Thursday, January 31, 2008

Where Have Obama and Clinton Been?

We know where they are now...getting ready for tonight's debate in Los Angeles. But here is a list of where each candidate has held campaign events since Saturday. (NOTE: I used both the New York Times and Washington Post sites to come up with this list, because some events were missing from one site or the other.)

Clinton: AR, CO, CT, FL, GA, MA, NJ, OK, and TN
Obama: AL, AZ, CO, CT, DC, GA, KS, and MO

A couple of things stand out here (other than the fact that neither candidate has traveled to Fairbanks, AK yet). First, the sheer number (nine for Clinton and eight for Obama) of states that each candidate has visited in a span of 5 days is pretty impressive. Both candidates are working hard to hold events in as many different states as possible during the week leading up to Super Tuesday. Second, the candidates are largely visiting different states. Out of the nine states each candidate has visited, there are only 3 states in common (CO, CT, and GA). This is very much unlike general election campaigns where both parties' candidates spend all of their time in the same places (see OH in 2004).

So, is this what life would be like if electoral votes were allocated proportionally? Or flip this around the other way...if delegates were awarded under the winner-take-all system used by states (except ME and NE) for allocating electoral votes, would the candidates have traveled anywhere other than CA?

Gallup Tracking Polls: Democratic Race Tightening, McCain Pulling Away

During the month of January, Gallup has been conducting 1,000 interviews nationwide each day for their tracking poll following the nomination races. The result given for a particular day includes the interviews conducted on that day and the preceding two days. (Check out the Gallup site for more on the methodology). In other words, the figures given for January 30th include interviews conducted on the 28th-30th.

This provides a good picture of the dynamics of the races heading to Super Tuesday. But keep in mind, this is a national poll, and a little less than half the states will be voting on Super Tuesday.

The Democratic race has tightened considerably during the past few days. The most recent numbers include two days during which Edwards was still in the race and yesterday's interviews, which were conducted when he had announced he was leaving the contest. It is too early to see how his exit is affecting the support for Obama and Clinton, but the contest for the Democratic nomination is clearly neck-and-neck.

The Republican nomination race, on the other hand, is shifting significantly in McCain's favor.

State of the Nomination Races--Australian Radio Interview

I briefly discussed the state of the nomination races in both parties with Australian Broadcasting yesterday. You can listen to the story here.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Who Does Edwards' Exit Help?

With the news breaking today that Edwards will be leaving the race, one of the questions raised is how this will affect what will now be a two-person race. There are two schools of thought on this. On one hand, some may argue that Edwards and Obama were splitting the anti-Clinton vote and that this vote will now coalesce behind Obama. On the other hand, the constituencies Edwards was appealing to (blue collar workers, for example) seem to line up more with the groups who have been supporting Clinton in the early primaries.

I did a little checking to see if any polls out there could offer a clue as to which candidate this might help, if any. Many pollsters (Pew, for example) have actually asked respondents who their second choice was. However, I couldn't find information immediately available concerning which candidate was the preferred second choice among just Edwards supporters.

However, compliments of comes information on a national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll (1,008 respondents, January 20-22) that asks who voters would prefer if Obama and Clinton were their only choices. This was the actual question:

"Suppose the choice for the Democratic nomination came down to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. For whom would you vote?"

Clinton received 53% and Obama received 37% when the question was asked this way. In comparison, when Edwards was included in the question, Clinton received 47% and Obama 32%.

Based on this information, it would appear that Edwards supporters divide roughly equally between Clinton and Obama, with Clinton picking up 6% and Obama increasing his total by 5%. Thus, this poll suggests that Edwards' exit may not help either candidate.

Of course, it is important to be cautious with this interpretation. First, the poll was conducted January 20-22, which was before Obama's win in South Carolina and the endorsement from Ted Kennedy. The latter, in particular, may change how Edwards' supporters view the choice between Clinton and Obama. In addition, the survey pushed respondents who said they were unsure toward one candidate or the other by asking which way they leaned. Finally, this was a national survey, and the dynamics may be quite a bit different in some states relative to others.

I'm sure pollsters will release more information like this from their recent surveys throughout the next few days, but this is a reasonable "first cut" at answering the question until more information is available.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Can Florida and Michigan Democrats Still Play a Role?

As many others did, we followed closely the movement of Florida and Michigan's primaries before the February 5th date mandated by both parties as the first date on which states (other than IA, NH, NV, and SC) could hold sanctioned delegate selection events. Despite stern threats from the national parties (particularly the DNC), Florida and Michigan were determined to move up their primaries to assure that they had more say in who would eventually become each party's nominee. Well, it only half-worked. Michigan and Florida have certainly played an important role in the Republican nomination battle, but this is because the RNC only stripped half of those states delegates. The DNC, on the other hand, stripped Michigan and Florida of any delegates that were selected prior to February 5th. As a result, those contests have not received much, if any, news attention and in a nomination battle that looks like it will come down to a war over every last delegate, Florida and Michigan Democrats have no delegates to offer. Ironically, these states moved up their primaries to have a greater say in the process, yet they have been entirely ignored by the Democratic candidates (Hillary Clinton's recent statements not withstanding). And in a race that will go on through and beyond February 5th, it seems as though both states would have had a much greater role in the nomination process if they had held their events later rather than earlier.

But is all really lost for Michigan and Florida Democrats? As far as I understand DNC rules, it doesn't have to be. After all, the DNC will still recognize any delegates selected at events held on or after February 5th. Consider this possibility: if neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton has wrapped up a majority of delegates by the end of February or beginning of March, there would still be plenty of time for the Michigan and Florida state Democratic parties to schedule and hold caucuses or party-run primaries that could take place in April or May (there is no way the states are going to pay for a second primary day, so these would have to be party-sponsored events). Given the large number of delegates that would be at stake in both of those states, they could determine who wins the nomination...and they would do so not by going early, but by going late. This option is not really being discussed by the news media, but I think it is out there as a possibility that Michigan and Florida's Democratic parties could pursue, if they chose to. (There is a precedent for holding two events, with only one 2004, DC held a non-binding primary before the DNC sanctioned window and then the real delegate selection event later).

Would the Michigan and Florida Democratic parties do this? If they did, wouldn't this help Clinton and hurt Obama (given that Clinton seems to have a lot of support in both states and was the candidate most supportive of their efforts to hold earlier primaries)? Is there anything that could stop the Michigan and Florida parties from doing this?

UPDATE: You can find the DNC's Delegate selection rules here.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Barack Obama at American University

Barack Obama received the endorsement of Ted Kennedy today at AU's Bender arena. Out of sheer curiousity, I just had to check out the event.

What was amazing to me was the size of the crowd that showed up to see this. Bender holds about 6,000 for an event like this, and I'd guess that at least twice that many people were left standing in line when Bender reached capacity. Here are some pictures of the people who never made it inside.

There were a lot of young people, to be sure, but it was really a very diverse group. I saw many older people who were playing hooky from work as well as children who were being kept out of school for a chance to see Obama. Obama and Kennedy came out to talk briefly to those who didn't make it inside. We had front row seats outside, even if we were a bit chilly.

Given that this contest should go on for quite some time, I'd guess that the Washington, DC area will be a popular destination for Democratic and Republican candidates alike in the week following February 5th (Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. all hold their primaries on February 12th).

CORRECTION: The Washington Post is reporting that only about 3,500 were allowed in Bender, as it was not set up for a capacity crowd.

UPDATE: I just used Google maps to calculate that the line to get into the Obama event was over a half mile long.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Expectations Exceeded?

While most of the votes are still to be counted, even CNN (who has been notably careful in calling races this cycle) has called the race for Obama. Judging from the exit polls, it looks like Obama will win South Carolina easily. As I noted earlier, however, more important than the delegates he will pick up are the stories that will appear on tonight's news and in tomorrow's papers (along with the storyline over the next 10 days).

At first cut, it appears that Obama has done well enough to meet expectations, and possibly exceed them.

From the AP: "Barack Obama routed Hillary Rodham Clinton..."

But where does the media coverage go from here? How much will reporters spend discussing Obama's margin of victory? How much will the news media continue to focus on issues of race and gender over the next 10 days? How much (more) will we hear about Bill Clinton's role in the campaign? And how much will any of these storylines help or hurt the candidates?

One thing is clear from tonight's vote (if it wasn't already): February 5th is now set up to be the most interesting and significant day we've seen in the modern era of presidential nomination politics. Over 20 states holding nominating events on a single day with no clear nominee in either party. Incredibly, the candidates have 10 days to try to campaign across more than 20 states. To put that in perspective, in the most recent general election campaigns, candidates have had more than 6 months to compete for votes in 10 states or less (since the campaign usually comes down to just a handful of battleground states). This should be interesting...

Obama's South Carolina Expectations

Most of the surveys out of South Carolina show Obama with about a 10 point lead (though there are significant discrepancies...see Mark Blumenthal's post about this). Of course, these polls are somewhat similar to those we saw heading into New Hampshire and Hillary Clinton's unexpected victory there helped her campaign quickly recover from the loss in Iowa.

The loss in New Hampshire was worse for Obama because the polls had him ahead a few days before and, as a result, the media fully expected him to win. Well, South Carolina seems to be setting up in a similar way. Take this excerpt from the Washington Post this morning:

"Late polls showed Obama (Ill.) leading Clinton (N.Y.) and former senator John Edwards (N.C.), and veterans of Democratic campaigns in the state reported that Obama has the superior organization. A defeat here would represent a major setback for Obama heading into Feb. 5, when more than half of the pledged delegates to the national convention are at stake in tests in 22 states."

You can read similar statements from other media outlets and the bottom line is the same: if the polls are off in South Carolina, like they were in New Hampshire, this could be a difficult loss for Obama because he will have failed to meet the media's expectations for a second time. On the other hand, because he is expected to win, how much credit does Obama get if the polls are right? How big a victory does he have to score to exceed expectations? Remember, there are a fair number of delegates at stake in South Carolina, but what's more important is what the story line is going to be between tomorrow and February 5th.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Blogging from the Iowa Caucuses

I'm at the Polk County Convention Center in Des Moines, Iowa, where news media from all over the world have gathered to report the results of tonight's caucuses. The media reporting center holds about 3000 journalists, and it feels like a mini-national political party convention. Here is a picture from my work station.

It's pretty empty here because many reporters are out right now covering actual precinct caucuses. My job here is to serve as a political consultant to the CBS News Decision Desk. The decision desk is a team of pollsters, political scientists, journalists, and statisticians who analyze the returns as they come in on election night and advise the news people on what kind of predictions or calls can be made about the race either before or soon after voting ends.

Last night I attended an Obama rally, which was held in a high school near downtown Des Moines and started at 10:00 pm (on a school night!). The gymnasium was packed with about 2000 people, all of them energized about Obama's chances. Here are a few pictures from that event.

At the media reporting center right now, it is pretty quiet still - but that should change soon as the caucus doors close and the results start to come in.