Saturday, May 31, 2008

Political dithering while Democrats debate

There's one thing I want say about Hillary Clinton's campaign before it fizzles out: it produced this T-shirt design. The notion that a woman pictured as having hips could make a serious run for the Presidency is as amazing and gratifying to me as the inconceivable reality that more and more of country seems on the verge of recognizing gay marriage. We all owe the sister, even if we don't much like her.

That said, I nonetheless have to work to understand what Clinton's dwindling core of supporters are hanging on to. Fortunately I know some, so what follows is not entirely blowing smoke.

As I've blogged before, many good progressive Clinton supporters are just now learning that she has lost. The shock is still real for many.

And though Clinton has lost, and a good number of us political junkies have known this would be the outcome since sometime in March, the loss is very narrow. Clinton's claims that more popular votes were cast for her are based on some phony accounting (she drops some caucus states like Washington from the calculations). And there's no rational argument that she did not lose among voting delegates to the Democratic convention. Obama has won a narrow margin among pledged and superdelegates. But the margin is small and the contest close.

Early on I found Obama's supporters irritating, willing to embrace their guy with what seemed gushing, baseless enthusiasm. I still think folks who believe Obama is promising a real break from the imperial, corporate consensus are being naïve. But I believe the logic of defeating McCain from Obama's political and identity position will tend to move him in directions I like. And the more naïve Obama supporters will learn -- they'll have to. The rest of us will live to fight another day under an Obama administration.

Meanwhile Clinton partisans are getting the news and adjusting to it: the Field poll in California now shows that state's voters reversing the preferences they expressed on Super Tuesday: among Democrats, Obama tops Clinton by a margin of 51-38. Even in New York, half of Democrats now want Clinton to end her campaign.

The holdouts pretty clearly are white women of a certain age. According to a recent Pew poll,

Obama's favorable rating among voters has slipped eight points since late February, from 59% to 51% in the current survey. ...

Obama's slipping image is in some measure a negative reaction from frustrated Clinton supporters. Currently, just 46% of those who support Clinton for the nomination say the party will unite behind Obama if he is the nominee. In March, 58% of Clinton supporters said the party would rally behind Obama if he is the nominee.

Recent declines in Obama's image have been pronounced among whites -- especially white women. Currently, just 43% of white women express a positive opinion of Obama, down from 56% in late February.

This makes me sad. As a woman for whom feminism -- the revolutionary belief that women are human -- is central to my being, I'm sorry that my sisters are unable to recognize that a woman they identify with could lose in a fair fight. Come on folks, the fact that it was a fair fight in which the man and the woman played by the same rules is progress...

Yet I can sympathize with this excellent description of why some women feel so hurt by the outcome of the Democratic primaries:

If they have worked outside the home, they have seen this movie before: the younger, charismatic man gets the job (or the promotion, or the account), while the older, more qualified woman gets passed over.

...They liked Bill, they like Hillary, and they thought she would do a great job. They are frustrated that millions of voters picked the hot shot over the smart, hard-working woman. In their minds, Hillary deserved the nomination, but voters picked someone less prepared for the job.

To add insult to injury, many of them now believe that they will not live to see a woman president.

Of course this is painful. Having just read A Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin's opus about Abraham Lincoln, I imagine the Clinton folks feel about Obama the way that the abolitionist William Seward's supporters must have felt when the unknown from Illinois was nominated. Then the thought was, who's this unsophisticated, inexperienced frontiersman who stands for nothing, but who has defeated such an accomplished, obvious nominee? I'm not predicting that Obama will turn out to be a Lincoln (probably the most important President we ever had), but a nomination this unexpected has occurred before in our history.
***

One of the signal features of this year's Democratic primaries has been a significant change in the ages of who is voting. I've been working professionally in elections since 1989 and we could always confidently say to our staffs something like: the group most likely to vote are 50 and older. Not anymore. In the Democratic primaries, we've see a dramatically different picture:

  • Weighted by the turnout in each state, voters aged 65+ made up 18.0 percent of the electorate in 2008 as compared with 23.3 percent of the electorate in 2004; a 22 percent decrease.
  • Weighted by the turnout in each state, voters aged 45+ made up 60.9 percent of the electorate in 2008 as compared with 67.9 percent of the electorate in 2004; a 10 percent decrease.
  • Weighted by the turnout in each state, voters aged 18-29 made up 14.5 percent of the electorate in 2008 as compared with 9.4 percent of the electorate in 2004; a 53 percent increase.
Did the number of older voters increase in absolute terms? Of course -- since something like three times as many Democrats cast ballots in the primaries this year. The turnout of midgets of mixed French Creole/Albanian ancestry also increased in absolute terms. But the average age of a Democratic voter decreased from about 52 in 2004 to 49 in 2008.
Big movements in who votes don't happen often. That's a huge movement. We are seeing something new -- perhaps what the country needs to meet the challenges of global warming and declining empire.

Update: while I was dithering, the Democratic rules committee has reached compromises on Florida and Michigan that give Clinton a net additional twenty-four delegates -- not enough to overcome Obama's advantage, possibly enough to stop the food fight. Let's hope this will be over next week ...

4 comments:

Matt said...

Hello, I'm new to comment here but I've lurking for awhile. I want to thank you for articulating your feelings about Clinton supporters. I've been trying to figure out why they have been hanging on in the face of all the facts.

Maybe as a man I can't understand but I hope they come over to the Obama side before we get four more years of Bush.

Thanks for the post.

Matt
www.idealcrap.com

sfmike said...

Even by your usual high standards, that's a stunning essay, easily the best-written piece of political analysis I've read about this race. Thanks, and I hope it's widely read.

johnieb said...

Here from Jane R.'s

A fine essay indeed, though in my view the reluctance to accept Obama's candidacy is not only gender-based, Matt; I was a Clinton supporter, though not from any great passion or conviction. (I preferred Edwards)

Part of my reluctance, in addition to the razor-thin margin of "victory", is the candidate and the smug arrogance of his more zealous supporters. I don't expect an American Presidential campaign to reveal much about a candidate, but, over and again, Obama has struck me as disingenuous and overly elusive.

There seems little to do about it but go along and pray that the Dimocrats aren't once more snatching defeat from what should have been certain victory; I've seen that all too often.

Ronni Bennett said...

What a disappointment Senator Clinton is.

The smugness of this campaign was hers, so sure she would be crowned on Super Tuesday that she didn't bother to build constituencies and campaign organizations in the following primaries.

It's the same mistake she made with her health care plan during her husband's first term.

Hillary supporters who are so pained at the outcome of this primary campaign have no one to blame but Senator Clinton who apparently didn't learn anything from her health care fiasco. The closeness of the campaign shows how many supporters Clinton has and there might have been so many more if she hadn't succumbed to hubris.

I keep asking myself how someone everyone tells me is so smart could be so dumb.

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