the anointed choice for the Dems, and the bitterness created by the new crowd coming in, claiming it's far better than what's here or been before, has to rub a lot the wrong way.
The 19% who have decamped from Obama's base for McCain...I'd chalk most of that up to dislike of Hillary Clinton. What support she gets from Obama is for the Democratic party first, her second. For those middle-of-the-road Dems who see in Obama a new way, they might view McCain as a better short-term choice to Hillary's divisiveness. Others might not want to see a woman president, just like some of her backers might balk at a black in the Oval Office.
Still, a fifth of his supporters saying they'd vote for McCain over Hillary is no small number either. The race between the two front-runner Democratic candidates has been bloody, far more damaging to the party than any the 2000 war between the Republicans. Back then, it was politics as usual, much bloodletting for the main prize but no real ideology at stake (well...in hindsight, we see it was Neo-Con vs. Moderate, but back that they were all conservative).
With the Democrats in 2008, the fight is clearing DNC Establishment vs. Neo-Liberal Movement (bear with me). Both have similar aims in mind and the general framework ideas (socialized health care, stronger welfare system, higher taxes for the "rich", etc) but different plans for execution. You can almost equate it to the ideological differences between the New Deal Democrats of FDR's hey-day and Eugene Debs' supporters in the Socialist party. Much of the latter's policies were shared by FDR but adopted in different ways, partly to appear less, well...socialist.
Never mind the aptness of that analogy, the division is calcifying between Obama and Clinton the longer they drag this out. If the PLEOs/Superdelegates do end up deciding the nomination, possibly in a suggested mini-convention for just Superdelegates, with no regard for the popular vote, this could be the year you see a major political party split in twain.
Or a third party born.
Until next time, I remain your radical moderate,