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NAES 2000 Data on Primary Defectors

Topics: 2008 , Al Gore , John McCain , Pew Research Center , Ralph Nader

Brian Schaffer, who on Wednesday reminded us of some Pew Research Center results from March 2000 on defectors from presidential candidates supported in primaries, has done one better. He went back to the data from the Annenberg National Election Study (NAES) in 2000 and checked the defection rates of supporters of John McCain and Bill Bradlee during the fall campaign:

How common were defections? Fairly common, actually. Even in October, only 49% of former McCain voters intended to vote for Bush and 29% were planning on casting their ballot for Gore (in March of 2000, a Pew Survey reported that 51% of McCain supporters planned to vote for Gore). McCain supporters were also far more likely to be undecided late in the race as 11% of this group reported that they still did not know who they intended to vote for.

Former Bradley supporters were also divided. While 52% of this group planned on voting for Gore, another 28% intended to vote for Bush.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, both former Bradley and former McCain supporters appeared more likely to prefer 3rd party candidate Ralph Nader. About 10% of Bradley supporters and 7% of McCain supporters expressed their intent to vote for Nader.

Schaffner also notes that since "since turnout in primaries is usually far less than it is in general elections," the defectors made for relatively small portion of those that ultimately supported Bush or Gore:

Based on this survey, former McCain voters accounted for 4% of those who intended to vote for Gore while former Bradley supporters accounted for 2.6% of those who voted for Bush. (Interestingly, citizens who voted for Gore in the primaries accounted for 1.8% of those who intended to vote for Bush and Bush primary supporters were 1% of those who intended to vote for Gore).

Of course, as both Schaffner and many of our readers point out, 2000 is not 2008. Both party primaries were wrapped up fairly quickly. How big a factor defections will be in 2008 may depend on how long it takes to resolve the Democratic nomination fight.

 

Comments
damitajo1:

I am still interested in an analysis of these important issues that certainly complicate the above analysis:

1. To what extent did people actually defect? Just saying they planned to but were a small segment of the vote does very little (see below) to help understand the potential threat here.

2. Even though primary participation is usually very low, this season is different. First of all, in 2000, Gore was the "heir" to the Clinton throne, and Bradley was kicked out early; although Kerry was no heir, the Dean Scream left Kerry alone to sweep the primaries. Who participates when a winner is chosen by the second contest? This year we have a very close race with extraordinary participation. It is going down to the wire. More people are participating than ever before. So, I would not discount the voice of primary voters.

3. Because primary voters are so divided (almost 50-50) between Obama and Clinton, even a small percentage shift away from Obama to McCain could damage him. When you are dealing with 50 percent of the party that particiated in primaries during a high-primary-turnout year, and 30 percent of that 50 percent says they will defect, that's not something to dismiss. And neither 2000 or 2004 provides a helpful comparison. Neither Bradley nor McCain had as high a level of support as Obama or Clinton. So their defectors didn't mean much. Defectors in this race could mean a whole lot more.

4. Finally, the potential defection rate is worsened, I think, by the historic nature of the campaign. Let's face it, people vote around identity politics --even Republicans (rallying evangelicals against same-sex marriage appeals to identity politics). And the fact that the feminist and antiracist crowds are split spells trouble. Picking among several white male candidates in the same party just does not involve such intense personal anxiety. Having said that, opinion data suggest that blacks will not go for McCain; the data say nothing about "staying home," however.

What about these issues? I actually think the Dems are doomed either way.....

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