Sunday, April 27, 2008

TPH: Numbers, Numbers, Numbers

The Political Hoedown
Hillary Wins PA; Numbers; Superdelegates

Despite being outspent 2:1 by Sen. Obama's blitzkrieg campaign, Sen. Hillary Clinton pulled out a win in Pennsylvania...that we all said was a foregone conclusion months ago. Regardless, it's a big deal for her. Another big state - a state of national prominence - it further solidifies (in her mind) the argument that she can pull the strands of the party together better than Barack.

Her lead in the state was in the double-digits weeks out from the primary, but shrank to single-digits as the contest approached. In fact, some polls showed Obama ahead of her. But the reality of her voting base and the scrutiny facing Obama's controversial associations proved too much for any major upset, and the polls closing in on April 22nd showed her regaining or holding the lead by a comfortable amount.

Obama ran an odd campaign in the state. He pumped millions into it and, as I said, expended twice as much cash as Clinton. Yet in the week before, he and his campaign admitted that they had no illusions of victory. Were they trying for an underdog win, or spelling out plainly that they really didn't have a chance? I'd go for more of the latter. Were I Obama's treasurer or finance guru, I'd be a little upset at the outlay of funds for a losing battle - a battle that six weeks ago they knew was lost. The polls done in Pennsylvania back then weren't in a vacuum; the electorate knew Hillary was behind Barack but still gave her such a lead. Unallocated votes in the meantime swayed more for him, boosting his numbers, but hers weren't much degraded. So theirs was a stop-gap maneuver, doing their best to hold their position with little chance of gain. And it cost them millions to do it.

It all hashed out (roughly) 54.7% to 45.3%, Clinton over Obama. Of course, she claims the victory goes beyond a simple win for her and continued campaigning; it threatens his electability in a general election. That is fair, but it is also fair to say that most of her voters would stick with him in the fall. If she speaks of the broad view, of pulling in independents and Republicans who fall in the middle/middle-right, there's more credibility to her argument. But to really look at that, one must look at the numbers.

* * *

Do you know how long it takes to wade through the dozens of exit polls done in the last few months? You can go through each candidate's victory column and cobble together, through numerical and statistical manipulation, a case for them for president. According to the Pennsylvania exit poll, when asked if Clinton can improve the economy, "Yes" respondents were at 75% while "No"s were at 23%. Using the same question with Obama as candidate, the Yes:No's were 65% to 33%. That's huge right there, and a key hitting point for the Clinton campaign, that more people have faith in her economic vision, based on a (flimsy) exit poll.

For while exit polls do provide us with "valuable insights" into the demographic breakdown, as well as fodder for cable news shows, they aren't cannon voter indicators. 2,217 people out of 2,306,326 - or .001% - participated. Pollsters make their living out of choosing certain people to fulfill national demographic categories in order to reflect the country as a whole, thereby gaining the nebulous "valuable insights" we need to digest voting results. But are they to be trusted?

Certainly by going through the PA results, we see that Clinton was leading in most categories, and mirrored her overall victory. BUT notice how, even with these in hand, CNN waited until about 20% of the state-wide results were in, including key precincts around major cities, before calling for Hillary. The numbers are only so good, and again, easy to manipulate. It's exit polling that got the networks and cable news channels into so much trouble with early, pre-poll closing calls.

Clinton lost Wisconsin by a sizable margin, yet looking at the results, you could make a case that white Democrats prefer her as their President. 53% of exit pollers were white Democrats, and they chose 51% to 49% Clinton to Obama. You can easily use those numbers by removing them: over half of white Democrats choose Hillary. While you can't really run that sort of ad, it helps with positioning amid the media, in smaller press releases to couch a loss with a statistical victory in one small area ("But Chris, we did win in this very key demo...").

In the coming weeks (and, potentially, months), both campaigns will be courting the remaining ~300 Superdelegates/PLEOs (Party Leaders & Elected Officials), using these same numbers and the demographic make-up of their victory states to firm up support.

* * *

But what are the Superdelegates to do? Do they go with 1) whoever has the most competitively won votes, 2) the greatest popular vote or 3) the best argument for November electability vs. McCain? In a true democracy (which we are not), they'd go with #2. But, if they are practical (that goes against a true, shouting democracy), they'd look at #1 and #3, ignoring #2, and hash out their response.

The main goal for the Democrats this year cannot be a policy victory. It's a popularity contest or, at worst, a referendum of GWBush. And we already had that in 2006, with the public giving the Dems the Congress in a sweeping win for the minority party. Now, with a little less than two years of blah under their belt, along with mortgage, credit and gas crisises, they pray the momentum of the primaries will allow them to keep their seats in the fall.

Obama's camp claims that, since he has the most non-PLEO delegates, meaning the public is on his side, his case is the best for a fall victory. Hillary understands he's won a bunch more states than she, though many are "red" and not likely to go "blue" even if he was the candidate. However, her victories have been in states that have to be won, the ubiquitous national states, and count for more...right?

Which make up the Republican party more: black people or white? And of those whites, how many really are billionaires sitting in golden palaces amidst acres of servants and luxury? So we can agree that most Republicans are white and probably middle-class and below. Might one collar? Do you see where Hillary can take this, how she can use the "I pull from the demographics that THEY use" argument to trump Obama's youth/disenfranchised/black base?

Any presumptive Democratic candidate must realize that to overcome the foot soldiers of the Republican party, the white folk, they'll need the same. While an Obama candidacy will guarantee more black voters, in states like Illinois, New York and South Carolina (low electoral vote count) it won't matter. The grand picture, Clinton can argue, means a big tent that has those necessary blue collar whites as the linchpin (!) of the whole deal.

But Obama has more votes.

How would you decide?