Articles and Analysis


Some Context on the Democratic Defectors

Topics: 2008 , Al Gore , Barack Obama , Bradley , Gallup , George Bush , Hillary Clinton , John McCain , Pew Research Center

Brian Schaffner provides some helpful context for the Gallup "Democratic defector" results that we linked to earlier today. He notes a Pew Research Center survey from March 2000 that suggested similar fallout for George W. Bush as a result of his primary against John McCain.

Here are the key passages from the Pew report, starting with the lead paragraph:

The presidential primary season may prove to be a decisive factor in Campaign 2000, not only for who won, but for the way the winners emerged from the process in the eyes of the voters. Al Gore was clearly helped, and George W. Bush was just as clearly hurt. The vice president has improved his personal image, while making gains among two key groups whose support had eluded him last year, independents and men. In contrast, many people have come to dislike Bush personally, especially former supporters of John McCain. As a consequence, the Texas governor now trails Gore for the first time in a nationwide Pew Research Center survey, by 49%-43%....

Later, the report turned to the impact of the primaries:

Primaries Costly for Bush

Moreover, Gore leads Bush by a 51%-44% margin among voters who say they backed McCain during the primary process.(1) These McCain supporters are especially vocal critics of Bush as a person -- nearly half (48%) of those who support Gore point to Bush's personality as the thing they like least about him.[NOTE 1: Unless otherwise noted, former McCain and Bradley backers/supporters are those who say they strongly supported McCain/Bradley for their parties' nomination.]

But Gore's most important gains from supporters of McCain and Bradley come among independents who now disproportionately favor the vice president. In contrast, the party regulars have largely returned to the fold, with Republicans supporting Bush and Democrats supporting Gore.


Needless to say, that early Gore advantage did not persist. I'll let Schaffner blog the rest:

Eventually, many of those McCain backers likely returned to vote for Bush and most of the Bradley backers likely returned to vote for Gore. The hard feelings that existed shortly after the end of the primary eventually subsided as the party unified for the general election. It is likely the case that Obama and Clinton supporters would eventually return to the fold and support the Democratic nominee in the Fall as well. However, the key difference between 2000 and 2008 will be the timing. When McCain lost the nomination, Bush had between 7-8 months to court McCain's old supporters. The Democratic nominee will have less time to do the courting this year. The critical question is how much time will he or she have?

In the Gallup analysis, Frank Newport makes a similar point:

[I]t may be normal for some voters to claim early on in the process -- perhaps out of frustration -- that they will desert their party if certain things do not happen to their liking. And it may be equally likely that they fall back into line by the time of the general election. It is worth noting that in Gallup's historical final pre-election polls from 1992 to 2004, 10% or less of Republicans and Democrats typically vote for the other party's presidential candidate.

Incidentally, for those looking to test electability with these early snapshots, keep in mind that the Gallup analysis focuses solely on self-identified Democrats that say they vote in primaries. It does not cover to the ability of the two Democrats to attract independent or cross-over support from those who say they do not vote in Democratic primaries. On their late February survey, Pew observed that "Obama has much greater personal appeal to independent voters than does either McCain or Clinton," and Pew's Scott Keeter reported that roughly equal numbers of voters are Obama-not-Clinton or Clinton-not-Obama in matchups against John McCain. It would be interesting to replicate those calculations using the Gallup Daily data, although the fact that Obama gets 44% and Clinton 45% against McCain suggests that the rough parity in these defector/cross-over groups persists.

Of course, the larger point of the eight year old Pew numbers is that snapshots from March have a short half-life, so speculate with caution.



Thank you for this, Mark. Everyone can stop freaking out now. Besides, for how bitter this primary has actually been, 28% of Clinton supporters defecting to McCain seems actually pretty low.



The above analysis just shows the percentage of McCain supporters who said they would defect vote for Gore instead of Bush. It does not, however, show what percent of the overall Republican primary voters the McCain defectors represented. I do not recall the contest between McCain and Bush, but I do not believe it was as close as Clinton and Obama. In other words, Clinton's share of Democratic primary voters is just about as large as Obama's. Thus, even a small RATE of defection might pose a more serious threat than in the past, because it would drain off a significant amount of voters. The fact that participation in the Dem primaries is so high -- including among Independents -- just compounds this. Bradley barely made a showing in the primaries. How did McCain do?

Also, under that Pew Study, all Bush needed to do was shift 3% for a tie (that's not even counting the margin of error!), and he had a long time to do it. The election ended in a tie statistically. So this is not saying much to me.

Also, identity politics and vitriol are just making it worse for the Dems. Chosing between the two conservative, heterosexual white dudes may not have established so much unmoving loyalty for Republican voters. Women and white voters who support Clinton and black voters who support Obama might actually lay it on the line if they feel slighted.

PS: I will not defect; I will just refuse to vote for the "other" candidate. I've been numb to the president for 8 years...what's another 4...I was numb for 12 additional years (Reagan and Bush, Sr.). That's just the way it goes. I made up my mind on this a long time ago, and I refuse to modify my position. The more the flames are stoked with articles saying "aw, they will relax later," I just get more entrenched.



PS: (sorry about multiple post)I would add that the internet has fundamentally changed things as well. The level of vitriol is exacerbated by daily venomous exchanges between both candidates' supporters online. This is a larger issue than in 2000. Not sure how that factors in to the drama, but online exchanges have certainly impacted my own sensibilities.



per the above: all bets are off. this is the democratic nomination of desperation and a very different animal than the above post addresses. as such.. the dynamics are entirely different.

i stress again, that the media has created a monster such that i have serious worries about the outcome WHOEVER wins. they have led the african americans to believe that obama has a lock on charisma and media and iconic stature. they have been led to believe that he SHOULD win and therefore is entitled to. i stress the word entitled because that is the tinder for this predictable conflagration.

hillary people are lock jawed over the press and will hurl god knows what, when and if she does not win. and mccain will get the double barrel of both if he does. uhhh, ...

actually, no. what is becoming more and more obvious is that the press has skewered itself on its own petard because the candidate of reconciliation is oddly enough, mccain.

he is the only one at whom the warring dems cannot fulminate. and strangely enough, he has entertained far more aisle crossing behavior than obama for sure.

so the bottom line is; if we dont want race riots that have been virtually invented, sustained and whipped into a raging bonfire, then the nation will wisely or submissively vote mccain. peace at any price will make us do it.



Regardless of how the media spins this there will be no race riots if Senator Obama does not receive the nod for the nomination. I do however beleive that most African-American voters won't support Senator Clinton in the general election. As for me, I will be voting a straight Democratic ticket with the exception of President. I will vote for Senator McCain if Senator Clinton gets the nod. I cannot in good conscience support her



We must keep this in context folks. The vast majority of people do not follow these primaries. They will vote on media coverage from the fall. That is what is essential to understand. Just like in 00, Bush escaped because the media didn't really focus on the fact that he was an effing tool, they concentrated on making up stuff about Gore.

In '04, Kerry was swift-boated and the media again sat on their hands, like flaccid seals. What are we to expect in 08? I expect Obama to be skewered and McCain to be the "reasonable" one. Nothing like building up a messiah figure and then tearing him down. Makes for good ratings and great $$. Isn't that what its all about?

The question remains.....will we let them get away with it this time?


Let's back up a minute - and not to 2000.

This Gallup poll question was asked of Democratic primary voters only.

This question should be asked of general election voters where there are far more independents and (needless to say) more Republicans.

Since Obama does better among independents than Hillary in the primary and in some general election polls I've seen, there is a bias against Obama in these poll questions asked of Dem primary voters only who are a small minority in general elections.

These polls questions should be asked of general election voters if they are who we are trying to describe.

These poll findings are not useful. That's all there is to it.

Nick Panagakis



Nick - given the MASSIVE turnout we have been hearing about, these polls do give rise for some concern. WE need the Democratic base to vote for Democrats. If they do not - then we lose. Period. The Dems cannot win without it's base PLUS moderates. That's exactly how the Republicans have been winning. And since politico.com and people for the american way have been going around bragging about Obama being the most progressive of the candidates, I'd love to see how liberal-boating plays out with the independents. Gore lost Florida by 587 votes. Kerry lost by a larger amount, but it wasnt a complete sweep. Ohio turned on a very few votes. If a huge chunk of Clinton's supporters stay home, Obama will lose.



The Democratic nominee has never been either a female or someone of non-white descent. I don't buy that 10% threshold. There are Democrats who will bail just for those reasons. Bigotry survives within a fairly large share of the voting populace.


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