Politics

The Day After the Pennsylvania Primary

by Frank Newport

No support in national polling that either Clinton or Obama is more electable

PRINCETON, NJ -- Hillary Clinton's 54.7% to 45.3% win over Barack Obama in Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary, while not necessarily surprising, gives rise to three key focus points from a national polling perspective as the campaign moves forward.

Clinton's Coalition

Initial analysis of the Edison-Mitofsky exit poll from the Pennsylvania primary show that Clinton won by doing well among women (who constituted almost 6 out of 10 voters in Tuesday's voting, according to the exit poll), older voters, whites, Catholics, lower-income voters, and voters with less education. These are the same basic patterns that occur in Gallup's analysis of Democratic candidate support nationally. It appears that the coalitions of the two candidates are fairly well established at this point. To a significant degree, Clinton was able to win in Pennsylvania because of the state's demographic composition, and the existence of these same patterns of support nationally suggests that her chances of victory over Obama will be related more to the types of voters who live in each remaining state, rather than to future campaigning.

Electability

Much of Clinton's current campaign positioning is based on her claim that she is more electable against John McCain next November.

Analysis of Gallup data, however, does not find empirical justification for this claim at this point. In head-to-head matchups against presumptive Republican nominee McCain, Clinton and Obama perform almost exactly the same. In Gallup's latest tracking of the general election, based on interviewing conducted April 18-22, McCain has a one-point lead over both Clinton and Obama. In the April 18-20 USA Today/Gallup poll, both Clinton and Obama were slightly -- but almost identically -- ahead of McCain among likely voters. In neither instance is there any meaningful difference in how the two candidates stack up against McCain.

Clinton has argued that her wins in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio underscore her ability to win possible swing states in the general election next November. But a recent Gallup analysis of the vote patterns in states that were competitive in the 2004 election shows that Obama and Clinton perform exactly the same when paired against McCain in these swing states -- again giving no indication that either of the two Democratic candidates at this point is more "electable" than the other. Furthermore, in that analysis, Obama did slightly better versus McCain than Clinton did in both reliably Democratic and reliably Republican states.

"Bruising" the Party?

Some observers, both within and outside the Democratic Party, complain that the continuing battle for the Democratic nomination is "bruising" the party, creating dissension within its ranks while allowing McCain to sail above the fray in a relatively uncriticized campaign mode as the Democrats continue their fight.

Recent polling shows that Democrats as a whole are divided on this issue. About half say the continuing fight is hurting the party, while the same number say it is not. The big difference on this dimension is candidate support. Not surprisingly, a majority of Clinton supporters say the nomination contest is not hurting the party and should continue until a nominee is determined. A majority of Obama supporters say the nomination contest is hurting the party and that a nominee (presumably Obama) should be determined now.

As long as Clinton has a sizable percentage of supporters within the Democratic Party, it appears there will be no strong consensus for the process to come to a close.

Implications

Clinton had long been the leader in Pennsylvania polls, and her win on Tuesday night was not unexpected. It did solidify her determination to continue to pursue the Democratic nomination -- something that Gallup data show is certainly pleasing to her supporters while just as equally displeasing to Obama supporters.

The lasting negative impact of the long campaign is yet to be determined, but Gallup analysis continues to show that a sizable minority of both Clinton and Obama supporters say they would shift over and vote for McCain if "their" nominee does not win, suggesting some possible negative fallout. When asked specifically about the impact of the campaigning, Clinton supporters are unworried, while Obama supporters wish the campaigning was over and say it is hurting their party.

The demographic coalitions of support put together by the two candidates appear firmly in place by this point in the campaign, and it's likely that the winners in the states to come will be determined more by the composition of the population in those states than by any result of campaigning. At the same time, Clinton's argument that she is more electable in the fall does not appear at this juncture to have support in national data; both she and Obama fare equally well when pitted in polling against McCain.

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