Most people know that New York Times columnist (and Princeton economist) Paul Krugman has deep ties to the Clintons, all the way back to 1992 when Bill recruited him to counter Bush I’s economic policies. So it’s no surprise he’s been writing pro-Hillary, anti-Obama pieces throughout the campaign. His latest piece “Self-Inflicted Confusion” is more of the same. The central argument here is that “[Obama] still can’t seem to win over large blocs of Democratic voters, especially among the white working class. As a result, he keeps losing big states.”
Perhaps Krugman simply chose his words poorly but the above statement implies that the white working class constitutes a large bloc of Democratic voters. By “white working class” I presume Krugman means precisely the white, heavily religious, rural, gun-owning, blue-collar voters that Hillary has won. But do these really constitute a “large bloc of Democratic voters”, as Krugman suggests? Not really. The majority of this voting bloc votes Republican, as 2004 Pennsylvania exit polls clearly show.
In 2004, of those who said religion was their top issue, Bush won 92% to 8%. Bush won rural voters 73% to 27%. And Bush won gun-owners over John Kerry 62% to 38%. The point is, while the Clinton campaign has used this voting bloc to point to Obama’s weaknesses, it isn’t a voting bloc that Democrats typically win, regardless of the candidate. They are solidly Republican.
Looking at the big picture, the fact is, both candidates have their stronger and weaker demographics. Hillary does well with older, rural, Latinos, and card-carrying Democrats. But we could just as easily question why Hillary can’t win youth, urban, African-Americans and independents, which are Obama’s strong demographics.
We should not be too surprised that Hillary won Pennsylvania since it was a closed primary (independents — Obama’s stronger demographic — could not vote) and where Hillary had the backing of the Democratic machine (governor, mayors, etc). That Obama cut a 25-point deficit a few weeks ahead of the vote down to 9.3% shows he’s making in-roads with her demographic. Recall that Obama won independents by 37 points in Missouri, 30 points in California, and even 15 points in Clinton’s home state of New York. Had 15% of the electorate been independent (as it’s typically been in open Democratic primaries) and Obama won them by 65-35, the result would have been very close — 51.7-48.3 — just a 3.4% margin. And that’s despite the fact that a whopping 32% of the voters were over 60 (Hillary’s strong demographic).
That Obama is making in-roads is clear when you compare the 2008 exit polls for Ohio and Pennsylvania. For example, Obama won 26% of the senior (65+) vote in Ohio, but improved to 37% in PA. He also won 26% of the rural vote in Ohio, and again improved to 37% in PA. Of course, there were more seniors (22% in PA vs. 14% in OH) and rural folks (20% in PA vs 10% in OH), so Hillary could put up big raw numbers in those demographics to offset her lower margins. Obama even improved among lower income voters — he actually won <$15k households (which he lost in OH) and improved from 36% to 45% among $15-30k households. He also improved his share of the white vote by a few points. And so on. So he’s making progress with his weaker groups. By contrast, Clinton isn’t making in-roads with her weaker groups. For example, she won 35% of the youth vote (18-29) in Ohio and 35% again in Pennsylvania. And she won 13% of the African-American vote in Ohio and just 10% in PA.
But the central question here is why does the media define “electability” based on winning the poor, white, rural, gun-owning worker, as opposed to the urban- or suburban voter? (Krugman’s entire argument rests on Obama not winning as many white working-class voters as Clinton) I would suggest it’s because we cling to the myth — propagated largely by Republicans, ironically — that less-educated, rural, salt-of-the-earth blue-collar Americans present the “real” America while educated, urban, more liberal white-collar workers do not. It goes back to John Locke — the idea that the guy who “works the land” has a higher claim on it than others. To me, if Democrats are going to improve the disparities between the haves and the have nots, fix the messes in education and health care, and adopt a more sensible foreign policy, they need to make their case on its own merits, not simply accept how Republicans have framed the debate (and then proceed to demonstrate how they, too, can pander to the Republican base).
The reality is, America today is largely an urban, service-based economy, not a rural, resource-based one. Americans are primarily suburban (50%) and urban (30%) — 80% in urban areas — and only 20% rural. The battleground in November is the suburbs (also where the highest % of independents live), not the sparsely-populated rural areas, which are solidly Republican, nor the cites, which are solidly Democrat (even in red states). The key to Democratic victory is winning over suburban independents and mobilizing huge turnout in solidly Democratic cities, not trying to convert gun-toting rural Republicans to suddenly vote Democrat (it ain’t gonna happen!).
Now it’s pretty clear that Hillary cannot catch Obama in delegates. Hillary picked up only 10 extra in PA, so Obama dropped from 166 to 156. He’s on pace to win 55-60% to 40-45% in North Carolina, which would net him between 15-25 extra delegates, so even if Hillary narrowly wins Indiana (he currently leads by a point or two), she’ll be worse off on May 7 than she was before PA. That’s why Axelrod says the basic dynamics of the race haven’t changed. It’s hardly accurate for Krugman to say that because his campaign manager said this that his campaign isn’t still transformational (indeed, Obama’s largest rally yet drew 35,000 in Philadelphia last week). So whether you argue it on the “math” or whether you look at the progress he’s making with her demographic groups, it’s clear to any objective observer that Obama will be the Democratic nominee. Unless…
But let’s say she makes an argument to the 300 or so undecided superdelegates so they overturn the results from 30+ million voters. Given that the Democrats need to win over independents — a demographic in which Hillary doesn’t do well, especially against McCain, who is popular among independents — and a large turnout in the (heavily African-American) cities, it should be clear that if Hillary wins by swaying the party establishment, she’s going to have a hard time winning the election. She won’t get the independents and she’ll have a hard time mobilizing the (heavily African-American) cities, who will feel dis-enfrachised that Obama isn’t the nominee, despite winning the primaries and caucuses.
Mark my words. If Hillary is the nominee, the Democrats lose. There’s no guarantee that Obama will win, but he sure gives the Democrats the best chance.