Monday, June 16, 2008

What Does Jim Webb Add to (or Subtract From) a Democratic Ticket?

I am back from a week away and am ready to start tackling the first of what I hope will be several installments looking at possible vice presidential choices for both Obama and McCain. In this installment, I will look at what Jim Webb might bring to the Democratic ticket.

Webb's name has been a popular one with many pundits because he seems to bring a lot of strength among groups where Obama may be weaker. Generally, Webb is viewed as someone who can help with working class white voters, especially those in rural areas. On the other hand, there is some concern about Webb's image among women voters.

To get a better sense of how Webb stands among these various demographic groups, we can look at his performance in the 2006 Senate race (when he upset George Allen) compared to the performance of other Democratic Senate candidates nationwide in that same year. This comparison is shown in this figure:


First, Webb did under-perform among women when compared to other Democratic Senate candidates in 2006. He won just 46% of the vote among this group compared to other Democrats who won 51% of white women in 2006. He also did not make this disadvantage up with a stronger performance among white men, as he won the same share of the vote from white men as other Democratic Senate candidates did in 2006. Webb's problems among white women could be decisive in leading Obama toward another choice, because Obama cannot afford to alienate women who are already disappointed with the way the Democratic primary turned out.

Webb also does not necessarily bring the advantages among "working class whites" that pundits have been quick to attribute to him. In fact, he won just 47% of the vote among whites making less than $50,000 per year compared to 52% for other Democratic Senate candidates. He also won just 32% among whites without a college education, far below the 47% baseline established by other Democratic candidates.

So, what up-side does Webb bring? He did out-perform other Democrats among voters 60 and older, a group that Obama did not fare as well with during the Democratic primaries. He also did 8% better among frequent church-goers and 6% better among rural voters than other Democrats did in 2006. These are groups that the Obama campaign would certainly want to reach out to, if only to minimize the size of McCain's advantage among those demographics.

Finally, there are two things we can't really get a handle on with these exit polls. First, Webb does bring some national security experience that could be important for the Democratic tickets. Second, Webb hails from Virginia, a state that Obama intends to doggedly contest in 2008. The question is, are these advantages important enough to out-weigh concerns about Webb's image among women? My guess is no. The Obama campaign simply cannot afford to alienate white women, no matter what other advantages they think they pick up by doing so.

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6 comments:

Willie11 said...

Interesting. How did you calculate the average performance of Democratic Senators? What exit polls did you use to get this average and did you include the numbers from noncompetitive races such as AZ or NY?

Brian Schaffner said...

I included all Democratic senate candidates, no matter how competitive the race. This could produce a problem, but I think it worked out ok since there were races where the Democrat lost by a large margin and also those where the Democrat won by a large margin, which would hopefully cancel each other out. In fact, the exit polls showed Webb winning 54% of the vote, the exact same percentage of the vote that the exit polls showed all other Democratic candidates winning. Thus, the comparison to all other Democratic senate candidates seems to be a fairly reasonable one.

Willie11 said...

Thanks Dr. Schaffner, that seems entirely reasonable.

hardheaded liberal said...

Sorry, Dr. Shaffner, I disagree with Willie11. I think you would fail a graduate student who handed in an analysis based on the reasoning you explained for selecting the universe you used to produce your analysis, which you described this way:

"I included all Democratic senate candidates, no matter how competitive the race. This could produce a problem, but I think it worked out ok since there were races where the Democrat lost by a large margin and also those where the Democrat won by a large margin, which would hopefully cancel each other out. In fact, the exit polls showed Webb winning 54% of the vote, the exact same percentage of the vote that the exit polls showed all other Democratic candidates winning. Thus, the comparison to all other Democratic senate candidates seems to be a fairly reasonable one."

The method you describe looks to me to be wide open to problems akin to the "ecological fallacy." You may have reached a correct conclusion about Webb's drawing power (or lack thereof) with women and working class whites, but the analysis that you presented has zero persuasive value, IMHO.

In the universe you chose, Webb did slightly better than other Democratic Senatorial candidates with seniors, rural voters, suburban voters and voters who regularly practice their religion. He also did slightly worse with women, white voters making less than $50,000 per year and much worse than other Democratic Senatorial candidates with white voters who did not have a college education.

You opined that Webb would be a problem for Obama with women, based on his underperforming in that demographic, and that Obama was too weak in that area to risk Webb on the ticket. But since you posted this analysis, multiple polls are showing that Obama's "unity bounce" upon Clinton's concession speech has already mitigated that problem. If Webb does draw rural voters and seniors more strongly than Democrats in state-wide races in states with comparable demographics, his appeal to those segments of the voting population could vastly improve Obama's performance in Appalachia, including the parts of Appalachia that can be found in WV, VA, PA, OH, and IN.

I would think that for your analysis to be taken seriously you at least need to control for region. Harold Ford's contest in TN was about as close as Webb's vote in VA, although the race of the Democratic candidate might make those two state elections a poor comparison.
Clair McKaskill's vote in MO would potentially be a good comparison with Webb's performance. MD has a very different index of partisan identification, but Ben Cardin's race there may be another decent comparison if the vote is adjusted for the partisan index.

Comparison with exit polling on Tim Kaine's support in winning the governorship of VA in 2006 would probably be more useful than comparing Webb's vote to the aggregate of other Senatorial candidates in 32 widely diverse states.

Instead, you included in your universe incumbents like Clinton (NY), Biden (DE), Ted Kennedy, Bingham (NM), Byrd (WV), the two Nelsons (FL & NE) and incumbents in other states, including WI, HI, ND, CA.

Sen. Whitehouse in RI, John Tester in MT, Klobusher in MN, Bernie Sanders in VT, and the sacrificial lamb against Snowe in ME should not be included in the comparison. Those states are almost lily white.

The votes for Sherrod Brown in OH, Bob Casey, Jr., in PA, Bob Menendez in NJ, the sacrificial lambs against Lugar in IN, Kay Bailey Hutchinson in TX, & Trent Lott in MS would also be of questionable relevance. The Democratic votes in the unsuccessful run against Ensign (NV) and also the contests in AZ, UT & WY are from a completely different demographic than the VA demographic.

Any of the comparisons also need to be qualified by the fact that Webb was the only serious Democratic candidate who had never even run for public office before.

I would be very interested in seeing a comparison of the Democratic Senatorial candidates' demographic support by region. Your use of aggregate figures for Democratic Senatorial candidates in 32 states with widely diverse demographic characteristics, states that were about evenly divided between incumbents and first-time candidates for Senate seats is almost bizarre. The analysis you have presented here is the sort of aggregate analysis that a rookie political reporter who took no poli sci or statistics courses might come up with.

Brian Schaffner said...

Hardheaded Liberal:

My analysis of Webb is meant to be a thought-provoking "back of the envelope" analysis and nothing more. Unfortunately, I have a day job that takes up most of my time so I am not able to produce the kinds of analyses for this blog that I produce for the journal articles I publish. Therefore, I do what I can with the limited time I have, relying on simple checks such as the fact that Webb's % of the vote was the same as the % of the vote for all other Democratic candidates.

That said, if you have time to produce the kind of analysis that you described, I'd be more than happy to publish your analysis on this blog (or link to it if you post the analysis elsewhere). Please do email me if you'd like to set this up.

Kenny said...

One thing that might be manageable is comparing how Webb did to Kerry among various groups in Virginia in 2004 (though the Democratic swing of 2006 is a confounding factor), and perhaps comparing him to the average of the Democratic congress members in Virginia in 2006 (though again, I don't recall if every house seat in Virginia was contested).