What to watch in the US election

Business Times - 29 Aug 2008

What to watch for in the US election

Hillary voters, white, young voters, swing states and Hispanics will be key to who wins


SO WHO is going to win this year's US presidential race? By now, the average consumer of political news junkie, has probably absorbed so much 'reliable' information about Barack Obama and John McCain - as well as a lot of pure junk in online 'rumours' - not to mention the never-ending pontificating by the pundits, that he or she can finally figure out who will be elected on the next US President on Nov 8. Yeah. Right.

Well, in order to simplify things and save you a lot a time here is a brief guide to assist you in your quest: What to watch for in the next two months, or the factors that will determine, or at least explain the outcome of this race:

The Hillary Clinton voters: Depending on the pollster, between 10 and 25 per cent of those voters who had cast their ballots for Senator Hillary Clinton during the Democratic presidential primary race are not planning to vote for the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Obama in November. Some polls indicate that members of a hard core of this voting bloc, consisting of older women who tend to be less educated and less affluent than other Democratic voters, will probably vote for the presumptive Republican candidate Mr McCain. As a result, polls indicate that Mr Obama is getting now only around 80 percent of Democratic voters, compared to 89 per cent that the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry had won in that year (and still lost the election).

It is quite possible that Hillary Clinton's address during the Democratic convention on Tuesday in which she called on her supporters to vote for Obama will help convince them to drop their opposition to the man who had beaten their political heroine in the primaries. But the McCain campaign is not betting on that and is making a concerted effort to win the Hillary voters. If the majority of them would not vote for Mr Obama, the Democrats would probably lose the election.

The Bradley Effect: The Bradley Effect is named after Tom Bradley, a former Los Angeles mayor, who was black, and who ran as the Democratic party's candidate for Governor of California in 1982 against Republican candidate George Deukmejian, who was white. Almost all polls on the final days before the election showed Mr Bradley winning with a wide lead and projected to be the winner.

Apparently, many white voters, who didn't want to be perceived as 'racists', had told pollsters that the were planing to vote for Mr Bradley although they actually planned to vote for Mr Deukmejian. Hence the concern that when a black candidate is running against a white one, the polls would show the white candidate under-performing with respect to the final outcome. If the Bradley Effect applies to the current race between Mr Obama (black) and Mr McCain (white) that could spells huge problems for the Democrats, since according to the latest polls Mr Obama is losing much of the advantage he has enjoyed over Mr McCain. Add the Bradley Effect to these results, and Mr McCain may have now a clear advantage over Mr Obama.

The Young Voters: Poll after poll confirms first-time college students and young voters are among Mr Obama's strongest and most committed bases of support.

Some pollsters are suggesting that because of many technical problems that make it difficult for pollsters to reach them (they tend to be more transient; they only use cell-phones; they live with their parents; they share apartments with friends), the support of these young voters for Mr Obama is not registering in the current opinion polls. If that is true, the support for Mr Obama may be wider than polls are showing (the reverse of the Bradley Effect). But at the same time, young people are less inclined to vote than older ones. The Obama campaign hopes that on this election, the majority of his young energised supporters will get out voting on Nov 8.

Swing States Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan: The conventional wisdom is that a Democratic candidate has to win at least three of these swing states, in order to win the race. (John Kerry and Al Gore lost Ohio and Florida in 2004 and 2000 respectively. Mr Kerry lost Ohio by a narrow margin, and the Supreme Court decided that Mr Gore lost Florida). Mr Obama is leading now by a small margin in Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. The Democrats hope that the current economic problems will make it more likely that white middle-class voters and blue-collar workers who suffer economically will support Mr Obama. But these same voters seem to feel uneasy about the idea of a black president. In Florida, Mr McCain is now leading by a small margin. Part of the reason is that elderly Jewish voters in the state, who are a large voting bloc, suspect that Mr Obama is not pro-Israel.

New Swing States? Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado: The Democrats believe that they have a chance of switching these traditionally Republican 'red' states into the Democratic column this year, and in this way to neutralise the effect of a possible losses in two of the swing states (Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan). In conservative Virginia, there has been a large influx of young white professionals who tend to be more liberal and Democratic into the northern part of the state (which include the suburbs of Washington, DC).

In North Carolina, which is part of the bloc of 'red' Southern states, the Democrats hope that the a combination of a large turn-out by African-American voters and support from the growing number of young white professionals in the state could swing the state towards the Democratic candidate. And in Colorado, the recent electoral victory of Democratic candidates in the state may reflect growing disenchantment among white voters over Republican policies, which could play into the hands of Mr Obama in November.

Hispanics: That is the largest growing demographic group in the country whose members could play a critical role in the election, especially in states where the race will be very tight, including in Nevada, New Mexico, Florida, and Colorado. Most registered Hispanics are expected to vote for the Democratic candidate. But many Hispanics have not registered to vote and even Democrats worry that even many of those who registered will not vote.

So if more Hillary voters will not move in the direction of Mr Obama, and if he loses Florida and Ohio, and doesn't win in either Virginia, Colorado or North Carolina, and if he doesn't get the larger number of young people and Hispanics to vote for him while his support among white voters isn't widened, he would probably lose the election.

Copyright © 2007 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.


michaelwilson said…
Hi Leon,
Great article!
I think that the most difficult part is to keep an overview of all the polls.
I use a widget to keep track of the progression of polls. The widget shows the election polls by strength of states.
In addition to other different graphical visualizations of data, this one displays the progression of votes over time.

It gives a great overview and is updated when the new polls arrive!


... and its easy to put on your blog!

Make a difference, keep on voting!

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