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Introducing the ‘McCain Democrats’

March 27, 2008

Why McCain can still win despite the Democrat advantage in party ID.

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One of the things that Democrat supporters are using to get through the current drubbing in the Rasmussen polls is the argument that, although Clinton and Obama are in the doldrums, America is trending Democratic. They point to party ID statistics that suggest that Democrats lead 36% to 27% in identification and 44% to 40% in the generic congressional ballot. However, this is not necessarily a big help. The Republicans have nominated a candidate who pushed Gore into third place and reduced Kerry to 29% in hypothetical three-way match-ups in 2000 and 2004 respectively (the latter poll was carried out in 2002). There is also the strong possibility that the Republican ticket might include Joe Lieberman, the Democrat’s nominee in 2000. Indeed, McCain has vowed to ‘travel across the country in cities and rural areas, in communities of all ethnic backgrounds and income levels, offering my ideas and listening to the concerns and advice of Americans’.

The idea of Democrats voting for a Republican candidate may seem strange after the hyper-partisan elections of 2000 and 2004, but there is a strong historical precedent for people crossing over. Richard Nixon and Ronald Regan won landslides with electorates where, according to the exit polls, Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 11% and 15% respectively. If we use congressional vote as a proxy for party identification, we find that national margins for the House of Representatives and the Presidential election are poorly correlated in the fifteen post-war elections, at 0.22 from 1948 to 2004 inclusive. In five out of fifteen of these elections the party that got a plurality of the congressional vote did not get a plurality in the contest for the White House. Indeed, from 1948-88 inclusive this divergence always worked against Democrats nationally, with the Democratic congressional candidates beating their Republican counterparts by 14.5% in the same year that McGovern was getting crushed by Nixon. Indeed, in 1956, 1960, 1972, 1976 and 1988 the differences between the margins were over 20 points.

Of course, it can be argued that much of this difference was due to the fact that the struggle for civil rights meant that there were two parties in the South, a ‘Democratic’ party devoted to civil rights and a ‘Dixiecrat’ party devoted to segregation, with the supporters of the latter voting for Democrat candidates at the congressional level. However, even if we exclude the struggle against racism by just looking at the last nine elections (during the 1972-2004 period) we find that the correlation not only decreases, but actually turns weakly negative to -0.27. Only if you included election data back to 1900 would you get a strongly positive correlation, but the model is of little comfort for Democrat supporters. Indeed, it produces the following equation; y = 0.4786x – 6.2653 (where y is the presidential margin and x is the congressional margin). In layman’s terms this means that the Democratic congressional vote will need to be running nearly 13% ahead of the Republican congressional vote before the Democrats can be expected to achieve a plurality in the contest for the White House. This doesn’t mean that McCain is entitled to a victory, as Clinton and Gore actually outperformed the congressional Democrats, just that it is very, very possible.

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One comment

  1. One word: Obamicans.



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