Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The NH independents didn't have much impact

By MSS

A story from the New Hampshire primaries that has been totally missed by the (few, I admit) news outlets I consulted last night and this morning is how irrelevant the "independents" were. I heard more than once that 2008 was a repeat of 2000, when independents gave McCain his edge. And, of course, Obama was to be the candidate of independents (who may vote in either primary by re-registering at the polling place).

On the GOP side, according to the MSNBC exit poll, the claim that independents made the difference is completely wrong. The real story is that those who came to vote already registered Republican were as pro-McCain as those who came as independents. Among independents (34% of the toal), it was McCain over Romney, 38-30. Among Republicans (61% of the total), it was McCain, 37-33. Even ignoring margins of error, that is a non-substantial difference. Huckabee also did as well with independents (10%) as with Republicans (11%). The independents who participated in the GOP primary were just Republicans not registered as such.

On the Democratic side, the pundits' expectation that Obama would be favored by independents is closer to being accurate, but the boost was not big enough. Nor is his disproportionate support among independents necessarily good news for him going forward, if it leads partisans to rally around the one perceived as more their own (as was the case, post-NH, for Republicans in 2000). It is especially unhelpful in closed primaries (on which more below). Among those registered independent before primary day (42% of the total), Obama beat Clinton, 40-34. Good, but given that polls going in (which were, of course, way off) showed him nearing or breaking 40% overall, that he just made 40% among independents has to be as big a letdown to his campaign as his coming in a close second overall to Clinton. Among Democrats (52% of the total), Clinton trounced Obama, 43-32.

As expected, Democrats attracted many more independents than Republicans, and, as expected, Democratic-voting independents favored Obama, but it just was not enough.

That breakdown among registered Democrats in New Hampshire is bad news for Obama in some primaries ahead that are closed. But maybe not too bad. The two biggest closed primaries on 5 Feb. are in New York and Illinois, which presumably will not be hotly contested, anyway. California (441 delegates) allows independents (registered "decline to state") to participate in the Democratic primary. On that same day, so do Minnesota (88 Democratic delegates), Missouri (88), Georgia (103), and Tennessee (85). Among the other contests that day that are closed are Connecticut (60), Colorado (71), New Mexico (38), and Arizona (67). So there remain a lot of delegates at stake in states in which independents could still boost Obama--especially California. In the contests between now and 5 Feb., South Carolina's primary is open (54) and Nevada's caucuses are closed (33). Michigan's primary on 15 Jan. is open, but the national party is not seating any delegates from it, and Obama withdrew from the ballot (Clinton is on it). Florida's primary on 29 Jan. is closed, but likewise not selecting any recognized delegates, due to violating national protect-New-Hampshire rules.

In all the postmortems on the New Hampshire Democratic primary, it is still worth remembering that if New Hampshire had been the first state, and thus there had been no expected "Iowa bounce" for Obama, the big story would be how he came back from a 2:1 deficit and almost caught the presumed front-runner. And, on that score, I sure do wish the media would stop speaking of candidates' "victory" and "concession" speeches when, on the Democratic side, they tied in delegates (9 each, and 4 for Edwards) won from an electorate representing around 0.5% of the nation. A wish sure not to be fulfilled, I know.

(Cross-posted at Fruits & Votes.)

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