Friday, April 18, 2008

Democrats: No Clear General Election Advantage

Andrew Kohut reports that the Democratic candidates, in head-to-head match-ups against John McCain, have no clear advantage for the general election thus far:

One of the more surprising twists in a surprising year is that despite the obvious Republican disadvantages in this election cycle, John McCain is matching up pretty well against Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in tests being conducted by national polls. Pew Research Center and CBS/New York Times polls show Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton holding only modest leads over Mr. McCain, while other national surveys — notably Associated Press/Ipsos and NBC/Wall Street Journal — have Mr. McCain running about even against the Democratic candidates.

Electability is an issue, and one that both Senators Obama and Clinton are likely to use to woo the superdelegates. But our polling suggests that neither candidate has a demonstrable advantage to tout. Where and among whom each candidate ran particularly well in the primaries is certainly not much of an indicator of how they will match up against Senator McCain.

Assuming a win in the Pennsylvania primary, the Clinton campaign can be expected to make the case that having won all of the major swing-state primaries, the former first lady is more likely than Barack Obama to carry these states in a general election. But a breakout of the results of recent surveys would argue otherwise.

An analysis of Pew Research Center surveys conducted in late February and March finds the two Democratic candidates running about equally well against Senator McCain among voters in Florida, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Mr. Obama led Mr. McCain 52 percent to 40 percent among a representative sample of voters living in these states, while Mrs. Clinton bested Mr. McCain by a statistically comparable 51 percent to 42 percent margin.

However, the same analysis shows that while Barack Obama ran better in smaller swing states and in the red states than Hillary Clinton, the advantage does not necessarily carry over to the general election. He fares no better than she in the match-up polls among voters in states that have gone heavily for Republican presidential candidates in recent years. John McCain holds a significant lead over both Democratic candidates; 51 percent to 43 percent over Senator Clinton and 50 percent to 42 percent over Senator Obama in red states. Similarly, in smaller swing states, Senators Obama and Clinton tie with Senator McCain.

But more reassuring to Democrats is that Pew’s analysis of the blue states finds that each of their candidates trounce Senator McCain by a yawning, but equal margin: 20 percentage points.

At this early stage in the campaign, general election match-ups are still hypothetical, but even so there is little indication that either candidate can make any great claims about an electability advantage in particular parts of the country, or nationwide.

The primaries have shown that each has strengths and weaknesses with certain types of voters. Senator Clinton polled better in the primaries among Democrats, especially conservatives, while Senator Obama attracted more support from independents. Demographically, he outdrew her among men, younger voters, the affluent and the better educated. Her constituency has been more female, older and working class.

Race, of course, has been a major factor in the nominating contests, and is likely to loom at least as large in the general election. But it is not really possible to factor race or Senator Obama’s counter-balancing appeal to independents or any of these other variables — positive or negative — to come up with a who’s-more-electable quotient for either candidate versus Senator McCain.

When pitted against the presumptive Republican nominee each candidate’s strengths and weaknesses, made apparent in the primaries, balance out. The data is simply not there to choose a nominee based on electability.

See also, USA Today, "Poll: McCain Comes Up Even With Dems," which offers analysis in contrast to Kohut:

The poll shows McCain's appeal has grown while the Democrats' has dwindled — suggesting he may be aided by the continued scuffling between Obama and Clinton during their prolonged nomination battle.
The longer this Democratic race goes on, and the more intra-party acrimony we see, the better things will be for the GOP.