Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 25, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

THE RACE....I don't have anything especially insightful to say about the latest Gallup daily tracking poll except to point out just how remarkable it is. After over a year of campaigning, 23 debates, a hundred million dollars of spending from both camps, and 37 primaries and caucuses, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are....

tied. Democratic Party voters are split almost exactly 50-50 between them.

I don't think there's any profound lesson to be drawn from this. I just think it's striking that these two very different candidates have produced such a knife edge of opinion. It's certainly nothing I would have predicted going into this thing.

Kevin Drum 6:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (66)

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but are they that different? I realize to partisans of either side, Obama and Clinton probably seem worlds apart, but in reality, their positions are pretty close to each other and pretty close to mainsteam Democrat leanings. Doesn't surprise me at all that there's such an even split.

Posted by: Glenn on February 25, 2008 at 6:34 PM | PERMALINK

I just think it's striking that these two very different candidates have produced such a knife edge of opinion.

I just think we're fortunate to have two extremely solid candidates inspiring unprecedented interest in our primary.

The discussion and excitement are good for democrats in general.

We be crush McCain.

Posted by: mattski on February 25, 2008 at 6:37 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, I was going to say: they are a lot more alike than they are different, and I bet (unknowable experiment) that their Presidencies would be very, very similar in important ways.

Which may make that current "knife edge" difference in popular opinion all the more interesting in some ways. You'd think they'd have forged an alliance by now, or that one would have emerged by sheer inertia as the general favorite.

Posted by: Tim Morris on February 25, 2008 at 6:37 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe this was difficult to predict, but I don't think the reason is that the candidates are so different. On the issues, they're pretty similar, as they both keep emphasizing in the debates. I think the reason it was hard to predict is that Obama was trying a relatively new campaign strategy, and it wasn't clear he could pull it off as well as he did.

In fact, I'm not sure why a striking difference between the candidates, if there were one, would preclude an even split among voters. There was a huge difference between Bush and Gore, and the country split about 50-50 on them.

Posted by: The Fabulous Mr. Toad on February 25, 2008 at 6:39 PM | PERMALINK

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are....

tied.

Except that they're...

not.

Obama leads Clinton by 100 delegates, including superdelegates.

Posted by: agsdgrg on February 25, 2008 at 6:42 PM | PERMALINK

I beg to differ - I think the polls vs. the results of voting show a rather profound lesson.

Obama's had double digit leads in voting in at least the last 10 contests, and that's entirely the result of his superior organization and GOTV efforts.

The profound lesson is this: taking the time to set up a ground game, getting excited and energized volunteers working for you, can produce excellent results. If you GOTV, you win the vote.

Keep this in mind come November.

Posted by: phleabo on February 25, 2008 at 6:42 PM | PERMALINK

Obama is tied in polls, ahead in election results. Conclusion: Obama is running a better campaign and ground operation.

Posted by: Steve Simitzis on February 25, 2008 at 6:48 PM | PERMALINK

All the Democrats have been stealing each other's lines, now it's Hillary with Edwards', it's no wonder that the public views the final two so similarly.

Posted by: leo on February 25, 2008 at 6:48 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder how this works out after factoring in involvement in the political process? I'm just thinking about the article cited over at the plank a little while ago that showed that Obama wins overwhelmingly when people actually watch a debate/speech, as opposed to people who don't pay a lot of attention to politics. If so, it might give a sense of the level of political involvement that one can reasonably expect of the populace in an election, which might be useful in terms of strategy.

Basically, each candidate could be sampling from two voter pools (informed/uninformed) which smooths out the actual effect of the candidate.

Posted by: Ruck on February 25, 2008 at 6:50 PM | PERMALINK

agsdgrg got that one right.

They are tied in the sense that two cars are tied while one is passing the other. Since super Tuesday the pattern has been the same. Obama is 20 points behind. Clinton has all the local organization. Obama's campaign organization set up shop and the lead erodes. About a week before the election Obama has erased Clinton's lead. On election day Clinton is 10-20 points down.

I don't know how the hell he is doing it, but he is doing it. It is damn near other worldly.

The same pattern seems to be holding in Texas and Ohio. Today CNN is reporting that Obama has taken a narrow lead. The polls in Ohio show him gaining steadily on Clinton.

I think that Obama's primary campaign is going to be studied for years to come. I think it has a lot to do with how he has organized his team. He seems to have gotten away from the exclusive air game that has dominated politics since the 1960s. His ground organization is young and enthusiastic. Anyway what he is doing is damn near a miracle considering how well financed and talented Clinton and her team really are.

Posted by: corpus juris on February 25, 2008 at 6:51 PM | PERMALINK

They're tied! Wait Obama has a huge lead!

http://tinyurl.com/35n4w4

Who cares! Let's talk about how "striking" these results are!

Posted by: Merle on February 25, 2008 at 6:51 PM | PERMALINK

Obama is tied in polls, ahead in election results.

He's not tied in polls, he's tied in this poll.

He's far ahead in another Gallup poll.

Posted by: dfhahiog on February 25, 2008 at 6:52 PM | PERMALINK

I think that a large part of this is a gender divide within the party, and I think if Obama takes this nomination there will be a strong push for him to offer the VP to a woman if only to assauge any bitter feelings that linger and rally the democratic base of the party, which is mostly women.

JMHO

Posted by: Rhoda on February 25, 2008 at 7:00 PM | PERMALINK

The most underreported story in all of this...Obama won the last of these contests because he outspent Clinton 4 to 1, went into the states weeks before she did, and his on-air presence reflected his outrageous financial advantage. Even online, is there a page on the political internet sites that doesn't have an Obama ad, while you can hardly find one for Clinton. Compound this with the extraordinary positive free press Senator Obama has received against the statistically fewer stories on Clinton, and a substantial number of those negative, and you wonder why she hadn't sunk months ago. That they are even says far more about the candidacy of Clinton than it does about Obama. But find a reporter who is going to write that story besides me.

Halli Casser-Jayne
http://www.thecjpoliticalreport.com

Posted by: Halli Casser-Jayne on February 25, 2008 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK

HCJ:

So, how did Obama get that financial advantage? By relying on about a million small donors, that's how. In contrast, a substantial majority of Hillary's money has come from donors who are maxed out at $2300, so she can't go back to them until the primaries are done. He's just run a smarter, leaner, more effective campaign, so he has money to spend going into the home stretch.

Hillary had every advantage going into this campaign: unparalleled access to those big donors, an established political machine, and over a decade's worth of name recognition built up before anyone outside Illinois ever heard of Obama. How her campaign squandered those advantages: now THERE's a story.

Posted by: The Fabulous Mr. Toad on February 25, 2008 at 7:13 PM | PERMALINK

Since both candidates are worthless, the people are flipping coins to decide between them; and since there is such a large statistical sample, the coin flips average out to 50/50.

Posted by: Luther on February 25, 2008 at 7:17 PM | PERMALINK

Luther,

Then how do you explain the statistical anomaly that is McCain's lead over Huckabee?

Somebody must have circulated a bunch of weighted coins to Republican primary voters.

Posted by: The Fabulous Mr. Toad on February 25, 2008 at 7:22 PM | PERMALINK

blockquote>Hillary had every advantage going into this campaign: unparalleled access to those big donors, an established political machine, and over a decade's worth of name recognition built up before anyone outside Illinois ever heard of Obama.

I'd argue that the decade-and-a-half of name recognition was the biggest wall in her path as well as one of her big advantages: it guaranteed she was going to be significant, but it also limited her prospects, too. You had a lot of people excited by the idea of her campaign, but a lot of people in the primary voting pool that weren't at all interested in her.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 25, 2008 at 7:24 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely,

Yeah, I agree with you about that, to a point. People had already made up their minds about her, so her numbers couldn't move much. But on the other hand, about 45-50% had made up their minds that they liked her, and she didn't have to spend money just getting people to the point of knowing who she was.

Posted by: The Fabulous Mr. Toad on February 25, 2008 at 7:29 PM | PERMALINK

I have wondered: Do these polls include voters in states that have already voted? Because those voters, it seems to me, are less likely to shift opinion. In most years it wouldn't matter, but this year 37 have voted already.

Posted by: Andy James on February 25, 2008 at 7:41 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, a while back you had a piece about how close modern elections were becoming because both sides could use focus groups, polling, etc. to hone their messages. This looks like another example of that.

Posted by: Jose Padilla on February 25, 2008 at 7:42 PM | PERMALINK

It seems difficult to imagine that we'd get a 50-50 split by chance. I suspect some sort of dynamic where people like both or are not sure for some reason then a feedback loop effect takes over and anytime one candidate goes ahead or falls behind then the public reacts to bring them back into line.

Posted by: JohnK on February 25, 2008 at 7:45 PM | PERMALINK

Rove's To Do List 2-25
See if I can concoct a story that will have Dems believing Matt Drudge and attacking themselves.

Check.

Posted by: Bush Lover on February 25, 2008 at 7:47 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin: Its funny how you never seem to run out of things to post which distort reality in favor of Hillary; the race is over. Obama surged from a 20-point deficit, and is ahead by at least 12-points in that same poll, and completely overwhelms her with the inclusion of independents.

And yet you post on 25 Feb they are tied? Maybe you are expecting more out of the Kenyan photo smear?

Posted by: Sparko on February 25, 2008 at 7:57 PM | PERMALINK

All of you parroting the CW that there is not a lot of difference between Obama's and Clinon's policies should read this fascinating article by Noam Scheiber in the TNR. There are, in fact, large differences in the candidates' economic and foreign affairs policies, as Scheiber reports.

http://www.tnr.com/politics/story.html?id=4d40a39e-8f57-4054-bd99-94bc9d19be1a

Posted by: Chris Brown on February 25, 2008 at 8:06 PM | PERMALINK

I might flip a coin, myself.

Hillary let Bush go to War, while Obama opposed the build-up to war. Read his 2Oct, 2002 speech on his website and see how well he predicted the mess we are now in. Score one for Obama.

More selfishly, Hillary will require a mandate for health insurance that will lower my insurance costs by including everyone. Obama will let many people opt out of the insurance pool, thus raising my rates. Hillary's point.

Hillary would freeze home loan interest rates, thereby preventing a full scale depression (called a recession by the media). Obama would not freeze mortgage rates. Another point for Hillary.

Neither candidate realizes that the 1000 billion barrels of oil in the world wide, proven reserves will be gone in less than 30 years. Neither candidate is willing to invest in a total solar to electric energy delivery system in the few short years we have to convert. We must spend at least a fifth as much as we spend on the military budget each year for the next five years to convert to a completely solar-electric economy using existing technology. See Solar One Nevada. All other nations must do the same to prevent the collapse of civilization. On this issue, both candidates are trumped by reality.

Posted by: deejaayss on February 25, 2008 at 8:18 PM | PERMALINK

A new CBS News/New York Times poll finds Barack Obama with a 16-point lead over rival Hillary Clinton among Democratic primary voters nationwide.

What a difference from the Gallop Poll!

Posted by: ex-liberal on February 25, 2008 at 8:23 PM | PERMALINK

Mr. Toad:
You're right...but that's ANOTHER story!

Halli Casser-Jayne
http://thecjpoliticalreport.com

Posted by: Halli Casser-Jayne on February 25, 2008 at 8:41 PM | PERMALINK

I just think it's striking that these two very different candidates have produced such a knife edge of opinion.

I believe Mr. Drum's tongue was planted firmly within his cheek when he came up with this one.

The best description of this I've seen is that the Democrats have settled upon their message, and are trying to figure out who is best to deliver it. Sad, because it's the message (best summarized as "compassionate conservatism"), not the candidates, that is the real problem.

Posted by: dr sardonicus on February 25, 2008 at 8:44 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin here's the link for the new CBS Poll. Along with the USAToday Poll where he's up 12 points - the tale is very different. Clinton's lead is gone - the surge is taking over. March 5th is her last day.

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/02/25/opinion/polls/main3874915.shtml

Posted by: C.B. Todd on February 25, 2008 at 8:45 PM | PERMALINK

Thinking further about the 50/50 split...it's not so strange. In the past two election cycles the GOP and the DEMS have been split 50/50. Now we see a 50/50 split in the DEMS. My guess is 50 for Obama reflects the more liberal wing of the party...50 for HRC the more moderate. In fact, there is a struggle within the party, also underreported, between the Kennedy-faction, the libs, trying to retake control vs the Clinton-faction, the moderates, trying to keep it. Kennedy never forgave Clinton for moving the party to the center.

Halli Casser-Jayne
http://thecjpoliticalreport.com

Posted by: Halli Casser-Jayne on February 25, 2008 at 8:46 PM | PERMALINK

What a difference from the Gallop Poll!

Actually not a big difference. As Al pointed out above, there were two Gallup polls released today:

1. The standard Gallup "Tracking Poll" taken Friday through Sunday shows Obama ahead by 47% - 45%.

2. A separate USA Today / Gallup poll taken Thursday through Sunday shows Obama ahead by 51% - 39%.

I think the tracking poll is a three-point average, so it represents an average of the three most recent polls. And each of those uses a smaller sample than the USA / Gallup one (whose sample size was 2,012).

If you are a polling company, one way to make sure you can claim accuracy is, it seems, to release multiple simultaneous disparate results -- then emphasize the ones that turn out to be correct. (This methodology was developed and perfected by Wall Street "research" analysts).

Posted by: JS on February 25, 2008 at 8:46 PM | PERMALINK

The latest CBS-NY Times poll has it 54 Obama -38 Clinton.

But national polls really don't matter at this stage.

Posted by: Suze on February 25, 2008 at 8:51 PM | PERMALINK

From the same USA TODAY/Gallup Poll mentioned above:

those surveyed predict by 73%-20% that Obama will be the Democratic nominee.
Posted by: JS on February 25, 2008 at 8:52 PM | PERMALINK

Whew....you all beat me to posting the new polls.

Posted by: nepeta on February 25, 2008 at 9:28 PM | PERMALINK

Tie? Tie! Get real, dude! I figure he's gonna barely lose Ohio or Texas but not both. This ain't no tie. The Patriots lost to the Giants. The Lakers are coming back. This ain't no tie. It's over.

Posted by: hollywood on February 25, 2008 at 9:28 PM | PERMALINK

but are they that different?

Yes Glenn! Dammit yes! Are you fucking blind!!! He is new and she is old! Away with the old, in with the "new"...

Posted by: Obamazooid on February 25, 2008 at 9:30 PM | PERMALINK

This tie would be a healthy thing, if the Clintons had the good sense and common human decency to put the Democratic party ahead of their own egos.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on February 25, 2008 at 9:30 PM | PERMALINK

But on NBC news tonight they showed a Democrats poll with Obama ahead by, was it 16 points? It was a lot in any case. What gives?

Posted by: Neil B. on February 25, 2008 at 9:33 PM | PERMALINK

OT, but interesting for Obama supporters (and Clinton supporters I hope). An article in the Chicago Tribune about Obama's family was published just today (with videos). Extremely interesting.

Obama's Mom: Not Just A Girl From Kansas

Posted by: nepeta on February 25, 2008 at 9:35 PM | PERMALINK

CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released Monday:

Texas: Obama 50%, Clinton 46%.

Posted by: JS on February 25, 2008 at 9:35 PM | PERMALINK

if the Clintons had the good sense and common human decency to put the Democratic party ahead of their own egos.

Fuck yeah! Well said. Obama's ego sucks compaired to the Democratic party's!

Posted by: Obamazooid on February 25, 2008 at 9:44 PM | PERMALINK

To paraphrase some pundit out there, don't we have more than two families to look to to lead this country?

If HRC wins the primaries I vote McCain.

Posted by: dontcallmefrancis on February 25, 2008 at 10:00 PM | PERMALINK

Fuck McFill-in, dontcallmefrancine, Obama's message will destroy him...

Posted by: Obamazooid on February 25, 2008 at 10:08 PM | PERMALINK

Append a quote time...

Drum:

After over a year of campaigning, 23 debates, a hundred million dollars of spending from both camps, and 37 primaries and caucuses... I decided to post a graph that shows the trend lines for ONE POLL for 21 days in February and conclude with this bit of uber-inanity: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are....
tied.

Sheesh...
I guess you can't expect Kevin to hit a homer everytime. But triple-play bunts with the bases loaded?
Ugly.

Posted by: koreyel on February 25, 2008 at 10:13 PM | PERMALINK

koreyel? Are you kidding? Kev is batting like .010 in this shit? And he voted for Obama!?! Obama is kicking her fucking ass and everyone knows it.

Posted by: Obamazooid on February 25, 2008 at 10:19 PM | PERMALINK

I think Obama should use Alice Cooper's "Elected" for his campaign stops' music. These lines sum up his campaign spot on...

...we're all gonna ROCK to the rules that I make...I want to be elected...

...I never lied to ya, I want to be elected...

Change you can change people! Come on!!!

Posted by: Obamazooid on February 25, 2008 at 10:32 PM | PERMALINK

Clinton only broke 50% in three national polls since January 2007. The fact she is losing the nomination isn't a shock to me as Clinton vs Not-Clinton was always a 50/50 bet.

That she is losing to Obama might be a bit of a surprise but he was ahead of Edwards in every national poll since January 2007 and he raised a 100 million dollars before the first votes were cast. Most insurgent candidates top out at 40-45% but Obama's 85%+ support in the African-American community put him well above 50%. That is good chunk of the traditional base that dwarfs the support for past insurgent/wine track candidates by orders of magnitude. (I haven't seen the numbers but I assume his support among women is a lower than Bradley or Hart due to Clinton's appeal)

The only thing I find even a bit surprising is the relative ease Obama is having dispatching her. Besides some trouble last October and a few days after New Hampshire his campaign never appeared to be going anywhere but up.

For the record, I am at 25% in backing the winner in Democratic primaries and 0% in backing the winner in Republican primaries. I do take some pride in having voted against Bush three times in national elections, however.

Posted by: realist on February 25, 2008 at 10:58 PM | PERMALINK

I can hear Ralphie now, 'See! ALL candidates but me are corporate clones!'

Posted by: Michael7843853 OBAMA in 08 on February 25, 2008 at 11:03 PM | PERMALINK

The only thing I find even a bit surprising is the relative ease Obama is having dispatching her.

What are you talking about? Obama has trashed her old school "can not get shit done" politics! Get with the game girl! This is the new style and all that shit...

Posted by: Obamazooid on February 25, 2008 at 11:13 PM | PERMALINK

Obamazooid,

It is obviously past your bed time. Stop looking at the horse porn and go to sleep.

Posted by: concerned citizen on February 25, 2008 at 11:32 PM | PERMALINK

This demonstrates yet again the effectiveness of negative campaigning.

Also the general unanimity of Democrats on most issues, and the relative unanimity among all three likely candidates on the most important issues (i.e., Iraq has been managed poorly so far, the economy stinks, and the current status quo has to go).

Posted by: J. Myers on February 25, 2008 at 11:38 PM | PERMALINK

Don't be concerned, citizen, I'm riding this Obama train all the way to the...destination...

Posted by: Obamazooid on February 25, 2008 at 11:38 PM | PERMALINK

The tv media has a vested interest in 50-50 contests, in that they force more ad buys by the candidates and generally increase the ratings of the channels covering politics. It would be interesting to quantify whether this fact influences positive/negative stories on the candidates, that is, whether there is a systematic bias toward bringing the polls into parity.

Posted by: matt on February 25, 2008 at 11:44 PM | PERMALINK

matt, if you don't have anything "Pro"-Obama to bring to the party then just stay the fuck home!

Posted by: Obamazooid on February 25, 2008 at 11:50 PM | PERMALINK

On the plus side, we Democrats are going to have two very strong and very visible National leaders after this all over. Regardless of the end result, they'll both have enormous power and respect, presumably one as President the other in Congress. Based on what I've seen of Reid this year, an actual leader in the Senate would be nice.

Posted by: tom.a on February 26, 2008 at 12:03 AM | PERMALINK

we Democrats are going to have two very strong and very visible National leaders after this all over.

That is the politics of old, my friend, this is Obama time...

Posted by: Obamazooid on February 26, 2008 at 12:08 AM | PERMALINK

What would Kevin do without all his wonderfully intelligent, well-written commenters? Gee, I guess he'd actually have to work for a living instead, eh?

Posted by: CB on February 26, 2008 at 12:44 AM | PERMALINK

The most underreported story in all of this...Obama won the last of these contests because he outspent Clinton….

You may continue to believe that the above is the main reason for Obama’s success. Let me challenge that concept.

I now live in Houston and have been voting in Dem primaries here since 1982. A Democratic candidate would know where to find me if he/she wanted to.

Thus far I have been contacted twice by Obama volunteers including yesterday's drop by from a guy who identified himself as one of the Obama captains for my precinct.

After I told him that I was expecting to hear from the campaign, he dropped off a nifty little sheet telling me early and election day voting locations and explaining how the Texas caucus meetings would proceed after the polls close.

Since I had been at one time a Democratic precinct judge, the above process is not foreign to me.

To the point, I am a regular voter and have worked for the local party, but have not heard one peep from HRC's local people or even a chance sighting of a neighborhood canvasser.

Obama’s people are energized, very busy, and focused.

This may be a part of what is changing those numbers.

Posted by: Keith G on February 26, 2008 at 1:36 AM | PERMALINK

It is still amazing to me that so many Democrats would want to go back for another 4-8 years of Clintonism.

Posted by: Ron on February 26, 2008 at 3:08 AM | PERMALINK

It's a question of style to me. I obviously think Clinton would govern closer to the Bush autocratic non-accountability style than Obama would.

If my opinion differed from Obama's he'd try to persuade me otherwise and respect those differences.

If my opinion differed from HRC, she'd try to build a coalition to marginalize me.

It's not a huge wonder that I support one or the other.

Posted by: MNPundit on February 26, 2008 at 4:04 AM | PERMALINK

Polling data show Obama beats McCain by a substantial margin while HRC is in a dead heat. That's enough for me.
This rather large lead, though, is why the MSM will trash Obama by the fall; they love McCain and want a real horse race.

Posted by: TJM on February 26, 2008 at 7:48 AM | PERMALINK

This rather large lead, though, is why the MSM will trash Obama by the fall; they love McCain and want a real horse race.

Get a clue, TJM. If the MSM tries that we will rip their fucking eyeballs out and feed 'em to them...

Posted by: Obamazooid on February 26, 2008 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

Chris Brown wrote: "All of you parroting the CW that there is not a lot of difference between Obama's and Clinon's policies should read this fascinating article by Noam Scheiber in the TNR. There are, in fact, large differences in the candidates' economic and foreign affairs policies, as Scheiber reports."

I read the article that you linked to. Very interesting. Nothing in it really changes my view that substantively, Obama and Clinton are more similar than they are different. And what either one is likely to be able to actually accomplish if they become president and try to actually implement policy proposals will probably be even more similar.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on February 26, 2008 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

And here I am, still crying over John Edwards' leaving the race.

Posted by: jMe on February 26, 2008 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK
And what either one is likely to be able to actually accomplish if they become president and try to actually implement policy proposals will probably be even more similar.

I actually think that what each is likely to accomplish if elected is less similar than their policy positions would suggest, because I don't think that they each have equally ability to motivate and mobilize the public and other political actors.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 26, 2008 at 4:13 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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