The PoliBlog

The Collective
Wednesday, February 20, 2023
By Dr. Steven Taylor

With 99% reporting, CNN has Obama at 58% and Clinton at 41%–which amounts to a very impressive win for Obama.

I find this interesting/amusing, as one of the talking points out of the Clinton folks for the last week has been about how Obama does better in caucuses and Clinton does better in primaries, implying that when a mass of voters gets the chance to participate, Clinton prevails (see here and here, for example). They clearly are seeking to say that some wins are more important than others, but how to spin yesterday presents a new challenge.

At any rate, they were half right insofar as Obama crushed Clinton in the Hawaii caucus as well.

One suspects that the spin on WI will be that “independents” helped Obama win (as the primary was open) and all that (as was attempted at Taylor Marsh’s site last week–i.e., that Clinton is really winning the Democrats, and that independents somehow should count less if there is a tie between the two candidates). However, as I argued in a comment over at Polimom, all of this talk about “Democrats” v. “Independents” becomes, for the sake of the electoral outcome, utterly meaningless. Once that vote is cast in an open primary for a Democratic candidates, that vote is a Democratic vote, regardless of whether the voter considers herself to be a Democrat, an Independent or whatever.1 Just because the exit polling tells us that x% of the voters that night considered themselves “independent” does not taint the vote, or make it any less a Democratic Primary. The press perpetuates this notion, yet it is fallacious.

Beyond that, exit polling data is to help us understand who voted and why, not to any way dictate what the final tallies mean.

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  1. And, for that matter, voters in closed primary systems may consider themselves, in their hearts, to be “independents” and yet still register as a Dem or a Rep for any number of reasons. []
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Filed under: 2008 Campaign, US Politics | |


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    1. Also, barring evidence of large-scale ’strategic voting’ by Republicans crossing over to affect the Democratic primaries, a candidate who gets more ‘independent’ votes is showing better evidence that they can gather more votes in the general election.

      Comment by Barry — Wednesday, February 20, 2023 @ 12:24 pm

    2. Steven, your footnote really makes the central point here, I think. It is not as if “independent” is a clearly defined category, and the ease of participation by non-registered partisans certainly must affect the share of voters who register as partisans. (I am not sure if that point has ever been researched.*)

      There is much research in American politics that suggests the “independent” voter is largely a myth anyway. When you strip off the thin veneer, you find most of them lean pretty clearly to one party or the other.

      And, indeed, as Barry says, the candidate who can get the leaners/independents–without losing the base in the process–is surely the stronger candidate.

      * I made this point in 2023 about crossover voters for McCain in open-primary states to a colleague who studies US primaries. He said it was a “great point,” which led me to believe no one has tried to argue it in the lit. Because I thought it was pretty obvious, actually.

      Comment by MSS — Wednesday, February 20, 2023 @ 3:54 pm

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