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Did race, as white voters hesitated in the booths, play a part in upset?

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Author Topic: Did race, as white voters hesitated in the booths, play a part in upset?  (Read 13 times)
Jordan Fass
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« on: January 10, 2008, 12:06:19 am »

January 10, 2008

Did race, as white voters hesitated in the booths, play a part in upset?

Gerard Baker, US Editor: Analysis
It was, by common consent, the most startling turnaround in political fortunes, perhaps in the history of presidential primary elections.

The final internal polls for the Obama and Clinton campaigns told a remarkably similar story. Both showed that Barack Obama was riding the momentum of his win in Iowa last week and streaking away from Hillary Clinton. Mr Obama’s polls indicated a 14-point lead; Mrs Clinton’s were scarcely any better – her opponent was ahead by 11 points and ready to deliver what might well be a fatal blow to her campaign.

When election day dawned, the one nagging worry for the Obama team was that he would win by “only” single digits. “The Clintons are very good at spinning defeats into victories,” said one Obama aide. “Don’t be taken in.”

But soon after the polls closed it became clear that the Clintons did not need to spin anything. The first exit polls suggested that Mr Obama’s lead was much smaller than expected. When the real results came in, Mrs Clinton built a narrow lead in the early returns that she never lost.

She had not only pulled off a wholly unexpected victory over a surging candidate, but she had also stopped a burgeoning political movement in its tracks. What happened?

We should, perhaps, have remembered the way New Hampshire has voted so often in the past. The voters here seem to take particular care to reject the assumptions of the pundits, and the verdicts of the voters in Iowa. In 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992 and 2000, New Hampshire voters – sometimes Democrats, sometimes Republicans – flipped their primary on its head by choosing the candidate rejected in Iowa.

It seems that there is something to the argument that they may have just been saying, as they appear to have done in the past: “Slow down. This is a long campaign. We don’t want to anoint anyone the next president this early, least of all someone the American people know next to nothing about.”

Another answer, at least if the exit polls are to be believed, is that the Democratic race – for all its novelty of the first woman and first black candidate with a real chance of winning – followed a classic model for the contest for the party’s presidential nomination.

Mrs Clinton, simply, was able to do what all successful Democratic candidates have been able to do, and what she had spectacularly failed to do in Iowa – mobilise the powerful constituencies among Democratic voters to come out in large numbers for her, beating an opponent who relied on less traditional groups.

She won by large margins among party enthusiasts: lower income voters, older voters, union members, the less well educated and, above all, women. She won registered Democrats by 45 to 34 per cent; those with incomes less than $50,000 by 47 to 32; union members by 40 to 31; those with no college degree by 43 to 35; voters over 65 by 48 to 33 and women by 46 to 34.

Mr Obama, as he did in Iowa, won sizeable pluralities among new voters, independents (who are allowed to vote in New Hampshire’s Democratic primary), younger voters, especially students, and the well educated. He won independents by 41 per cent to 31 per cent; those with postgraduate degrees by 43 to 31, workers earning more than $50,000 by 40 to 35; 18 to 22 year-olds by 61 to 24 and first time voters by 48 to 36 per cent.

The difference between Iowa and New Hampshire was that there were just not as many of these new, younger, better-educated independent voters in New Hampshire, partly because many of them had chosen to vote in the Republican contest.

And so these first two contests set the stage for a classic, old-fashioned battle between the Democratic Establishment and the insurgency. It is a struggle between generations and socioeconomic groups.

It might also become, in the ensuing contests in places such as South Carolina and the rest of the South, as well as the main cities of the Northeast and Midwest, in part about race. There were few black voters in New Hampshire; many more will vote from now on, something that may confront the Democrats with some difficult challenges as the contest goes on.

In fact, as they left New Hampshire yesterday, some Obama aides wondered whether race could have played a part in Tuesday’s stunning upset for their candidate.

One thing that could not be explained simply was the difference between the opinion polls for the two parties. For the Republicans, they were accurate. Yet for the Democrats they were wildly awry, giving Mr Obama a large lead into polling day.

A quick look through recent political history finds only a few occasions on which such a stark divergence has occurred. In 1982, Tom Bradley, a Democrat, seemed to have a commanding lead in the opinion polls in the final days of the campaign for California governor. But on the day he lost to the Republican George Deukmejian. In 1989, Douglas Wilder won the Virginia governor’s race narrowly despite holding an average nine-point lead in the final polls. And in 1990, Harvey Gantt was beaten by the Republican Jesse Helms in a North Carolina Senate race in the same kind of upset.

What all those surprising losers had in common was that they were black. The phenomenon has become known as the “Bradley Effect”. Political scientists have discovered that some voters will tell pollsters that they intend to vote for a black candidate but in the privacy of the polling booth they vote for the white one. If it is true, it suggests that Mr Obama may be in for a few more unpleasant surprises in the next few weeks.
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