How Hillary Clinton Is Leading Despite Iraq
by Chris Bowers, Mon Mar 26, 2007 at 04:39:26 PM EDT
- Most Democrats do not make Clinton their first choice. Despite a fifteen-year history with the Democratic electorate, Clinton is not he first choice of a majority of Democratic voters. She is strong, with just under 40% of Democrats making her their first choice for 2008, but that still means that just over 60% are either undecided, or would prefer someone else. Considering how long she has been of the most visible leaders of the Democratic Party, to me that actually shows Democrats are ready to look around and consider alternatives.
- Obama actually is making up ground. A look at the long term trends in Democratic primary polling shows that Barack Obama has erased about one-third of his deficit on Clinton since he began to be regularly included in polls about five months ago. Five months ago, he was doubled up, but now he is down by about 11-12 points. Considering how early it is in the campaign, that is a decent amount of movement. Combined, Obama and Edwards are actually slightly ahead of Clinton.
- Clinton still commands the most attention. Pew's latest national news index survey included an open-ended question on which candidate voters were hearing the most about in the news lately. Even though the survey was completed just before (3/16-3/19) the latest Drudge-Fox News generated story in the campaign, the You Tube flap, you can see from the chart I have reprinted here that Clinton is still dominates Democratic attention. Even among Republicans, Clinton is receiving the most attention. Obama is competitive, but he actually does worse among Democrats than any other group. Unless the coverage of Clinton were to take a sharply sour note, it is hard to imagine how anyone could catch her under these circumstances. Looking at these numbers also makes it clear why the candidate making up real ground on Clinton is Obama, rather than Edwards, Richardson, or anyone else. How can they catch up if no one is paying attention?
- Clinton camp blurring the lines on Iraq. Despite how, as Matt put it, Clinton "voted for the war, she's not sorry for her vote, and she will sustain a military mission in Iraq if she's elected President to protect 'vital national security interests'," the Clinton camp has taken a number of measures to blur the distinction between herself and the other major candidates on Iraq. First, even though she states during policy discussions that we should have a continued military mission in Iraq, she states during her stump speech that, if the war is still going on in 2009, she will end it. Second, she introduced legislation that is opposed to the escalation. Third, members of her campaign have begun a public attack against Obama on Iraq, arguing that his position is not really all that different from Clinton's, and never has been. With Iraq still the number one issue by far, with Obama gaining, and with no other candidate receiving consistent press attention besides Clinton and Obama, all of these steps are designed to neutralize whatever advantage Obama may have on Iraq.
- Obama and establishment media, allowing Clinton to brand herself as anti-war. To date, there simply has been no serious media scrutiny of Clinton's relationship to the Iraq war. She has found it easy to score anti-war headlines, for example. This is not really that surprising, since the press allowed Lieberman to claim that he wanted to end the war as well, without ever challenging him on the issue. Perhaps more worryingly, Obama has also not seriously challenged Clinton on Iraq yet, even though her campaign is trying to claim that Obama and Clinton are the same on the war. He is the only candidate receiving enough media attention for such an attack to make real waves, but generally speaking he is just not pushing back. If someone has a chance to successfully brand Clinton as pro-war, or at least plant a seed of doubt in the minds of Democrats, that person is Obama. At least so far, he isn't working toward that goal.
- Clinton, national campaign more difficult than Lieberman, statewide campaign. The Connecticut Senate primary is a useful analogue when looking at how Iraq can create movement in polling. In this regard, it is useful to note that Ned Lamont made up very little ground on Joe Lieberman until he went on the air in early May. From February 14th, 2006, until April 30th, 2006, even among Democrats Lamont hardly closed the gap on Lieberman at all, as the Quinnipiac trendline showed the race only shifting from 68-13 in favor of Lieberman to 65-19 in Lieberman's favor. Once Lamont went on the air, the numbers started moving rapidly, and by the end of the campaign Lamont won Democrats by a whopping 65-33. However, until he went ton the air, Quinnipiac was still running headlines such as "Anti-Bush, Anti-War Feeling Does Not Hurt Lieberman." Does that sound familiar to our current situation?
The rapid movement that Lamont eventually experienced among Democrats was in a state where the electorate can be numbered only in the hundreds of thousands, while the number of Democrats who would fit a national primary poll model number in the tens of millions. Further, Lieberman was far, far worse at blurring the distinctions between himself and Lamont on Iraq than Clinton has been with Obama, at least partially because Lieberman is more of a hawk than Clinton. So, even though he is making up some ground, and even if he was fighting Clinton on Iraq, the much larger pool of voters that Obama is required to move combined with the greater success of Clinton on blurring anti-war credentials, makes it more difficult for Obama to move poll numbers among Democrats than it was for Lamont.