Democratic Nomination Campaign Dangerously Stable

by: Chris Bowers

Wed Jul 11, 2007 at 21:48


For quite some time, there has been only one trend in national polls on the Democratic nomination campaign: complete stability. Pollster.com offers a useful, visual demonstration of this stability:

Real Clear Politics, due to their different methodology, shows a bit more movement. Even then, however, the range of movement has been narrow. Since late February, Real Clear Politics shows Clinton’s national average varying from 32.7%--38.9%, Obama’s varying from 22.0%--25.8%, and Edwards varying from 10.3%--17.8%. None of these ranges are particularly wide, especially Clinton’s and Obama’s. As the Pollster.com chart shows, the slight variations from time to time in the Real Clear Politics average are almost certainly statistical noise, depending on little more than margin of error and which polling firms where included in the averages at any given point in time. Actual movement was probably, at most, one or two points in either direction.

Although fewer data points lead to somewhat less stable trend lines, the situation in early state polling is not much different. In Iowa, Edwards narrowly leads Clinton, who narrowly leads Obama, just as it has been for months. The only clear change is tht Richardson is trending up.In New Hampshire, since the beginning of the year, Clinton and Richardson are up a few points, while Edwards is down a few points. These slight movement are not much to write home about. In essence, the campaign is almost exactly where it was four or five months ago, except that Richardson has moved up a few points in Iowa and New Hampshire.

This stability is not a healthy development for the progressive ecosystem, and that is not just the lament of an elections junkie who has grown slightly bored with the Democratic horserace. Even if you are not a political junkie, a stable campaign tends to also be a boring campaign. There are, of course, other ways for a campaign to be exciting while still being stable, but this campaign generally lacks those features as well. A close campaign can be an exciting campaign, ala Gore Bush 2000. However, outside of Iowa, South Carolina and the money race, this campaign is not very close. A campaign where the candidates stake out distinct positions can be exciting, ala the 1988 Democratic primary. However, so far that top candidates seem kind of blurred. A campaign that heralds the arrival of new constituencies, or which utilizes new tactics, can also be exciting while being stable. However, with few exceptions in this cycle mostly related to the Obama campaign, I have seen very little that did not emerge already in 2004. The big personalities among the top three or four candidates excited people for a while, but after a few months I think that is even starting to wear off.

The 2008 Democratic nomination campaign has grown far too stable—far too boring. A boring campaign is not good for the progressive ecosystem, because it results in a less engaged progressive rank and file. For a while, this campaign was exciting a record amount of interest among the Democratic base, as shown by the image from Pew on the right. However, in recent weeks, the much more exciting Republican horserace (Thompson’s entry, McCain’s collapse, Romney’s rise, Giuliani skipping Iowa, etc) has resulted in Republicans closing the engagement gap. This is dangerous, because when Democrats were more engaged, it resulted in far more activism conducted on behalf of Democratic campaigns than Republican campaigns (the gap in donor levels made that obvious enough). In turn, this greater activism resulted in every Democratic candidate improving his or her standing against every Republican candidate in general election trial heats (source). Clinton, Edwards and Obama all wiped out double-digit deficits to both McCain and Giuliani, and now hold leads—sometimes, crushing leads—against every hypothetical Republican nominee. However, with the engagement gap closing, at least partially because of the boring stability of the Democratic campaign, I worry those advantages in terms of activism and poll numbers might start to disappear.

Maybe those pundits who said progressive activists would get burned out by the hyperactive, early start to the presidential campaign were right. Or, perhaps the Democratic advantages in polls and activism will persist, and maybe I am simple worried over nothing. Maybe this is just the lament of an election junkie who would prefer one major new twist in the campaign at least every other week. After all, my dream scenario is for both the Democratic and Republican nominations to not be clearly decided until the conventions, thus making August, 2008 the most exciting political month ever. With a fantasy like that, it is pretty clear that my sentiments lie almost as much with an exciting horserace as they do with an acceptable outcome. For nearly three months now, there hasn’t been enough chaos in the Democratic side of this campaign to cause the wing of a single butterfly to flutter, much less satisfy someone like myself.
Chris Bowers :: Democratic Nomination Campaign Dangerously Stable

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Democratic Nomination Campaign Dangerously Stable (0.00 / 0)
For me, I hope Hillary will falter before she wins the nomination and we are stuck with another war lover in the White House, be it Hillary or a Republican.

There isn't much difference in regards to war.


Hillary is poison for the Democratic ticket (0.00 / 0)
and we all know it. The Dems could pick up as many as 7 senate seats in the next cycle if things line up right. Stevens, Domenici, Coryn, Smith plus Virginia, Colorado, Mississippi, etc.

Hillary will destroy those chances with her shitty trivialized politics. 08 could be about so much more than shitty focus group Mark Penn style politics. Too bad Hillary's negatives are sky high, and the whole south hates her. All a Hillary general election will be about is how unfair it is that people are attacking her.

Plus, hard core partisan Dems like myself are NOT going to vote for Hillary. I am dead serious. I'm not going to vote for a woman who has taken SO MUCH money from the health care industry. All of my early 20's friends HATE Hillary. So does my activist mom and the entire liberal crowd she runs with. I just don't know where the hell Hillary is getting this support from. I think it's from low-info voters who won't bother to pull a lever in the primary. I hope so anyway.

If Bloomberg ran I'd vote for him, otherwise I'd write in Al Gore's name.

If it weren't for the serious fear I have about our constitution, I'd just assume have a damn Republican get elected and force him to deal with all of the problems in the next four years. Iraq and the deficit are two crippling political problems and there is no easy way out. Then you've got peak oil and global warming.

We need leaders. Not fucking weathervanes like Hillary Clinton. The fact that she's even a part of this debate makes me sick.


[ Parent ]
???? (4.00 / 1)
"Plus, hard core partisan Dems like myself are NOT going to vote for Hillary."

Not very hard core or partisan then, if she is the nominee I'll suck it up and work to get her elected.  To be honest I'm a generic D right now because none of them get me very excited and all of them have at least a few negatives that make me question their chances.  However if you can't see where there would be a difference between say HRC and Hollywood Tompson, you need to wake up.  That's the same sort of logic that helped them steal the election in 2000.


[ Parent ]
THIS could get exciting... (0.00 / 0)
If I remember the Democratic party's proportional voting rules, and looking at the primary calendar, I can see some potential for excitement.

Specifically, I don't see ANYONE dropping out until after March 4, 2008.  And by then, more than half the delegates will be selected--proportionately.  Nothing, at present, shows Hilary getting a majority of them--a dominant plurality, yes, but not a majority.

Therefore, a real scrap among those left standing on March 5 for the (relatively few) remaining delegates and at least the prospect of a brokered convention.  Which then raises the question: how do you have decisions coming out of smoke-filled rooms in a modern, smoke-free environment?


I'm not convinced (0.00 / 0)
I'd LIKE to see that happen, but it seems unlikely to me. There are not as many regional or demographic differences in the primary electorate as there used to be, and so for the campaign to go on a while it would require at least two candidates being very, very close in delegates. Otherwise, someone would just keep racking up wins, ala Kerry in 2004 and Gore in 2000.

[ Parent ]
A rejoinder (0.00 / 0)
Wins, quite possibly.  Majorities in the remaining states after Super Duper Tuesday, maybe.  And that COULD lead to a conventional landslide nominee.

But, if not, if 3 candidates can soldier on, it gets harder to see (Hilary) going over the top--which could then put the 3rd and 4th in delegate counts in a nominee-making role.

I am right that Democratic rules mandate proportional delegates (unlike the Republicans that still have quite a lot of winner-take-all), right?  It is that, combined with the idea of 3 left standing, that produces the potential.


[ Parent ]
Drop-out dates (0.00 / 0)
The problem with that is there is only one candidate other than Hillary with the possibility of winning the nomination without taking an early state. That's Obama. There's a chance he and Hillary could get into a state-by-state clash that could extend past 2/5 (and Edwards also has a shot at participating if things go really well for him), but I'm expecting to see a nominee by the 5th of February.

For instance, Edwards' entire campaign strategy is predicated on a win in Iowa, which would hopefully provide a big boost in Nevada and New Hampshire (and possibly South Carolina, though that seems kinda dicey at this point). After that, he could hope to at least be playing even with Clinton and Obama in the February 5th states. However, if he loses in Iowa, he loses any ability to take the nomination, and would seem likely to drop out. If he does drop out, it would be interesting to see where his support would go.

Obama is in a little bit of a stronger position. Iowa isn't a must-win state for him. If he does win, it stands to reason that he'd get enough momentum (O-MENTUM??... sorry) to instantly become the prohibitive favorite for the nomination. If he doesn't win, he'll find himself in a battle for delegates, a 3-way fight with Edwards and Clinton if Edwards wins in Iowa, or a head-to-head match-up with Clinton if she wins (though she would be similarly hard to stop if she wins the caucuses). He seems to be building a good operation out in New Hampshire, and also seems to be the candidate most likely to benefit from the state's fabled independents the way McCain did in 2000. He also seems to be leading in South Carolina when you factor out one pollster (ARG), which would be a boost to his campaign going into February 5th. He seems close to Hillary in some of the states (like MI and PA), and has interesting potential in others like MN, but he'll need momentum going into the "national primary" day. I would expect him to stay in the race until at least February 5th.

Clinton doesn't necessarily need a win in any particular early primary, though it would look pretty bad if she got shut out, especially if Obama wins in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. She does seem to have a pretty powerful lead in Nevada, but that state's largely been ignored by all the campaigns and things are probably pretty fluid. She's undeniably in the lead right now, but she's also undeniably vulnerable. She'll obviously be staying in the race until at least February 5th, unless her cell phone number shows up on the DC madam list or something.

Richardson seems to be working pretty hard in Nevada. I'd expect to see him stay in until at least then, if not New Hampshire, just to see how things play out. It's probably hard to poll a state that might not even know how to run caucuses. But if he doesn't have a good finish in Nevada or New Hampshire, it would seem like the rationale for his candidacy would be kaput. However, New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado all go on February 5th, so maybe he'll stick around until then (though I'd agree that regional differences are muted this year, maybe he'll find a way to excite Latin@ supporters).

I would expect Dodd to drop out of the race after New Hampshire, and possibly sooner if he just doesn't think he's gaining traction. He's obviously a pretty savvy and classy guy.

I would expect Biden and Kucinich to stick around as long as they can get on TV. Maybe Gravel too, though I could see him going down in a blaze of glory with an awesome youtube rant or something. By the way, how come Will Ferrel hasn't released an impression yet?

In any case, I expect us to have a nominee by February 5th, leaving 9 full days to think about doing something nice for Valentine's Day with your significant other rather than think about the nomination.


[ Parent ]
The Summer Thing (0.00 / 0)
As a novice (and young) election junkie, I have been intrigued by the idea that most Americans don't pay attention until September. I have noticed the frustrating stability as well, but have assumed it is a symptom of an apolitical season. That's what people say, at least. And I hope they are right, I'd like to see a better fireworks display before the finale.

"Don't hate the media, become the media" -Jello Biafra

the real problem (4.00 / 1)
The reason it's boring is because ideas aren't really being debated.

that's what happens when nobody wants to piss off corporations (0.00 / 0)
big business is an incredibly dangerous enemy.

[ Parent ]
Especially when they own the media! (0.00 / 0)
The reason there's no interest on the Dem side is that nobody's reporting on actual differences between the candidates.  Clinton, Edwards, and Obama have all said enough, policy-wise, that the press COULD either report on their differences on Iraq, health care, and global warming, and on their differing areas of emphasis outside those issues, or where their positions are cloudy, they could ask tough questions that forced them to clarify their differences, and then report on the differences.

Instead, we get haircuts and horse-races.  To quote Shailagh Murray of the WaPo, "YAAWWN."


[ Parent ]
Right! (0.00 / 0)
There will be plenty of delicious instability in December and January, until then most voters could care less...all most molks know is that we need a new generation of leadership...chill out!

[ Parent ]
Or (0.00 / 0)
Clinton could win Iowa, and there won't be any instability at all. She could lead comfortably from wire to wire. Yawn.

[ Parent ]
Maybe issues will matter eventually (0.00 / 0)
Right now Obama and Clinton seem to be battling to be the strongest kid on the block.  Who can raise more $.  Who can get the big endorsements.  Who is better for the general election.  Etc.

Meanwhile, Edwards is debating issues that are important, but isn't engaging any other candidates.

Maybe they won't be able to avoid debating the issues in December and January.


[ Parent ]
I agree with that (4.00 / 1)
No one is calling each other out. Richardson is starting to make some noise on Iraq, but otherwise no one is trying to make themselves distinct.

[ Parent ]
It's hard to take Richardson seriously... (0.00 / 0)
...when he does so poorly in the debates repeatedly. It's almost as if he's oblivious to what is going on.

[ Parent ]
Exactly (0.00 / 0)
I'd add that Edwards is trying to be the poverty candidate, and he's got some good ideas and a good stump speech, but he doesn't seem to have any disagreements or anything major to offer that Obama and Clinton don't also touch on.

Also, Obama seems to be starting to push against Hillary on the Iraq vote. I'd like to see a David Axelrod commercial some time talking about her vote, the NIE, etc., contrasted with Obama's speech against the war, his comments explaining it on Illinois Public Television, his comments explaining it to Des Moines Register editorial board, and his speech at Take Back America. But he seems to be holding his guns for now.

Here's a video from the Des Moines editorial board interview. I also just kinda wanna see if I can embed videos in the comments section here:



[ Parent ]
Chris, (0.00 / 0)
why does the BSM (blog-stream-media... i dunno) continue to shut out Gravel? He's been calling people out left and right the entire campaign! I smell a conspiracy... you're obviously a slave to some evil corporate masters...

[ Parent ]
ack, (0.00 / 0)
should've been a reply to Chris' comment above

[ Parent ]
excitement (0.00 / 0)
The excitement that matters is the excitement on the day before the general election.

That being said if Hillary or Obama wins I don't think excitement will be a worry. 


Thank God no drama (0.00 / 0)
I enjoy the stability -- a lot less stressful. More fun watching the Rethugs bounce all around and twist into pretzels.

I have no "favorite" candidate yet -- all the Democrats in the top tier have pluses and minuses and tend to be coming out even in my mind so far when you add it all together. Another 6 months I'll settle on someone, but I'm soaking it all in for now.

I guess if I was gung ho for Obama or Edwards, I'd be hankering for some drama to move Hillary around from her solid lead. Then again, maybe not.


There is activity despite boredom. (0.00 / 0)
I am bored too but I think there has been significant activity in past 2 weeks.

1) Edwards has dropped out of the top tier.

2) Obama out raises Hillary in two consecutive quarters.

3) Prediction markets (an alternative view of public opinion) dumped Hillary stock.

Remember summer campaigns are boring.  September is just around the corner.


2nd tier (0.00 / 0)
I don't think Edwards has really dropped out of the top tier, since he hasn't lost his lead in Iowa. If you think that doesn't matter, then you probably shouldn't have considered him in the top tier to begin with.

Join us at the Missouri community blog Show Me Progress!

[ Parent ]
I think it matters, but it isn't enough all by itself (0.00 / 0)
I don't see this primary season being a replay of 2004.  If Edwards wins Iowa, it will boost his chances in the next couple of primaries, but it won't cause him to suddenly become the frontrunner.  It's not like either Clinton or Obama is going to melt away the way Dean, Lieberman, Gephardt, etc. did after Iowa and NH in 2004.

He will need to be at least somewhat close in NH or NV or SC before Iowa for his prospective Iowa win to put him over the top in any of those states.  And since it looks like Edwards will be organizationally far weaker than Clinton or Obama in the Feb. 5 states before Iowa, he really needs to win somewhere besides Iowa to even be alive after Feb. 5.  He'd probably need to win three of the first four states in order to be in the thick of things after Feb. 5.

I used to see Edwards as top tier, but right now I see him barely hanging onto the top tier by his fingernails.  The media have marginalized him, deciding right out of the box that the Dem race was Hillary v. Obama (see the WaPo Outlook section the Sunday after the 2006 midterms for the perfect illustration), only giving him significant coverage over things like haircuts, houses, hedge funds, Amanda Marcotte, and his wife's cancer.  And there's little that can be done about that.  It shows why we need a genuine progressive online alternative to the daily newspaper, but that will come too late for '08.


[ Parent ]
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