>> Thursday, August 14, 2008
Obama’s crossover appeal has been one of the big arguments in favor of his candidacy. At least it was in the early days. Back in those days there was a lot of talk about post partisan governing moving beyond the divisions that have plagued us for decades. It sounded really good. Then there are the anecdotal reports of high profile Rs who are endorsing Obama and the rumors of those who might. Doug Kmiec, Jeffrey Hart, Armstrong Williams, Richard Whalen, Lincoln Chafee, Susan Eisenhower. Constant rumors about endorsements by Colin Powell and Chuck Hagel. The question is whether these types of voters exist in real numbers.
A hallmark of the Obama stump speech is his line about Republican support.
“They whisper to me. They say, ‘Barack, I’m a Republican, but I support you.’ And I say, ‘Thank you.'" Pause. Blink. Blink again. And then: "'Why are we whispering?’”
We have all heard the line. It sounds really good and against Hillary Clinton it was true. Andrew Ramano of Newsweek examined whether it will be true against John McCain, a real Republican. His conclusion is that the support for Obama among Republicans is a myth.
As I discovered from examination the last 18 months of head-to-head general election polls, the answer seems to be "no." In fact, John McCain's share of the Democratic vote has typically--and surprisingly--been larger than Obama's share of the Republican vote. In other words, it's not that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright scared the Obamacan masses off, as some pundits have theorized--it's that they never existed (in any unprecedented way) to begin with. In December 2006--before the unfamiliar Illinois senator had officially announced his candidacy--McCain attracted 25 support among Dems versus Obama's eight percent among Repubs, according to a FOX News poll**. Those numbers tightened over the next few months of polling by various firms, but Obama never established a sustained lead. A February 2007 Quinnipiac survey showed McCain with 17 percent crossover support, for example, versus nine percent for Obama; in a June 2007 sounding by the same outlet, McCain still led 15 percent to 11. During primary season--between December 2007 and April 2008--McCain's Democratic number typically hovered between 18 and 22. Obama, meanwhile, never climbed higher than 13 percent.
This is probably all true. I have a different interpretation of the data though. What these polls do not account for is the dramatic increase in Democratic voter registration.
In a normal election, you would expect that the party registration would fall along fairly regular lines. People who have registered Republican in the past would stay as registered Republicans. However, in this election, Democrats are registering voters at a much greater clip than the Republicans are. In addition, we would expect that many who identified with the GOP in the past have drifted into independent identification. What this means is that those left as registered Republicans should be those who are hardcore believers. The entire spectrum shifts with former independents now registering as soft Dems and former soft R’s now either indy or Dem. Ramano followed up on his original post to answer a counter similar to mine.
In the meantime, we'll have to look at how Obama is faring among Independents to get a sense of whether "a non-negligible portion of the Republican Party from 2004 is today voting for Obama, [even] though these people no longer identify as Republicans." The theory here is that if a lot of 2004 Republicans are now calling themselves Independents and voting for Obama, he should be performing better against McCain with Independents overall than John Kerry performed against George W. Bush in 2004. Sadly, that doesn't seem to be the case. In August 2004, Pew found Kerry leading Bush by eight points among self-identified Independents, 48 to 40 percent. Currently, Obama's edge within the same subgroup is half that size, and when you include Pew's May and June results (44-44, 42-41) any statistically significant lead disappears.
Sure, it's impossible to discern whether Obama is outperforming Kerry among the "former Republican" segment of the Independent electorate without stats showing how these folks voted in 2004. He very well could be. That said, Obama's tie with McCain among Independents overall indicates that either a) his performance mirrors or lags behind Kerry's or b) McCain is compensating for Obama's gains by besting Bush among other types of Independents…
In other words, "there's little statistical evidence to support the claim that the number of Republicans who favor this year's Democrat is substantially larger than the number of Republicans who favored his predecessors"--or, if so, that they'll make much of a difference on Election Day.
Romano wants to use something like the NES to answer the question about people who switch parties or become non-aligned but as that has not been conducted for this cycle. We will be able to get a good sense of this after the election but right now, we have to do more legwork. We should not take national polls alone as the basis for determining if Obama has crossover appeal. There is a possibility that Obama is doing better with conservatives in different states or different areas of the country where the GOP support could be softer. Looking at individual states is also a way to examine the registration rates and records more closely.
True Independent has dome some examination of voter registration in four important states this cycle, Iowa, Florida, North Carolina, and Nevada. What is clear is that Dems are winning the registration war. Using his analysis I think I can show that people are moving towards the Democratic Party and I think that some of these people must be disaffected Republicans. First Florida-
Look at the Indies registration numbers in FLA this year. Indies percentage share of the electorate has actually decreased over the past 6 months, not increased as it has done in all three prior Presidential elections. Republicans percentage share on the other hand is decreasing as it has in all three past Presidential elections, not by much but a drop off nonetheless. Now look at Democrats percentage share. It has actually INCREASED over the past 6 months! In none of the other three past Presidential elections has a party's share (Republican or Democrat) of the electorate gone up before election day. If this trend keeps, this may suggest a Democratic surge may occur in Florida, much along the lines Indies share has upticked in elections past by anywhere from 4 to 6% over their actual percentage of registered voters! Could it be that Democrats are acting like the Indies from Presidential elections past in Florida this year? If so, this would be a huge lift to Obama's chances of winning the state, and an equally large blow to McCain's chances.
This is a clear statement that people are moving from the Indy column and into the Dem column. If we accept that these Indys were soft R’s in the past, remember that the Rs managed to overcome lower registration totals in Florida the past two cycles, then Obama is taking that conservative and disaffected support. We see the same shift from Indy to D in Iowa
Look at the almost lockstep nature in which Indies registration numbers declined to the increase in Democrats numbers during the same time frame. Specifically, the large jump in numbers for Democrats occurred between January and May of this year, the same time that Indies experienced their largest drop in registration numbers. The reason this is a concern is that it suggest that perhaps the increase in Democrats numbers are more mirage than reality. If all the Dems have done is substitute what they got as a share of the Indie vote with now true blue Democrats then the increase in voter registration nets the party very little.
Remember though that Obama is still wining a percentage of R’s comparable to that Kerry won. Except now, we are seeing those soft Rs are already becoming Indy and D. We see this in concrete numbers for Nevada, specifically the month of May.
Date D R I
1/08 407,420 395,942 142,846
5/08 437,543 387,523 140,974
6/08 446,003 390,443 144,489
R and I are both losing hard numbers from January to May while the Ds gain. That looks like some Obamacans to me. Is it all about Obama? No. The change in the registration of voters is an ongoing trend. A Herald International Tribune article from Aug 6 details the ongoing shift away from the Republican Party.
For more than three years, starting in 2005, there has been a reduction in the number of voters who register with the Republican Party and a rise among voters who affiliate with Democrats and, almost as often, with no party at all…
Swings in party registration are not uncommon from one year to the next, or even over two years. Registration, moreover, often has no impact on how people actually vote, and people sometimes switch registration to vote in a primary, then flip again come Election Day.
But for a shift away from one party to sustain itself - the current registration trend is now in its fourth year - is remarkable, researchers who study voting patterns say. And though comparable data are not available for the 21 states where voters do not register by party, there is evidence that an increasing number of voters in those states are also moving away from the Republican Party based on the results of recent state and congressional elections, the researchers said.
Obama is reaching into the Republican ranks to get those who used to be deeper and more solid Republicans. The soft Rs have been defecting to either Indy status or Dem status. This would not show up in the polls that Ramano cites. Does this make sense and hold water? I hope so.