Thursday, March 27, 2008

More Context on the Democratic Defectors Survey

The Pew survey released today provides some more context on the Gallup finding that a significant percentage of Democrats would vote for McCain if their candidate was not the nominee. In the Pew survey, Democratic respondents were asked the following question:

"If Obama/Clinton wins the Democratic nomination, do you think the Democratic Party will unite solidly behind her or do you think that differences and disagreements within the party will keep many Democrats from supporting Obama/Clinton?"

Now, this is not exactly the same question Gallup was asking, but it is related and can help provide some additional context to those Gallup results. Regardless of whether Obama or Clinton's name was included in the question, approximately one-fourth of Democrats said that the differences and disagreements would keep many Democrats from supporting the eventual nominee. Fortunately, Pew asked the same question of voters in 2004 and in 1992 after Kerry and Clinton had clinched the party's nomination. In 2004, only 15% of Democrats said that the differences and disagreements would keep many from supporting Kerry. In 1992, however, a much greater 38% of Democrats said that the differences and disagreements would keep many Democrats from supporting Clinton. Ironically, Kerry lost the general election while Clinton won (though Kerry won a higher share of the popular vote than Clinton did). The 1992 case may be an even better comparison than the Republican contest in 2000, since that contest dragged well into the summer.

But here is the real interesting part of the story. In the survey Pew just released, they also asked Republicans the same question about John McCain. 22% of Republicans said that the differences and disagreements within the Republican Party would keep many Republicans from supporting McCain, nearly the same levels as those reported by Democrats for Obama and Clinton. What is also notable is that this figure for McCain was at 32% in a February Pew survey and has already dropped to 22% by the end of March. Thus, the problems for Obama and Clinton among Democrats do not seem that different from those that McCain has with Republicans now. Furthermore, the evidence for McCain seems to indicate that these issues melt away fairly quickly (going from 32% to 22% in just one month). These figures suggest, once again, that the news media (and many Democrats) are putting far too much weight on the Gallup numbers without the proper amount of context.

By the way, this is why I always look forward to Pew's survey reports. They generally provide excellent analysis with plenty of historical context. Kudos to them for including the figures from earlier campaigns when presenting this information.

NOTE: According to the same Pew survey, about three out of every ten supporters of Obama or Clinton say that they will vote for McCain if their favored candidate does not win the Democratic nomination. As I noted yesterday, this is smaller than the 51% of McCain supporters who said that they were going to vote for Bush in 2000 after McCain lost the race for the nomination.

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