Crossing the Partisan Divide
03-27-2008
One result from the new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released yesterday is causing particular consternation among Democratic Party elites. It is the finding that over 20% of Clinton and Obama supporters surveyed said that they would vote for John McCain in the general election, if their preferred candidate is not the nominee. In addition, Politico posts a piece today, suggesting that McCain currently has stronger crossover potential with Democratic voters, than either Clinton or Obama does among Republicans. The combined effect of these two items is a heightened concern among some Democratic political elites that the party’s ability to compete in November is being slowly undermined by the extended primary contest.
 
While the Democrats certainly have some legitimate grounds for concern, my sense is that voter perceptions of the nominees will change (as they always do) by November, once the participants are firmly ensconced in the all-out partisan battle that will be the general election campaign. McCain’s crossover appeal will likely be reduced by an unrelenting onslaught of Democratic comparisons of his candidacy to a third term for President Bush. While both Clinton and Obama have already test-driven this argument, its impact has been significantly diluted thus far by media and campaign preoccupation with the intra-party bickering.
 
Also, you will notice that the Politico piece uses crossover appeal data for McCain, Clinton, and Obama now versus George Bush and John Kerry data from 2004 presidential election exit polls. This is the proverbial comparison of apples to oranges, as the lower crossover appeal of Bush and Kerry was certainly due, at least in part, to the bitter, partisan general election campaign that they had both just endured. My guess is that you will see evidence of the same phenomenon this time around (even with McCain and Obama as the nominees) by the time we get to the 2008 exit polls.
 
As for anxious Democrats, perhaps they will take solace in the likelihood that the bitterness between Clinton and Obama supporters will eventually subside, as the vote choice gets reframed in the general election campaign as a partisan decision about political control at all levels of government. For many voters (even disaffected Democrats), partisan attachments are strong, lifelong bonds that usually kick in with full force in November.


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