THE PLANK JANUARY 2, 2008
My friend Jon Cohn has asked me to respond to his posting about the Des Moines Register poll, and I will try to oblige. What Jon discovers in Clinton and Obama's totals have shown up in other polls as well: Obama does well among independents and less well among voters without a college degree; Clinton does poorly among independents, but better among voters without a college degree. What this shows is that both candidates have glaring weaknesses that an effective Republican campaign could exploit in the fall.
Obama is going to have a lot of trouble with the white working class. What's interesting about the Iowa poll is that the voters are overwhelmingly white so what you see is a good measure of his difficulty with white Democrats. And those in the poll are not a representative sample of the registered Democrats he would have to reach in the fall campaign.
There is an even more telling statistic in the recent Los Angeles Times poll. In that poll, 13 percent of likely Democratic caucus voters in Iowa said that if Obama were the nominee in the fall, they would not be willing to vote for him. That's a higher percentage than any of the other candidates. I suspect it indicates the reluctance of white voters to back him. And one presumes that if what were sampled were Democrats who planned to vote in November, the percentage might be higher.
Clinton, on the other hand, is having trouble with Independents, who, as Ruy Teixeira and I have argued, are a crucial vote in the primary and the general elections. In the Los Angeles Times poll, 18 percent of the independents who plan to vote in the Iowa Democratic caucus say they would not vote for Clinton in the fall. In November, the number would a lot higher than this, because this is a sample of independents who plan to vote in the Democratic caucus, not of independents in general. Her lack of support reflects her identification (reinforced by her opponent's attacks against her) with Washington special interests and with corruption and scandal associated with the Clinton administration. In the 2000 presidential election, Al Gore actually lost the independent vote to George W. Bush largely, I think, because of his association with the Clinton era scandals. Her summoning Bill Clinton to her side has probably helped her with regular Democrats, but not with independents. So what I'd say is that the Des Moines Register poll shows that either of these candidates--were they to win the nomination--would have some work to do in the fall to get elected president.