A year ago, or even six months ago, I would never have thought that the more antiwar Democratic candidate would have a harder time shoring up the party base than one who voted for the war, but that is what the latest Pew survey shows happening with Obama. Not only do Democratic defections nearly double in a McCain v. Obama race, but Obama loses a fifth of white Democrats to McCain, and he runs seventeen points behind Clinton among <$30K earners, reflecting continuing weakness with downscale voters. He loses 17 points among the quarter of Democrats who want to stay in Iraq, despite the fact that his and Clinton's positions on Iraq policy right now are virtually indistinguishable (apparently these people believe in Hillary's insincerity enough to know that she won't actually end the war), but he also loses five points compared to Clinton among those who want to bring our forces out of Iraq. He draws slightly less support from liberals and slightly more from conservatives than Clinton, which is rather baffling. Compared to Clinton, he also loses 14 points among Democratic women, which is a much larger figure of disgruntled women voters turning away from the Democrat and backing McCain than the three-point difference between Clinton and Obama among black Democratic voters. The story of the Clintons' permanently alienating black voters sounds good, but on the whole it doesn't seem to be true. Meanwhile, Obama's nomination definitely appears to alienate a lot of Democratic women, who perhaps resent the "upstart" (as he called himself the other day) taking Hillary's crown away from her.
Most remarkable of all is that Obama is weaker among Democrats in all age groups than Clinton. He is four points weaker, and McCain five points stronger, among Democratic voters aged 18-49 than in a Clinton v. McCain race. The losses are even greater among Democratic voters 50-64 and 65+. Democratic defections increase across income groups as well. Obama does much better in the younger age groups among independents, but if the Democratic numbers are any indication this seems to have less to do with age than with style. Probably the same thing that makes Obama attractive to independents (he doesn’t always sound like a regular Democrat) is what is undermining him with Democratic voters.
What happens when these independent voters find that Obama is offering little more than rehashed liberalism and the “post-partisan” fantasy is revealed as just that? Do they embrace the equally fabulous (i.e., made-up) media narrative about the “maverick” McCain, or do they look elsewhere (Nader!)? As both Obama and McCain need to reassure disaffected constituencies, as this survey shows they do, does this not portend a widening of the partisan and ideological gap in this campaign as the nominees are forced to tack in opposite directions?
And those “Obamacans” we keep hearing about? They do exist, making up 8% of Republicans (three points higher than Clinton), but they are hardly the stuff of historic realignment and they are outnumbered almost two-to-one by “McCainocrats.” Despite all that, Obama leads in the Pew survey 50-43. Importantly, he does not do any better than Clinton (both draw 50%), but for some reason McCain currently draws less support in an Obama v. McCain match-up. His lead rests almost entirely on his greater level of support from independents. Given how fickle these voters seem to be (McCain’s unfavs among independents jumped 13 points in the last two weeks among these voters for no discernible reason whatever, except that he secured the nomination), that is not much of a solid foundation. As both presumptive nominees try to unify their parties, which one alienates more independents in the process? The answer to that will likely determine the outcome.